Victoria Covid update: lockdown lifts but strict health orders remain as no new local cases recorded

, Victoria Covid update: lockdown lifts but strict health orders remain as no new local cases recorded, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

Victorians have been warned to remain on guard against “surprise” cases of Covid-19 as lockdown eases in Melbourne and the state records its first day without a new locally acquired case in 25 days, with the chief health officer warning this is just “the halfway point” in quashing the outbreak.

It comes as both Queensland and New South Wales have reported no new coronavirus cases despite listing a number of exposure sites visited by a Victorian couple who left during lockdown in Melbourne before testing positive to the virus on the Sunshine Coast.

Lockdown lifted in Melbourne overnight but strict health orders remain, including a mandate to wear a face mask at all times outside the home, preventing some businesses from operating, and limiting travel to within 25km.

Victoria’s chief health officer Prof Brett Sutton said the strict rules were necessary to keep the outbreak under control, particularly with the discovery of two new clusters — the Melbourne couple who travelled to Queensland and the family of four from Reservoir — for which the chain of transmission is still unknown.

Both clusters have been identified as the Kappa variant and connected to the Whittlesea cluster, but authorities have yet to identify a clear source of acquisition.

“I wish I could give certainty to people a week in advance,” Sutton said. “A week is unfortunately like an eternity for coronavirus. Because if there is something out there that has been identified, transmission that is occurring potentially in a really significant setting like aged care or disability services or an essential workplace setting, where there are loads and loads of interactions … we have to be aware that those things can still surprise us.”

Sutton warned that case numbers over the next week in Victoria “probably won’t be all zeros”.

There are still 3,900 primary close contacts in isolation who could test positive. Another 900 cleared isolation without infection yesterday.

“It has only been 48 hours since we had cases of uncertain act acquisition,” he said. “This is a real lesson that we may still see cases.”

Sutton defended the decision to mandate wearing masks outdoors, saying it was “a really important intervention”.

“Transmission does happen outdoors — it is a substantially smaller risk, that is why we encourage a whole lot of activities to take place outdoors, and for individuals to meet outdoors, but they still occur.”

He added that “the Rose Garden outside the White House is a classic example of a super spreader event that happens outdoors,” referring to a ceremony held by then US president Donald Trump in September 2020 to announce a supreme court nominee, after which at least seven people, including Trump, tested positive to Covid-19.

“We will do the minimum restrictions that are required,” he said. “It’s a balancing act. You don’t want to open up to the extent that there’s a really significant risk of this variant, or any variant, running away from you.”

, Victoria Covid update: lockdown lifts but strict health orders remain as no new local cases recorded, The Nzuchi Times Guardian

He would not be drawn on whether there was a level of vaccination which would guarantee against lockdown, but said the greater the level of vaccination, the greater the chance that outbreaks will not occur.

Victoria’s acting premier, James Merlino, said Wednesday’s test numbers were too low, particularly in suburbs of concern like Cragieburn. Just over 17,000 people were tested on Wednesday, down from highs of more than 40,000 a day one week ago.

“To keep easing and to keep us safe, everyone needs to get tested straight away,” Merlino said. “If you are watching now and have a cough or runny nose, or you have just popped a Strepsil, you know what you have to do.”

Merlino said the rules in place for the next week were the minimum level necessary to reduce the risk of another outbreak, and that going into lockdown was “an absolute last resort”.

Despite the ongoing restrictions and uncertainty, which has seen some businesses remain closed and others open with reduced staff, the federal government has halted its temporary Covid-19 disaster payment. The payment was only available for one week for people in Melbourne, and the Victorian Council of Social Services says its eligibility criteria was so narrow as to be “cruel”.

“It’s a dud,” says VCOSS chief executive Emma King. “It’s too little, too late, and it has been lifted much too soon.”

The eligibility criteria exclude anyone who received any level of other commonwealth support payments, even if those payments were as low as a single parenting payment of $48 per week — meaning that fewer people applied.

“It’s’ cruel, the eligibility criteria,” King said. “It’s not about need, it doesn’t reflect need at all. So many people are just locked out of it because of the criteria.”

In Queensland, health authorities have identified 316 close contacts of the Melbourne couple, who are quarantining awaiting test results, and a further 959 people who identified themselves as having been at an exposure site.

The Queensland chief health officer, Dr Jeanette Young, said she was “increasingly confident” of being able to contain any potential outbreak, but would not relax until 14 days had passed without any further infections.

“As we get more and more negative results, that will increase my confidence that we are in control of this,” she said.

Queensland police said contact tracing interviews have taken precedence over the police investigation into their movements. The couple were reportedly relocating to Queensland permanently. Moving house is a permitted reason to leave home under Victoria’s lockdown rules.

Meanwhile, Queensland’s deputy police commissioner Steve Gollschewski said police have stopped five people trying to come into Queensland from Victoria since 28 May, after doing more than 3,000 random vehicle checks. The penalty for entering Queensland in breach of Covid-19 restrictions is $4003.

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