Victoria’s chief health officer says the state is likely past the peak of its second wave of the deadly coronavirus, despite a spike in daily infections and fatalities on Friday.
“We’ve seen a stabilisation in the number of cases, it’s essentially levelled off. I think we will see a levelling off of hospitalisations for community cases in the next couple of weeks, and the same for deaths,” Brett Sutton said.
Victoria’s daily COVID infections and tragic virus death toll jumped on Friday. In all, 372 more cases and 14 deaths were confirmed – including a man in his 20s, who is the youngest Australian to die so far in the pandemic.
The other deaths confirmed on Friday were three women and two men in their 80s, and four women and four men in their 90s. It has been a heartbreaking week for the state, with its toll rising to 289 – up 110 since last Saturday.
Twelve of the fatalities confirmed on Friday were linked to the crisis in the state’s aged care.
There are still 659 Victorians in hospital, 41 in intensive care.
But Professor Sutton said infections and hospitalisations were beginning to slow as Melbourne entered its second week of a strict six-week shutdown.
“If we can drive numbers down from here on in, knowing what we know, and people who are at their greatest risk of dying, we should see a stabilisation of death in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
“We are concerned about the significant number of aged-care cases – over 2000. They are most at risk of dying. We also have to drive those numbers down as well.”
Professor Sutton and Premier Daniel Andrews also remain concerned about Victoria’s ever-growing number of mystery cases.
On Friday, the state had 3119 COVID cases that cannot be traced – up 51 from Thursday. The origins of up to 20 per cent of infections in Melbourne and 13 per cent in regional Victoria remain a mystery.
Victoria stepped up testing in regional centres on Friday, amid continuing growth in infections outside Melbourne. Geelong (167 active cases), Ballarat (25) and Bendigo (56) have been named as the cities of most concern.
“I think there are positive signs in Geelong in terms of stabilisation,” Professor Sutton said.
“Ballarat, Bendigo [are] relatively small numbers, easier to manage. But we need to dig down to each case to understand how much is mystery transmission and make sure we can get on top of the known cases.”
He said Victoria’s numbers of new infections were stabilising even before the full effect of the Stage 4 shutdown in Melbourne hit.
“We’ve turned the corner with those interventions and we should see a further driving down to transmission with Stage 4 restrictions,” he said.
“It is going on the right direction and I’m confident we’ve seen the peak – but it’s got to come down quickly.”
And he had a final message for Victorians:
“Keep at it. This is the long haul. We know that numbers are heading down but we could not conceive of opening up with 200 cases a day,” he said.
“I don’t think we could do it with 100 cases a day. We have to get to a point where it is entirely manageable and if not, entirely snuffed out.”
NSW areas of concern
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged residents in south-west and western Sydney to get tested for the virus and to maintain social distancing.
“We are concerned there was community transmission we haven’t picked up in those parts of Sydney and if we don’t, those strains or sources we haven’t identified could take off,” she told Seven’s Sunrise on Friday.
But she stopped short of ordering NSW residents to wear masks, despite the state reporting nine more COVID infections on Friday.
They include a third linked to Liverpool Hospital, and one linked to Dooleys Lidcombe Catholic Club.
A third independent Catholic school in Sydney was also closed after a student tested positive to COVID-19.
St Vincent’s College in Potts Point was closed on Friday for cleaning and to allow health authorities to contact trace after a student on Thursday tested positive to coronavirus.
It follows Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta closing until August 24 after three linked cases.
Tangara School for Girls in Cherrybrook will also remain shut until August 24. Its cluster has grown to 21 infections – with the source yet to be traced.
Police had been investigating the school for potential public health order breaches but confirmed on Friday it had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
In a statement on its website, the school said the “misinformation” circulating during the “challenging and emotional period” needed to be clarified.
“We have always followed the advice of NSW Health around COVID-19 and will continue to do so,” the school said.
The outbreak has been linked to a nearby Opus Dei Catholic study centre, Eremeran, which is closed for cleaning after recently hosting five senior schoolgirls.
The school said it played no role in organising or monitoring attendees at Eremeran.
Queensland reported three new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing its total number of active cases to eight.
One was a returned traveller from Sydney who is in hotel quarantine, while the others are people from a cargo ship off the coast.