A serious spike in Victorian coronavirus cases has increased the likelihood of strict ‘lockdowns’ of specific Melbourne suburbs.
Announcing 75 new daily cases, the fourth-highest single day increase since the start of the pandemic, chief health officer Brett Sutton said there were not yet legal directions for stay-at-home orders, but that was a “conversation to be had over the next couple of days”.
He said the continuing rise in cases was “absolutely concerning” and the state’s coronavirus situation would “get worse before it gets better”.
He says many of the new cases were due to people “still going out with symptoms”.
He implored people with symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, or fever to stay at home, get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate until the results of the test are confirmed.
Victoria recorded 90 new cases of the virus at the weekend. It has now had double-digit increases for 12 consecutive days.
There are no new deaths, with the state’s death toll sitting at 20. There are nine people in hospital, one in intensive care and 1789 people have recovered from the disease.
There were 15,000 coronavirus tests on Sunday, bringing the total of tests undertaken in Victoria to 792,000.
Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos said that Monday’s cases were “overwhelmingly concentrated” in the 10 suburbs, mostly in Melbourne’s north and west, prioritised last Friday for a 10-day testing blitz.
Six of the cases were recorded on Monday were students at schools in that region, currently closed for school holidays.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking in Sydney, described Victoria’s numbers as a “serious outbreak”.
“We have seven states and territories at the moment in Australia, where there is either no or virtually no community transmission … and what that means is resources that are available in other states can also be deployed to assist,” he said.
Earlier, Mr Sutton said Victoria was “absolutely” experiencing a second peak of coronavirus cases, which would challenge in the same way as the first.
“But like the first one, but we have been testing as significantly as at any point in Australia,” he said.
“It’s a genuine challenge now. I think we’re right at the edge, in terms of being able to manage it.”
“The effective reproduction number has come down, but it is not below one. It needs to be below one in order to drive numbers down,” he said.
Professor Sutton said locking down particular suburbs is “a balancing act”.
“We don’t want to drive people out of suburban areas into new unaffected areas.
“We know that it is a real challenge for businesses, it is a real challenge for people in their homes if that is what is required. But it is absolutely an option.”
New, less invasive saliva tests devised by the Doherty Institute were implemented for the first time on Monday. Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute, said the new tests – in which a participant need only spit into a cup, rather than undergo a back of the throat swab – performed well, but the throat swab was the “gold standard”.
“The advantage of the saliva test is that it is much more acceptable for people to give a specimen, people just need to collect saliva in their mouth for a minute or two and then split it into a small jar and then that gets sent off to the laboratory,” Prof. Lewin said.
“We think it will play a role in bolstering testing reach across the state, particularly, as you heard earlier, in vulnerable populations or in people who have trouble with the throat swab, such as children or other individuals who find it more acceptable,” she said. “Much better to have this done than to have no test at all.”
NSW reported seven new cases on Monday, all returned travellers now in hotel quarantine.
Western Australia had one new case.
Queensland had no new cases.
Queensland announced that sporting teams that play Victorian teams or compete in Victoria will have to self-isolate for 14 days, forcing immediate changes to the AFL fixture. Richmond, scheduled to play West Coast in Brisbane on Thursday night, will now play Melbourne on Sunday at the MCG, while Sydney will now play West Coast on the Gold Coast on Saturday afternoon and St Kilda will play Carlton on Thursday night.
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