Victoria’s Delta outbreak has ‘plateaued’ and can still be eliminated despite the state recording 73 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, its health minister insists.
The new infections – of which only 24 were in isolation during their infectious period – deal a further blow to the Andrews Government’s goal of completely suppressing the spread of cases.
But Health Minister Martin Foley said the slowing pace of the outbreak indicated the state’s harsher lockdown was starting to have an effect.
‘The situation has – we hope – plateaued, and there’s every indication that the measures are starting to kick in,’ he said.
Mr Foley said he was confident the state-wide restrictions – which include a 9pm-5am curfew in Melbourne – would mean Victoria could ease lockdown even before the state hits a 70 per cent vaccination rate.
Victoria’s Delta outbreak has ‘plateaued’ and can still be brought back to zero, Health Minister Martin Foley said on Monday
‘We’ve had public health restrictions in different iterations for the best part of 18 months now,’ he said.
‘I think we can work on the basis that, if we are successful [in driving down the spread of cases] there will be different restrictions.’
Mr Foley said regardless of whether the state eliminates the Delta strain, Victorians would regain some of their freedoms when 70 per cent and then 80 per cent of them are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
If Victoria reaches that target with low infection levels, he said the state could ease restrictions even further.
‘When we get to 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates, our options multiply,’ he said.
‘If we do that, from the lowest possible infection levels, then our options grow even more.’
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said though it was still too early to tell if and when the state could get the spread of cases back down to zero.
‘We can do better in each and every area,’ he said. ‘We know that more people could come forward for AstraZeneca and that people could follow the public health restrictions even more strongly.
‘If we drop our guard it gives Delta that opportunity to break through and cause another outbreak.’
He ruled out implementing a Sydney-style lockdown – where some LGAs are locked down harder than others – if it became apparent the outbreak could not be stemmed.
Pictured: Premier Daniel Andrews. The 73 new cases deal a blow to his government’s goal of completely suppressing the spread of cases
‘Metropolitan Melbourne has exposure sites right across the metro area,’ Professor Sutton said.
‘I don’t want to be in a situation where you drive people to leave certain LGAs and go to other LGAs and seed it more broadly.’
Mr Foley called on federal officials to increase the supply of vaccines to Victoria as he revealed there were no first-dose bookings of the in-demand Pfizer jab now available anywhere in the state.
‘The thing that’s holding us back on the vaccination levels is supply,’ he said.
‘The sooner the commonwealth opens its cheque book and starts providing us more vaccinations, the sooner we can get there.’
Reopening playgrounds, sending Year 12 students back to the classroom, lifting the 9pm to 5am curfew and scrapping the five kilometre travel rule are among the possible changes. Pictured are residents in Melbourne’s CBD on Sunday
A Victorian health worker on Monday also explained the toll the virus was taking on patients as she called on the state’s residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
‘[Ward nurses] come to me and say: “Kylie, it is like nothing we have ever seen before. These patients are young and fit and the next minute they are getting taken to ICU,”‘ Western Health critical care outreach services manager Kylie Fischer said.
‘These are senior ICU nurses who have seen it all before, they have done it all before.
‘I will probably ask them to do it all again. They will, but they shouldn’t have to.’
Senior government ministers are meanwhile reportedly considering rolling back a number of measures after being briefed by the public health team on Sunday.
Reopening playgrounds, sending Year 12 students back to the classroom, lifting the 9pm to 5am curfew and scrapping the five-kilometre travel rule are among the possible changes.
Year 12 students could be allowed to return to the classroom as senior government officials consider what restrictions can be eased
A final decision is expected to be made on Tuesday as the state government considers what lockdown will look like beyond Thursday.
Victorian epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said the virus had now spread too far for health officials to contain the outbreak and achieve zero cases, and measures intended to achieve that fading hope should be scrapped.
‘If parents understand how to have their kids in play in playgrounds safely … where you don’t have a whole lot of kids climbing on the same piece of equipment … you can find some kind of safe compromise,’ Dr Bennett told The Age.
‘This isn’t relying on kids to do the right thing, but means parents know how to use those playgrounds by being really mindful of cross-household transmission.’
Grattan Institute health program director Stephen Duckett has suggested reopening cafes and lifting the five kilometre travel limit for fully-vaccinated residents in a bid to ease the mental load on the state’s residents who have been dealing with rolling lockdowns for over a year.
He argued strict measures could be eased for regions that had recorded zero Covid cases, while remaining in force in hotspots such as Shepparton, which had 94 active cases.
‘This would not mean abandoning a COVID-control goal; it would simply mean recognising the reality that the principal aim is to protect the public and the hospital system, and that we could still achieve that with a lighter touch,’ he said.
Sunday’s tally is a jump from the previous day’s local case figure of 64, and the highest number of new cases recorded since early September 2020, when the state battled the second wave of the virus
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said he expected the curfew and five-kilometre travel limit to be lifted. He has also called for businesses to be allowed to reopen in regional Victoria.
‘Businesses across Victoria are in crisis,’ he said.
‘They are incredibly frustrated that, despite doing everything that has been asked of them – COVID-safe plans, QR code check-ins, observing density limits and, for many, closing their doors and standing down staff – there is still no clear path to how or when they can open.’
However computational epidemiologist Mikhail Prokopenko insisted restrictions remain in place until the state reached the ambitious target of having 80 per cent of the population fully-jabbed, which was unlikely to be reached this year.
On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews announced the sixth lockdown in the state would be extended beyond September 2.
Computational epidemiologist Mikhail Prokopenko insisted restrictions remain in place until 80 per cent of the state was fully-jabbed
‘We see far too many cases today for us to seriously consider opening up later on this week,’ Mr Andrews said.
Despite the figures, he promised there was ‘still a chance’ of the state’s case numbers returning to zero.
Two-thirds of the state’s active cases are in Melbourne’s north and west.
‘That’s not to single out the north or the west, but … that is where the cases are and that’s where the extra effort has to be,’ Mr Andrews said.
Western suburbs doctor Amrooha Hussain told reporters at Sunday’s news conference that she continued to see people waiting as long as two weeks after the onset of symptoms before taking a Covid test.
Meanwhile, Mr Andrews said the prime minister had promised him in a conversation on Saturday that NSW would no longer get ‘preferential treatment’ in vaccine distribution
She said entire families with young children had been infected.
‘It’s hard enough to look after one sick child, but when there’s multiple sick children, and then the carers are unwell themselves, it’s a really challenging time for those families,’ she said.
Meanwhile, Mr Andrews said the prime minister had promised him in a conversation on Saturday that NSW would no longer get ‘preferential treatment’ over Victoria in vaccine distribution.
‘We didn’t begrudge them getting additional doses, but we’re locked down, they’re locked down, and the need is just as great here,’ Mr Andrews said.