Experts are crunching the numbers in Victoria to determine if a strict NZ-style lockdown should be imposed to quell the state’s deadly virus outbreak.
Premier Daniel Andrews has been in crisis talks with Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the next steps in stopping the COVID spread.
On Friday, he said experts were going through the data, and a decision on tougher measures was likely within days.
“In my discussion with the Prime Minister last night, there is a complete acknowledgement that there can be no economic recovery until we deal with this public health challenge,” he said.
“It is incredibly difficult, in fact it’s almost impossible for us to see businesses recover and survive, unless and until we get these numbers down.”
Victoria had 627 new cases on Friday, and eight more deaths – just past the midway point of a six-week lockdown of greater Melbourne and the neighbouring Mitchell Shire that was meant to flatten the curve of infections.
Instead, numbers have kept soaring, with 113 people now dead from the pandemic and more than 5700 active infections across the state.
“These numbers are still far too high. We could not open up with these numbers. We could not open up with significantly lower numbers,” Mr Andrews said, adding the state faced “a significant challenge”.
“The data will tell us what – if any – next steps will be.”
Masks will become mandatory for all Victorians from Sunday, while some lockdown measures have also been expanded outside Melbourne to local government areas in the state’s south-west.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton confirmed a New Zealand-style lockdown – in which all businesses except essential services were closed for six weeks – was being explored.
“There are really significant consequences in what you do in terms of increased restrictions, it has to be focused on the data,” he said.
Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is bracing for harsher measures.
“I certainly expect restrictions will be further tightened to ensure we ring-fence the areas of outbreak,” he said.
One of the recent measures imposed in Victoria is having teams of Australian Defence Force and health authorities visit everyone who tests positive for the virus, to ensure they are at home. On Friday, Mr Andrews revealed that more than 130 of 500 people visited on Thursday were not there.
They have been referred to police.
Aged care also remains of considerable concern in Victoria. By Friday, there were 928 COVID cases linked to the sector, with the federal government and state health authorities taking over operation of many homes.
There are also 1030 active infections among health workers, including one doctor in his 30s who is in intensive care.
There are 37 people in Victorian ICUs, among 349 virus patients.
Mr Andrews and Mr Morrison have also urged Muslims not to gather in large groups during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
“The second Eid is very significant, a very holy and special time for the Islamic community. But it needs to look incredibly different this year than it has ever looked,” Mr Andrews said.
Mr Morrison, who is a devout Christian, said he and wife Jenny had not been to church in months.
“I just want to encourage everyone to make positive decisions when it comes to how they choose to celebrate their faith over this important time for that community,” he told 2GB radio.
NSW has granted an exemption for 400 people to gather at a mosque in western Sydney to celebrate Eid this weekend.