A drive-through COVID-19 testing site in Mernda.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

The City of Whittlesea has become the epicentre of the latest COVID-19 outbreak, with close to 100 exposure sites now listed.

Epping has been the hardest hit suburb by far, with 13 active cases and 42 exposure sites as of yesterday.

Further exposure sites in the City of Whittlesea include 17 in Thomastown, 11 in Lalor, eight in Mill Park, two each in Doreen and Wollert, and one in Mernda.

City of Whittlesea chief executive Craig Lloyd told the Review yesterday council had been working tirelessly to make sure the community was supported.

“Our staff have obviously been very busy getting testing centres set up and running, we’ve redeployed staff to DPV Health [and] we’re receiving hundreds of calls a day through our normal service – people asking where they can get tested, get a vaccine,” he said.

He said council staff had also been visiting small businesses, providing COVIDSafe information and ensuring rules for masks and QR codes were understood.

“All we can keep saying to people is we’ve gotten through this before, council’s there to support you, if you’re not sure of [anything], reach out to council,” he said.

The latest outbreak started when a Wollert man became infected with COVID-19 in hotel quarantine in South Australia before returning home in early May. The cluster grew to two more Epping residents – part of the same family – later that month, detected following wastewater testing.

Since then the outbreak has spread across Melbourne, but the City of Whittlesea, with its high population of temporary residents, is feeling the most acute effects of the lockdown, which started on Friday.

“People in those situations tend to do a lot of casual work, if they can work at all, and those businesses are mostly closed so it’s a very difficult time,” Mr Lloyd said.

Epping-based not-for-profit food relief organisation Sikh Community Connections has been delivering cooked meals and groceries to City of Whittlesea residents in need during lockdown.

Its volunteers have delivered more than 30 meals each day since the lockdown started. It also offers free essential groceries to international students and temporary residents, who are ineligible for government support.

In a message posted on social media on Thursday, City of Whittlesea chair administrator Lydia Wilson said the lockdown was a reminder the pandemic was not over, and that the best way out was to get vaccinated.

“I understand that the thought of COVID being present in our community again might be raising feelings of uncertainty for many people, but, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re a resilient and supportive community,” she said.

A mass vaccination clinic is now operating within the council office’s precinct at the Plenty Ranges Arts and Convention Centre.

“This is a walk-up site and no appointment is necessary,” Ms Wilson said.

“If you’re eligible for the vaccination, we encourage you to do so.”

Read more about vaccination rates here. To donate money or food to Sikh Community Connections, visit its Facebook page.