AS confirmed COVID-19 cases in Victoria surged by a record 723 on Thursday, Central Gippsland Health says it is close to completing a rapid upgrade of Sale Hospital's critical care unit to increase its capacity for ventilated patients from two to six.
CGH chief executive Dr Frank Evans said if a surge happened in the local area, an additional increase up to 10 ventilated patients was possible.
With COVID-19 cases multiplying rapidly in aged care facilities in Melbourne, he said CGH was working with regional hospitals to lead a response plan for aged care services in Gippsland, including those in Wellington Shire.
CGH manages a range of aged care facilities, including Stretton Park and the JHF McDonald Wing in Maffra, Wilson Lodge in Sale and Laurina Lodge in Heyfield.
Other local aged facilities in the area include Ashleigh House, Sale Elderly Citizens Village, Royal Freemasons and Opal Aged Care, all in Sale.
With more than 80 outbreaks and more than 800 active cases across private residential aged care facilities, state and federal agencies are coordinating additional support for the sector.
Working through the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, the agencies will deploy teams of public health experts and experienced nursing staff from Victorian hospitals to residential aged care facilities, ensuring there is appropriate oversight and care.
For some residents who have tested positive to coronavirus, it is no longer safe to keep them onsite and they will need to be transferred to hospitals.
More than 100 residents have already been moved to hospitals across Melbourne, with plans in place for at least another 50 residents to be transferred in coming days.
All non-urgent category two elective surgery across public and private hospitals in metropolitan Melbourne will be paused, to ensure hospitals have the beds, equipment and staff available if aged care residents need to be transferred.
This announcement follows on from the recent decision to pause all category three elective surgery in metropolitan Melbourne and reduce elective surgery lists across public and private hospitals.
There will be no changes to elective surgery in regional Victoria, but regional cases will continue to be monitored to ensure those hospitals have the resources and capacity they need to manage any increase in presentations.
Wherever possible, surgeries that have already been booked will proceed - but for the time being, only new category one and the most urgent category two surgeries will be booked.
IVF treatments such as egg retrievals will be able to continue given the time critical nature of these procedures and minimal effect on hospital capacity.
More than 1200 spaces for ICU and critical care beds have been created or upgraded so they are suitable for coronavirus patients.
This includes almost 800 ICU beds which are ready to go, with hundreds more ready to be rapidly scaled up as needed.
Should the demand for ICU beds increase, plans are in place to convert 1000 more critical care spaces to treat coronavirus cases within state hospitals.
This includes upgrading operating theatres, recovery and other ward areas, emergency department spaces, and if really required, more beds can be opened in modular facilities.
Meanwhile, the the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners state chairman Dr Cameron Loy said people living regionally should be cautious and wear masks or face coverings in public if it was difficult to keep a physical distance.
"Now is the time for people in regional Victoria to be cautious and act with common sense," he said.
"We have a long way to go to beat COVID-19, and we are seeing community transmission of COVID-19 in some regional areas.
"Wearing a face covering will help stop transmission, which is what everyone wants. The sooner people 'mask up' in Victoria, especially in areas of community transmission, the sooner we will get on top of this virus."