News Coronavirus ‘Fantastic job’: Victoria on track to hit COVID-19 target faster than expected
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‘Fantastic job’: Victoria on track to hit COVID-19 target faster than expected

Melburnians' hard work under lockdown is paying off quicker than expected, say epidemiologists. Photo: Getty
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Melbourne is on track to smash its Stage 4 roadmap targets early.

But that doesn’t guarantee restrictions will be eased early.

On Sunday, Victoria recorded its lowest daily coronavirus case number since June with just 14 fresh cases.

“That is proof positive, beyond any question, that this strategy is working,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

So how are Melburnians tracking with their targets?

Second step out of Stage 4

Melbourne’s second step out of restrictions is due to begin on September 28, provided those in the country’s toughest lockdown reach a target of 30 to 50 daily cases on average over the previous 14 days.

And at this rate, it looks like Melburnians could hit that goal three days early.

That’s according to Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an infectious diseases expert at the University of NSW and member of the WHO’s COVID-19 response team.

“It’s so brilliant,” she said.

“Victorians need to be commended for their stoicism, their compliance and their bravery.”

The second step out of Stage 4 will allow Melburnians to gather outdoors in groups of up to five from a maximum of two households.

Child care will return and some students will start going back to school.

Third step out of Stage 4

Professor Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, said Melbourne was “absolutely” on track to beat its third target of fewer than five daily cases on average over a period of 14 days by October 26.

If Melburnians meet this goal, the curfew will be dropped, public gatherings will increase to 10 people outdoors, and households will be able to pick one other household to visit as part of a “bubble” arrangement.

The stay-at-home rule will also be abandoned, meaning Melburnians will be allowed to leave the house for whatever reason – as their more fortunate counterparts in regional Victoria can already.

Professor Esterman, one of Australia’s leading biostatisticians, believes Melburnians can smash that target early.

“My own forecasting estimates we’ll reach that at about the 19th of October,” he said.

“A lot of people were really negative about that target, but they’ve been shown to be wrong.

“Whether or not [the Premier] allows relaxation of restrictions is another thing.”

Why the case source is crucial

Despite the promising numbers, and a rolling 14-day average case number of 36 in metropolitan Melbourne, Mr Andrews has refused to budge on fast-tracking the proposed roadmap out of Stage 4.

He said any plans to ease restrictions would depend not only on daily infections, but also the “different types of cases”, such as mystery cases, contained clusters, and those that were not contained.

“It’s the narrative of the story that sits behind every one of the cases that is just as important as the case numbers themselves,” he said. 

Mr Andrews conceded there “would always be debates about timing” and whether Victoria is on or ahead of schedule.

“Ultimately, these numbers are cause for great optimism and positivity, I would hope, right across metropolitan Melbourne,” he said.

The risk of losing our position

Professor Esterman said the threat of a setback like a freak super-spreading event or a major outbreak was “unlikely” in Victoria given the low case numbers.

“The more community transmission around, the more likely it is for cases not to be detected, but with such a small number of cases now it means the contact tracers can be on top of it,” he said.

He said he was surprised Sunday’s daily case number was as low as 14.

“My own predictions were much higher, in the 20s,” he said.

“But that means it’s probably going to bounce back up slightly – it’s a bit like snakes and ladders.”

Professor Esterman offered support to Victorians from South Australia: “Fantastic job,” he said.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel.”