Hundreds of “mystery” coronavirus cases continuing to emerge in Victoria are holding back the state from suppressing COVID-19 as Melbourne endures its fifth day of Stage 4 lockdown.
On Wednesday, Victoria experienced its worst day with a new peak of 725 fresh COVID-19 cases, of which 122 could not be traced back to the source.
Fifteen more deaths were recorded, including one man in his 30s who became the youngest in Australia to succumb to the disease.
Wednesday’s records are concerning, but it’s the persistent emergence of mystery cases that are posing the biggest threat to Victorians’ hopes of getting out of a crippling lockdown.
It comes as Victoria could face average daily infections above 1000, according to government modelling obtained by The Australian newspaper.
The Victorian government analysis shows the situation is expected to get worse before it improves, with a decline in numbers not anticipated until late August, the newspaper reports.
Meanwhile authorities in NSW are wary of a similar emerging pattern of mystery infections.
Health authorities in NSW confirmed 12 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, including one mystery case with no clear links to known outbreaks.
“When you have even a couple of unknown sources of a virus, that can have tragic consequences if you don’t focus your energies on tracking down each and every case and you don’t ring-fence each and every cluster,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.
Why Melbourne must persevere with Stage 4
Unless Victorian dramatically drives down its rate of community transmission and successfully investigate these “mystery cases”, the state won’t be able to lift its strict lockdown.
It is partly due to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s mission to have “no community transmission” in the country, although he said this goal was part of a suppression strategy, and not an elimination strategy.
The longer Victoria keeps recording untraceable cases, the longer it will take for other states and territories to open up their borders.
And the current outlook is not good.
Of the 13,035 total coronavirus cases recorded in Victoria since the pandemic began, 2281 – about 17.5 per cent – have been linked to community transmission.
And those are only the cases we know about. The true number is likely much higher, experts say.
Despite Victoria’s grim numbers, there are still plenty of reasons to be hopeful about Australia’s fight against COVID-19.
All other states and territories have done a better job of keeping case numbers low enough for tracing teams to follow up nearly all infections.
Most of the new coronavirus cases in South Australia have come from returned travellers in quarantine and can all be traced back to a source.
NSW has managed to control several outbreaks linked to hotels and pubs, keeping its daily case numbers below 20.
In Queensland, there are currently 11 active cases.
The Sunshine State will close its border to all of NSW and the ACT from 1am on Saturday.
Victorian retail closures
Tough new retail closures kicked in on Wednesday night, while construction and manufacturing has also been scaled back as up to a quarter of a million people’s jobs were expected to be impacted.
Some people will be able to apply for work permits which they will have to show if pulled over by police to prove they are allowed to leave their homes.
However businesses caught issuing permits to workers who do not meet the requirements face fines of up to $99,123, while individuals can be fined up to $19,826.
Permitted workers and those working from home who cannot supervise their kids must fill out separate forms to send them to child care, kindergarten or primary school.
The state government was hurrying to confirm child care arrangements on Wednesday evening, updating online information about the rules before coming into force from midnight.
In Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has committed to a “triple guarantee” for Victorian child care to secure places, jobs and the future of centres amid the six-week lockdown.
Qld border rush
Queenslanders are racing to get home before the state again closes its border with NSW from 1am Saturday.
Road access will be blocked to all vehicles except those from border communities or carrying essential workers.
Queenslanders returning after this time will have to undergo a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
The current restriction on people travelling from Victoria remains in place.
People from non-hotspot locations will have to travel by air or via the Northern Territory border.
Queensland’s border closures will be reviewed at the end of August.
NSW school closures
Two schools are being deep cleaned in NSW after positive coronavirus cases.
All students and staff at St Margaret Mary’s Primary School in Merrylands were on Wednesday ordered to self-isolate until further notice after a COVID-positive case attended the school.
Newcastle’s St Pius X high school has confirmed a case of COVID-19 within the student population.
The school will be closed Thursday and Friday as authorities trace any close contacts of the boy amongst pupils and staff.
It follows the confirmation of two COVID-affected students from Greenway Public School on Wednesday and another Bonnyrigg High School student on Tuesday.
The Kids Learning Academy daycare centre in Busby, in Sydney’s southwest, has also closed for deep cleaning after a COVID-positive person attended on July 29.