Victorians can expect face mask mandates and limits on home gatherings to be a part of daily life even after 80 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated, a health expert has warned.
The state confirmed a record-high 847 new Covid-19 cases and one death on Saturday.
Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said the state was unlikely to reach its 80 per cent single-dose target rate on Sunday as initially forecast, with the figure only sitting at 76.3 per cent.
Residents will instead have to wait until next week for a minor relaxation in Melbourne’s lockdown that includes ending the ban on low-risk sports such as golf and tennis.
Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said meanwhile strict restrictions may be needed even at an 80 per cent double-dose rate to prevent surging rates of transmission.
Victoria recorded 847 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, with the next set of restrictions to be eased a week later than planned after the state missed its vaccination deadline. Pictured are protesters marching at the ‘Millions March for Freedom’ rally on St Kilda Beach on Saturday
‘The key is getting case numbers down before we ease restrictions and that’s going to take some work,’ she said, according to The Age.
‘We know the virus will be in the community, the question is how much we can live with it?’
She said mask mandates indoors may still be enforced even at that threshold, while caps on gatherings in the home could be enforced and relaxed intermittently to stem outbreaks.
Mr Foley has hinted his government may take that approach, noting that Victoria’s roadmap to freedom isn’t a ‘set and forget’ plan.
‘It was always on the basis we would continue to review where cases were at,’ he said.
Melburnians who are fully vaccinated can gather in groups of up to five when Victoria reaches an 80 per cent single-dose rate and the city’s travel limit will be expanded from 10km to 15km.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the initial roadmap target was ‘ambitious’ and he would consider a day-by-day ‘countdown’ for future 70 and 80 per cent double dose goals based on updated data.
Almost 77 per cent of Victorians have received at least one Covid-19 jab and about 47 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to recently released statistics from the state government.
‘We would expect that, certainly by mid to late next week, we’ll hit that [single dose target],’ Mr Foley told reporters on Friday.
Face masks and restrictions on household numbers are predicted to stay in Victoria even at an 80 per cent full vaccination rate (pictured, two women walking in St Kilda in Melbourne)
Anti-lockdown protestors pictured in Melbourne as they staged a series of rallies throughout the week
‘These projections bounce around based on all sorts of measures. Let’s all redouble our efforts over this weekend.’
There are more than 600 current exposure sites across Victoria, including in regional towns Wodonga, Warrnambool, Bendigo and Shepparton.
Jeroen Weimar, Victoria’s Covid-19 testing chief, said while contact tracers in regional Victoria are monitoring rings of containment, contact tracers in city areas are focused on ‘the highest-risk settings.’
Victorian health minister Martin Foley said Victoria’s roadmap to freedom isn’t a ‘set and forget’ plan
‘We are getting to the heart of the matter more quickly, focusing on those high-risk primary close contacts and focusing on those high-risk exposure sites,’ he said.
With a predicted increase in case numbers looming, 321 people are currently in hospitals across Victoria after testing positive to Covid-19.
Health authorities said the majority of recent cases were being passed on in homes and social settings, with the majority of the social interactions illegal during lockdown.
Victoria recorded 847 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday – up from 733 announced on Friday
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the initial roadmap target was ‘ambitious’ and he would consider a day-by-day ‘countdown’ for future 70 and 80 per cent double dose goals based on updated data
Vaccination numbers were initially tipped to be at 80 per cent in Victoria by September 26 – but the state has fallen short of that projected target (pictured, testing in Ballarat, in regional Victoria this week)
‘Ever since the numbers started to take off we have seen a growing number of household-to- household transmission,’ Mr Weimar said. ‘We are not seeing big workplace outbreaks.
‘I’m also extremely worried that large numbers of Victorians will take their masks off (to watch the AFL grand final), to scream and shout and have a drink.
‘If that happens, we will have another (potential) big cluster of cases and hundreds of people in hospital in the next few weeks.’
A series of protests began on Monday, September 20 in Melbourne’s CBD in opposition to mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations – but quickly morphed into a wider anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine movement.
Authorities fear the protests will prove to be Covid ‘super spreader’ events, which will result in yet another spike in case numbers.