Victorians reeling from the surging coronavirus crisis can expect it to get even worse, with the chief health officer warning the state might soon have up to 600 new cases a day.
Wednesday was Victoria’s worst day – and the highest daily total for anywhere in Australia – since the COVID outbreak began, with 484 confirmed infections and two more deaths.
The two men in their 90s whose deaths were reported on Wednesday were aged-care residents. There are hundreds of virus cases in Melbourne aged-care facilities – and more among COVID patients in Victorian hospitals.
There are now nearly 3000 active COVID infections across the state, and 44 people have died – many of them in the past 10 days.
But CHO Brett Sutton said worse might be yet to come – and Victoria was at “a really, really challenging phase”.
“We can’t necessarily expect numbers to go down. I think that will be an even greater challenge in days ahead. That means that we’re going to look at 500-600 cases per day,” he said.
The record figures came after the end of the first fortnight in lockdown for millions of residents in Melbourne and the neighbouring Mitchell shire. From 11.59pm on Wednesday, Melburnians are also required to wear masks whenever they leave their homes – with major supermarkets among the retailers signalling they will turn away customers who do not have face coverings.
“We have to reinforce the things that we know will make a difference. And that is the very simple principles of isolation and quarantine,” Professor Sutton said.
“Getting tested very early on and isolating right at the beginning is a really key action.”
Earlier, Premier Daniel Andrews had revealed 90 per cent of Victorians tested between July 7-21 had ignored health orders to self-isolate from the time they first had coronavirus symptoms until they had their test.
More than half then failed to self-isolate while waiting for their test results.
“Nine out of 10 people [who] are sick are taking too long to get tested. That will drive transmission more than anything else,” Mr Andrews said.
“What’s more, more than half of those who’ve gone for a test are not staying at home while they’re waiting for the results of that test. That will drive transmission pretty heavily too.”
Mr Andrews said people who had flouted health rules about testing had “gone out shopping. They have gone to work. They have been at the height of their infectivity, and they have just continued on as usual”.
“We certainly cannot have one-in-two people who are waiting for a test result simply going about their business as if they didn’t have symptoms, as if they weren’t waiting for a test result, as if this wasn’t a global pandemic,” he said.
Mr Andrews said many of those people were employed in insecure work and had to choose between self-isolating or being paid.
“They’ll look at their bank balance, they’ll look at the fact that if they don’t work the shift, they won’t get paid for the shift, they don’t have sick leave,” he said.
“This is a commentary on insecure work. This is a commentary on this as a feature of the Victorian economy and our national economy.”
- More information about the $1500 hardship payment is here
He encouraged Victorians who tested positive to the virus, or had come into contact with someone who had, to apply for a $1500 hardship payment if they did not have sick leave. About 1200 people have applied already.
Despite the widespread movement of sick people, Mr Andrews said there were no plans to introduce further restrictions just yet.
“The key factor here that’s driving the numbers and driving our challenge is people that are sick but not getting tested,” he said.
Professor Sutton said a New Zealand-style lockdown would not necessarily resolve Victoria’s issues.
“I wouldn’t make assumptions that harder, more constrained lockdown is necessarily the way to go. We have to be targeted in terms of seeing where the issues are and addressing them directly,” he said.
He said a majority of Victorians were contracting the virus at work or in health or aged care settings.
“We do know that there’s a significant reduction in household-to-household transmission. That’s absolutely a result of the restrictions that have been in place,” he said.
The state’s previous record was 428 cases last Friday, although daily case numbers have consistently been in triple-digits for weeks.