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Charges over fatal COVID aged care cluster

A Melbourne aged care home where 45 people died from COVID-19 has been charged by the workplace safety watchdog.

WorkSafe Victoria on Monday announced it has charged St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Victoria with nine breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

It alleges that in July 2020, after the home was notified a worker tested positive to COVID-19, St Basil’s failed to require workers to wear personal protective equipment.

It also allegedly failed to train workers how to safely don and remove protective equipment, to verify that staff were competent using it, tell staff when it should be used and supervise its use.

Ninety-four residents and the same number of staff tested positive for COVID-19, with 45 people subsequently dying of complications from the virus.

The maximum penalty for each of St Basil’s alleged offences is a fine of $1.49 million.

The safety watchdog’s investigation into the aged care home took 23 months, and involved reviewing thousands of pages of documents and multiple witness interviews, WorkSafe said.

The St Basil’s matter is listed for a filing hearing at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on August 1.

A coronial inquest into 45 COVID-19 deaths at the aged care home is ongoing and has heard allegations residents were not properly fed or cared for throughout the 2020 outbreak.

Evacuating the home’s residents during the outbreak was never seriously considered, and outbreak managers instead replaced the entire staff with an emergency workforce, Coroner John Cain was told.

The inquest is on hold while chairman Kon Kontis and director of nursing Vicky Kos fight an order that they give evidence about their involvement in managing the outbreak on grounds of self-incrimination.

Both have been told nothing they say can be used against them in criminal proceedings, but their lawyers have accused WorkSafe of using the inquest as a “dress rehearsal” for a criminal case.

St Basil’s has been contacted for comment.

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