Kindergarten will be free for all children next term with the state government splashing $45 million to avert a catastrophic collapse in the preschool sector.
The commitment comes after the federal government announced all childcare would be free for the next six months.
Kindergarten will be free for all children in term two. Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
The state government funding will go to “sessional” kindergarten, which generally offers shorter hours than long day care programs.
The funding will cover term two for services that allow children to attend 15 hours a week of kindergarten for free.
Education Minister James Merlino said the funding would ensure the kindergartens remained financially viable and help teachers keep their jobs.
“We are making sure Victorian children can still go to kinder and get an early childhood education during this difficult period, without parents worrying about fees – this will save jobs, save kinders and save families hundreds of dollars,” he said.
About 50,000 children attend sessional kindergarten. But the government confirmed numbers have declined markedly with many parents choosing to keep their children home.
The funding will provide $485 per child for term two.
The Victorian coronavirus death toll continues to rise with a woman in her 70s the latest to succumb to COVID-19, taking the state's total number of coronavirus deaths to eight.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos confirmed the woman died in hospital on Friday, but said the case was not related to the coronavirus cluster that caused three deaths and the self-isolation of more than 100 staff at The Alfred hospital's oncology and haematology ward.
Police issued 25 fines to people failing to comply with restrictions in the 24 hours to 8am Saturday, bringing the number of people fined since the new regulations were brought in to 64.
Fines are up to $1652 for individuals and $9913 for businesses. Ninety-nine returned travellers were found not to be at home when they should have been in isolation when police conducted 391 spot checks over 24 hours.
Police said they have conducted 12,541 checks to ensure people were complying with the rules.
“I am disappointed there still appears to be a minority of people who are ignoring public health advice,” Ms Mikakos said.
There are now 1115 coronavirus cases in Victoria, an increase of 30 from Saturday. Forty-two people were in hospital, including 10 patients in intensive care.
Community transmission cases rose to 73 on Saturday, up by 11 from the day before. The state government has dramatically expanded its contact tracing team to 1000 workers from 57, to increase surveillance, allow for more targeted case identification and provide isolation advice.
The expansion will cost $37 million.
The team includes epidemiologists, public health professionals, nurses and data entry staff who help make links between positive cases and notify potential "close contacts" of those who have the virus.
If someone who tests positive has not returned from overseas or doesn't have a connection to a positive coronavirus case, they are considered to have acquired COVID-19 through community transmission.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese Van Diemen said data from the contact tracers shows that the time between people showing coronavirus symptoms and going into self-quarantine had dropped.
But the current rate of community transmissions is still related to what was happening more than a week ago, she said, and we will not know if current measures are halting the spread of coronavirus for another two to three weeks.
One to two weeks ago, Victoria did not have strict social distancing regulations in place and people were “still mixing freely … we had reports of big gatherings and large parties”, said Dr Van Diemen.
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