Victoria’s slated lockdown end date of September 2 is looking increasingly unlikely, with authorities remaining tight-lipped on any road map to release.
Victoria has recorded 79 new cases of coronavirus, with another concerning increase in mystery cases.
The Department of Health’s latest figures show 53 of these infections were linked to existing clusters but 26 are still under investigation.
Nineteen of the most recent cases were in isolation throughout their infectious period.
A day 21 test will also be “strongly recommended”, Health Minister Martin Foley said on Friday.
Mr Foley also remained tight-lipped on when Victoria’s lockdown could end, saying only that health officials would make those decisions based on the most up-to-date advice.
Lockdown is slated to end on September 2, but the end date is looking increasingly unlikely after another 79 new local cases were recorded on Friday.
“At the moment, with another six days to go, it is too early to make that call,” Mr Foley said
He also could not provide clarity when asked if Victoria would be in lockdown until the state achieved a 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rate.
“I don’t know about that but I know there have been public health measures for the last 18 months in place,” the minister said.
The new cases come as Victorians now need a new “departing hotel quarantine permit” if they complete two weeks’ isolation interstate.
The chief health officer implemented the new changes on Thursday night.
It will require a day 17 test after arrival into Australia.
VICTORIA’S LATEST CASES
• 10 linked to the Shepparton outbreak
• 1 linked to the Royal Melbourne Hospital outbreak
• 9 linked to the broadmeadows cluster
• 6 linked to Melbourne’s inner north including clusters in Carlton North and Brunswick
• 2 more cases linked to Caroline Springs
• 46 cases are spread across Melbourne’s western suburbs, with 12 linked to Wyndham and 11 in the Newport area
• 1 new case was detected in Geelong
• 2 new infections linked to the City of Monash
• 2 new cases under investigation
WESTERN SUBURBS ‘AREA OF CONCERN’
Covid-19 commander Jeroen Weimar said 60 per cent of Friday’s cases could be traced to Melbourne’s western suburbs.
“This is a significant area of concern,” he told reporters.
“We believe there are multiple chains of transmission and we’re looking at quite significant community transmission that’s ongoing.”
There are a total of 150 cases in the western suburbs, including the 46 new infections on Friday.
Thirty-nine of the 150 cases were in the City of Wyndham, 81 in the Newport area and 19 linked to the Newport Football Club cluster.
There are now 660 active cases across the state, with 656 of those locally acquired.
Thirty seven Victorians are in hospital, 14 are in ICU and nine people are on a ventilator.
More than 50,000 tests were received over the past 24 hours and 33,411 vaccines administered at state-run clinics.
Victoria has recorded 453 new cases of Covid-19 over the past seven days, while 130 people have recovered from the virus.
Mr Weimar said the outbreak was much bigger than a week ago.
In that time, more than 6000 primary close contacts have been cleared from isolation.
But more than 15,000 others have been forced to self-isolate at home.
At least 50 mystery cases tied to Victoria’s latest outbreak have now been linked.
NSW LOCKDOWN MAY LAST UNTIL OCT
New South Wales recorded 882 coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, a slight dip from their record-breaking 1029 tally on Thursday.
The state’s premier Gladys Berejiklian also detailed her plan to return students to school.
Kindergarten and year 1 students in New South Wales are expected to return to classrooms from October 25 with remaining years returning progressively.
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RULES MAY EASE DESPITE CASE SPIKE
Lockdown restrictions may still ease in Victoria next week, despite the state recording the biggest spike in Covid-19 cases in almost a year.
There were 80 new cases reported on Thursday, the highest daily number since 110 cases were reported on September 2 last year.
While a major easing of restrictions or lockdown is unlikely, Daniel Andrews would not rule out easing some restrictions when lockdown was due to end next Thursday.
“It’s too early for us to say … every day’s data tells you a different picture. The rules will be on for as long as they serve a useful purpose,” the Premier said.
One of the key restrictions some experts have flagged could be eased first is the controversial playground ban.
Authorities have maintained the shutdown was in response to a record number of children testing positive in the current outbreak.
However, chief health officer Brett Sutton on Thursday said an investigation into playground transmission was inconclusive.
“We don’t get a definitive answer. We don’t have an alternative explanation and that becomes a working hypothesis,” he said.
“We can’t see the virus transmit from one person to another so we don’t know definitively.”
Just 39 of Thursday’s cases were in isolation for their infectious period, with contact tracers investigating the source of 13 further mystery cases.
Prof Sutton said the virus had moved “silently and with stealth” across the state.
“The fight is still on … clearly today is a challenging day, and the numbers aren’t going in the direction that we would like them to,” he said.
It comes as health authorities continue to discover concerning new aspects of the Delta variant.
“What’s become apparent in recent weeks is that maybe three-quarters of transmission occurs without symptoms or before you’ve developed symptoms,” Prof Sutton said.
“You have to assume that you could be infectious, even without symptoms, at any time.”
Meanwhile, new health department data provided to the Herald Sun revealed in the past week, only 40 per cent of symptomatic people got tested.
It prompted the Premier to lash the “selfish behaviour” of Victorians.
“Don’t, for heaven’s sake, as some have, wait eight days, and literally infect everyone you come anywhere near in that eight-day period,” he said, adding it was evident illegal home visits were still a source of transmission.
“Please don’t be visiting friends, please don’t be visiting family, because the visitor that no one knows about is the coronavirus. You are taking it with you to the people you love. Don’t act in a selfish and irresponsible way. Stay at home, or you will spread this virus.”
REOPENING WON’T LEAD TO MORE DEATHS
Reopening Australia with thousands of Covid-19 cases active in the community will not lead to more deaths over six months than waiting for virus numbers to be contained at low numbers, updated modelling by the Doherty Institute has found.
The updated modelling, which will be discussed on Friday at a meeting of the national cabinet, conducted analysis of three different scenarios over a 180-day period based on Covid case numbers in the tens, hundreds and thousands and found no material difference in fatality rates.
The updated modelling, already provided to state and territory leaders on Wednesday, comes as Scott Morrison seeks to hold the Premiers to the national cabinet agreement for restrictions to be eased at vaccination rates of 70-80 per cent.
The Doherty Institute earlier this week confirmed that the original advice on its modelling still held irrespective of the case numbers.
The new analysis will quell concerns from state leaders about the outbreak in NSW by suggesting the spiralling number of infections does not present a major obstacle to proceeding with the national cabinet’s four-step reopening strategy.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced fully vaccinated people would be given more freedoms from September 13.
Outdoor gatherings of up to five people will be allowed across much of the state, while fully vaccinated residents in hot spot areas will be able to gather outdoors for an hour.
Mr Andrews wouldn’t say whether a similar model would be implemented in Victoria, but said he hoped any interstate decisions were “consistent with the national plan”.
Returning Victorians who have completed their two-week quarantine interstate will now need to complete a mandatory day-17 test.
Day-21 testing will continue to be recommended in a bid to reduce the risk of virus incursion into the state.
Mr Andrews said he hadn’t given up hope on a Victorian grand final.
“It’s going to be incredibly difficult for us to have major events any time soon … but no decision has been made,” he said.
HEALTHCARE WORKERS’ JAB DEAL
Fully vaccinated healthcare workers may avoid long quarantine periods after being exposed to Covid-positive patients under new guidelines to keep hospitals functioning.
Rather than face a full 14-day isolation, Victorian hospital workers will be able to return to work after just five days under special circumstances.
The new guidelines – which are still being developed by the Department of Health and the state’s health services – come as hospitals feel the strain of hundreds of staff forced to furlough due to Victoria’s worsening outbreak.
Until now all hospital staff who worked in a ward with a Covid-positive patient or colleague were considered high risk and furloughed for 14 days.
But under the new arrangements, vaccinated staff who spent only short periods in the ward or had minimal contact may be allowed to a continue working if they return a negative test after five days.
Returning workers would also need to undertake daily saliva tests, a PCR test on day nine and undertake a clearance PCR test on day 13, and wear full PPE while working.
Outside their working hours the staff will have to observe the same isolation requirements for the full 14 days, a department spokesman said.
“In light of the recent outbreak, additional guidance has been developed to assist Victorian health services through the current Covid-19 outbreak in an effort to protect and preserve the healthcare workforce, and where appropriate and clinically safe, limit unnecessary impacts of staff furlough requirements,” he said.
“This is an evolving piece of work, which may change or health services may adapt depending on their circumstances and outbreak status.”
With eight staff and seven patients confirmed to have Covid in recent days the Royal Melbourne Hospital has been placed on ambulance bypass while more than 370 staff are furloughed.
‘TOO EARLY’ TO REOPEN CLASSROOMS
Pressure is mounting on the state government to reopen schools, but the Premier won’t commit to resuming onsite classes before term 4.
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge on Thursday said families were hurting trying to educate their children at home, adding that schools needed to be reopened urgently.
“Fortunately, (the closure) hasn’t had the dramatic impact on their learning, which is good news, but it has had a massive impact on their mental health,” Mr Tudge said.
“We know the statistics there, it’s very serious because schools aren’t just about learning, they are about that social interaction, they are about that engagement and staying emotionally healthy, as well as academically learning.”
But Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday said it was “too early” to say whether kids could return for term 3.
“I simply can’t pretend that we have absolutely certainty with this, we’re going to have to see how things unfold. I know that’s frustrating, but I’m not going to make things up,” he said.
Of Victoria’s 600 active cases, 128 are aged under 9, while 106 fall in the 10-19 cohort.
Mr Andrews said given the Delta strain’s infectivity, particularly for children, it was still unsafe to open classes.
He added the risks of children catching the virus and then infecting their households were far too great.
“I don’t want to see kids in hospital, I just don’t,” he said.
Mr Tudge said Victorians could look forward to schools opening up once the state reached 70 and 80 per cent vaccine coverage.
“That’s the great hope for us as a society, as a whole,” he said.
Originally published as ‘Too early’ to guess lockdown end date as 79 new Covid cases recorded