Josh Frydenberg has dead-batted Victoria’s request for federal financial assistance after the state recorded four new Covid-19 cases on its first full day of a planned one-week lockdown.
The lockdown, which has resulted in 15,000 Victorians being identified as primary and secondary contacts who have been told to isolate, has already caused a surge of requests for commonwealth pandemic leave disaster payments.
Despite Victoria facing the first statewide lockdown since jobkeeper ended in March, commonwealth assistance will at this stage be limited to non-monetary support rather than the reinstatement of wage subsidies.
Victoria has requested assistance from Australian Defence Force personnel to help with contact tracing and door-knocking positive cases and their close contacts to ensure they are quarantining.
Four new cases were announced in Victoria on Friday as the state entered its first day of lockdown. There are 30 community-acquired cases and 121 exposure sites have been identified.
The acting premier, James Merlino, said: “I’ve contacted the prime minister this morning.
“The request will be for around 160 ADF staff for at least the next fortnight to assist our authorised officers in door-knocking … If we have those additional ADF staff pairing up with authorised officers we are effectively doubling our capacity to do that really important work over the next few weeks.”
On Friday morning the health minister, Greg Hunt, said the federal government would assist with ADF personnel, additional contact tracing and testing but the Victorian government was “the responsible body” for economic supports.
Merlino later revealed the state treasurer, Tim Pallas, asked for assistance from his federal counterpart, Josh Frydenberg, on Thursday.
Although Victoria requested wage subsidies or small business assistance, Guardian Australia understands no further assistance was offered and no further talks are scheduled.
Merlino told reporters in Melbourne wage subsidies like the jobkeeper program that ended in March were “entirely a matter for the commonwealth” and Victoria “will not step into that place”.
Instead, Victoria’s economic support package, expected as early as this weekend, would focus on giving “confidence to business”, he said.
Frydenberg told Guardian Australia the Victorian lockdown was a “painful reminder that we are still in the midst of a global pandemic”.
He pointed to $45.2bn of economic support already provided to Victoria, and sectoral assistance for tourism, travel, aviation, arts and entertainment.
“More is flowing in the form of tax cuts to households and businesses as well as additional funding for much-needed mental health services,” Frydenberg said.
New figures from the Department of Home Affairs reveal that Victoria has already accounted for $18.7m of the $25.2m paid through the federal government’s pandemic leave disaster payment – which is for people ordered to self-isolate who lack paid leave entitlements and are not receiving income support.
Demand for the program spiked from 47 calls from Victorians to Services Australia applying for the payment on 21 May to 469 calls on Thursday.
While Frydenberg has not definitely ruled out federal assistance, it is likely only worsening Covid results and an extension of the one-week lockdown could prompt reconsideration.
The Liberal MP Katie Allen told Guardian Australia the federal government had already given “significant” assistance when Victoria had opted for a statewide lockdown instead of a local hotspot approach, which provided the “wrong incentive”.
Allen said it was “too early to tell” whether federal assistance would be needed one day into the lockdown and before Victoria’s package was announced, but “there would need to be consideration of federal support” if it lasted longer than one week.
The state’s deputy health department secretary, Jeroen Weimar, said he was concerned by the types of venues involved in the outbreak, urging those who had been in the bars and clubs identified as exposure sites in particular to get tested and isolate.
“We have an individual who was at The Sporting Globe in Mordialloc between 6.15pm and 9.45pm on Sunday 23 May, and we believe they caught the infection then and they were confirmed positive in yesterday’s numbers,” Weimar said.
“So we now see the significant risk in particular at those social venues, the bars and clubs, and we are very keen to ensure that people who have been to those places at those times come forward very quickly.”
Bars in Prahran and South Yarra are also of concern, including Three Monkeys bar, Circus bar, and Somewhere bar.
Victorians have turned out in record numbers to receive their vaccinations since the lockdown was announced. Getting vaccinated is one of the reasons people are allowed to leave their home.
“A couple of days ago we had 350 people working on vaccination bookings and today we have over 550 working on vaccination bookings. We have 150 people dealing with other Covid-related questions,” Weimar said.
“Over the past few weeks we have had an average of 50,000 doses per week. We can double that number and we are on track to do that with the numbers we are seeing over the last few days.”
While eligibility was expanded on Thursday to include people aged 40 and above, health authorities said they would continue to consider expanding the eligibility as well as the vaccination workforce.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said it was important to recognise that although just four new cases seemed like good news: “It is not over yet. We can get 10 tomorrow, 20 tomorrow.
“We absolutely have to recognise that there are thousands and thousands of close contacts still to go through the incubation period, who could become symptomatic.”