Victoria has recorded 76 new coronavirus cases as the state’s top doctor broke ranks with official policy and acknowledged it may become impossible to get case numbers back to zero.
Mystery cases – with no link to previously idenitified infections – jumped from the 20 or so per day in the past week to 31 announced on Tuesday.
The 76 cases were diagnosed from 50,848 tests (a rate of 0.15 per cent positive) and 32,162 vaccine doses were administered on Monday.
While the stated government aim of lockdown number six in Victoria was to eliminate cases, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton admitted that may no longer be possible and restrictions would soon be eased regardless.
‘We’re not going to achieve [zero cases] if it becomes impossible,’ he said, adding that Victorians needed to be given some ‘assured’ freedoms even if cases do not go down.
‘It’s doing your utmost to keep numbers down, manage the health system, to get to zero if you can, but with some assured hope if numbers continue to increase.’
Victoria reported another 73 Covid cases on Monday with the health minister saying he said the restrictions have caused numbers to plateau (pictured: Melbourne residents on Monday)
Victoria like other states has committed to opening up when vaccine targets are hit (pictured: a Melbourne vaccination hub on Monday)
When asked directly if Victoria could get back to zero cases, Dr Sutton said he didn’t know, but there was more they could do to suppress the outbreak.
‘Community engagement, compliance with restrictions, testing… We can do better in every area. We know more people could get AstraZeneca,’ he said.
‘We know dropping our guard gives Delta the opportunity to break through and cause another outbreak.’
His comments were in stark contrast to Health Minister Martin Foley, who insisted the slowing pace of the outbreak showed the harsher lockdown was working.
‘The situation has – we hope – plateaued, and there’s every indication that the measures are starting to kick in,’ he said at the same press conference.
Case numbers have steadied over the past week, as have testing rates – with Victoria performing one third the number of daily tests as compared to New South Wales.
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.
‘We’ve had public health restrictions in different iterations for the best part of 18 months now,’ he said.
‘If we are successful [in driving down the spread of cases] there will be different restrictions.’
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
He added if the outbreak is quashed combined with high vaccination rates, Victorians could return to something resembling pre-pandemic life.
‘When we get to 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates, our options multiply. If we do that, from the lowest possible infection levels, then our options grow even more.’
Dr Sutton said lifting restrictions in some areas and keeping them in others was also not ‘off the table’ specifically mentioning regional Victoria.
‘We’re doing pretty well in Shepparton. That gives options for regional Victoria in particular at the moment.’
‘[But] metropolitan Melbourne has exposure sites right across the metro area. 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.’
Dr Sutton said ‘everything is up for review’ including Melbourne’s 9pm to 5am curfew and whether playgrounds will reopen.
‘It’s a balancing act… We want to make sure that mental health of adults and kids are supported to the fullest extent we can, within the awful constraints of lockdown,’ he said.
Dr Sutton (pictured) said lifting restrictions without getting to zero Covid cases was not ‘off the table’
He added that certain rules in ‘lower risk settings’ are also being looked at.
‘Gatherings that are much smaller, where there is doubly vaccinated people [in] age groups that are eligible,’ he said.
‘In outdoor areas and when there is not prolonged contact, [or] a regulated environment [such as] check-in.’
Despite increasing pressure from business for a road map out of lockdown, Mr Foley said Victoria’s plan is the one agreed by national cabinet – to rely on vaccination rates.
‘In regards to specific timetables and in regards to specific measures, the public health team are working on those,’ he said.
Dr Sutton said a big consideration was the mental health of Victorians, most of whom have spent 212 days in lockdown since the pandemic started.
‘Part of the reason why the public health response has been what it’s been is to get to a point where we can freely ease restrictions to allow people to live the lives we know we want to live as human beings,’ he said.
‘All of that has been a primary consideration right through. It remains a consideration in everything we are making determinations going on.’
However, Mr Foley also confirmed Victoria had exhausted its supply of first dose Pfizer vaccines at state-run hubs.
‘Whilst there are currently no Pfizer bookings available right now for first doses in that system, don’t give up,’ he said.
Once more Pfizer vaccines are made available by the Commonwealth government, more bookings will be added to the online system, he said.
Melburnians line up at a vaccination centre on Sunday (pictured)
Mr Foley encouraged people to get the vaccine that is available to them, or to try booking at GPs and community pharmacies which are now offering Pfizer vaccines for ages 16 to 39.
State Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said Victorians deserved to know what freedoms they would get once the vaccination targets were reached.
‘We need to know that when we hit that 70 per cent and 80 per cent mark, we get a lot more freedoms back,’ Mr O’Brien told reporters.
‘Victorians are lining up for their vaccinations, the government needs to do the right thing as well.’
On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews said lockdown will not end on September 2.
Source: Daily Mail UK