Victorian health authorities have confirmed four new locally acquired COVID-19 infections in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
State Health Minister Martin Foley said three of the four cases were close contacts of the first infection, one of two reported as “likely positives” on Monday morning.
These are the nation’s first locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the past 13 days.
It is almost three months since Victoria had a locally acquired transmission of the disease.
“This morning [Monday], the Department of Health was advised of two positive cases of COVID-19 and Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Both of whom reside in the city of Whittlesea,” Mr Foley said.
The first case presented for testing on May 23 after experiencing symptoms from May 20. He was joined at the testing centre by a male relative, who was asymptomatic.
“We put public health actions in place, including isolating and testing of all of those family members. As a result of those tests, a further two positive tests among those family members have been identified. Case three, a woman, and case four, a child,” Mr Foley said.
He said the four infected people lived across two households.
The first is the Jump Swim school at unit 34 in Bundoora, in Melbourne’s north. Anyone who was there from 8.55am-10.15am on May 21 has been told to get tested, isolate and quarantine for 14 days.
Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said interviews were underway between the two households to determine whether there are more exposure sites.
“We have to ready ourselves for any other positives,” he said.
Earlier, a senior Victorian government minister said it was too soon to link Monday’s cases to an exposure site bungle that occurred earlier in May when the wrong supermarket was listed as an exposure site during an outbreak.
Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan earlier said the new cases were being “thoroughly investigated”.
“It’s too soon to draw any conclusions about the connection between these two cases and previous cases,” she said.
People had been warned of potential exposure at Woolworths in Epping, also in Melbourne’s north, a fortnight ago after a man from Wollert contracted COVID-19 in hotel quarantine in South Australia.
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Mr Foley said genomic testing was underway to determine whether the man who came from South Australia was linked to the current cases. But authorities believed the dates do not cross over, suggesting a link is less likely
“Given the proximity of the gentleman from early May who return from hotel quarantine in Adelaide who lives in that city, we do not rule out the prospect that there is a link,” he said.
Mr Foley said it was a “wake-up” call for people to wear masks on public transport, get tested if you experience symptoms and get vaccinated.
In addressing the latest from Victoria, the nation’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said contract tracing was an “inexact science” and continued to urge Australians to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“These things are always difficult. It is an inexact science. We have incredibly experienced and good contact tracers, including in Victoria, and sometimes they don’t get the right information or they
misinterpret the information.”
On Friday, Victoria’s health department said the man from SA quarantine had shopped at a Woolworths in Epping North, three kilometres from the supermarket that was initially identified.
Anyone who was at Woolworths Epping North on Saturday, May 8, between 5.40-6.38pm should get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said it was clear the government had stuffed up contact tracing.
“If we get another outbreak in Melbourne because this government didn’t do the basics right then frankly, the health minister, and other ministers need to lose their jobs,” he said.
The four new cases have snapped Victoria’s 86-day streak without a locally acquired case and have led to multiple new exposure sites being flagged.
Meanwhile, police have begun a two-week compliance blitz to ensure public transport users wear masks.
Face masks have been mandatory on public transport in Victoria since mid-2020.
But since the state emerged from its second lockdown in November, compliance on metropolitan trains and trams has fallen from 88 per cent to just over 50 per cent.
Police officers from Monday will target train stations and tram routes and issue penalties up to $200 to those who decline an offer of a mask.