Victoria’s daily coronavirus tally has fallen below 300, with 295 cases confirmed on Wednesday.
But it came on a deadly day, with nine more fatalities bringing the state’s COVID toll to 92. Australia’s national toll is 176.
Premier Daniel Andrews said on Wednesday two more people in their 90s had died, along with five in their 80s, one in their 70s and one in their 60s.
Seven are related to the catastrophe unfolding in aged-care facilities in the state.
Wednesday’s daily tally was also Victoria’s lowest number of confirmed new COVID infections in more than a week, and down from a record high of 532 on Monday. But Mr Andrews urged caution.
“I’m not reading into numbers each day too much. I don’t think that is necessarily the right thing to do,” he said.
“Obviously it’s always pleasing when there are less numbers than more but at the same time, trends are not made in one day. We need to see these numbers over a longer period.”
There are also grim warnings of more fatalities to come. Earlier, former chief medical officer Brendan Murphy, now secretary of the federal Department of Health, said more deaths were guaranteed.
“The most tragic part of this aged-care outbreak is there have been 49 deaths in aged care. That is a terrible tragedy and there will be more,” he said before Mr Andrews’ announcement.
“There will be more deaths with the number of aged-care recipients that are infected. We know that, it is a certainty. We will see deaths every day – and that is a tragedy.”
It came as hospital staff and Australian Defence Force medics arrived in Victorian from interstate to help quell the COVID outbreak spreading through aged-care facilities.
A shortage of staff due to isolation orders is being partly blamed for the situation in Victoria, with deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth telling the Nine network that senior nurses and managers had to avoid work because of coronavirus contacts.
“No business in Australia has a business continuity plan that accounts for their entire workforce not being able to go to work,” he said on Wednesday.
“I think in a lot of ways that has led some of the most affected institutions to where they are now.”
On Tuesday, Mr Andrews said elective surgeries would be suspended in metropolitan Melbourne, except for category one and the most urgent category two procedures.
He said the move would free up hospital beds to treat residents and allow health workers to go into aged care homes to cope with the staff shortages.
On Wednesday, Mr Andrews pushed back at suggestions he had ignored advice from Professor Murphy to cancel elective surgery earlier.
“There were discussions on Sunday night, a cabinet decision on Monday, and in the intervening period, we were having conversations with the private sector and public hospitals and elective surgery cancellation was announced yesterday,” he said.
“Short of taking people off operating tables, it could be done no faster.”
Mr Andrews said residents had already been transferred from some of the hardest hit homes. At St Basil’s Homes for the Aged, 80 have been moved, while 34 are being transferred from Epping Gardens.
“At Kirkbrae, 30 residents have been transferred and at Outlook Gardens Dandenong North, Monash Health currently have already facilitated the transfer of some 21 residents to the Mulgrave private hospital,” he said.
On Tuesday, Mr Andrews said he would not want in his mother in some of the federally regulated homes, prompting an emotional retort from federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Outbreaks at meatworks across Melbourne have also increased, with 99 cases linked to Somerville Meats Retail Services in Tottenham and 89 associated with Bertocchi Smallgoods in Thomastown late on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said there had been some good news regarding an outbreak at the Royal Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit, where a baby, two parents and a health care worker tested positive on Monday.
She said all other babies in the unit had tested negative, with just one result pending.