Fighting Victoria’s second coronavirus wave has been “10 times as hard as the first wave”, the state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton claims.
But he says Victoria has done it better than anywhere in the world.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, when the state recorded 15 new coronavirus cases and one death, Professor Sutton said “nobody wanted to go through a second wave, but we are at a point now where we could snuff this out”.
So what exactly has made this second wave so challenging?
Big families making Victoria’s second wave difficult
Professor Sutton’s encouraging words came as authorities worked to contain an outbreak linked to a butcher at Chadstone Shopping Centre after it spread to regional Victoria.
“I don’t think anyone really understands what a gargantuan task the contact tracing has been through this wave,” he said in relation to the outbreak.
“The average family size in Australia is about 2.5 people.
“We’ve made estimates that the average family size for the 20,000 cases in this second wave has been between six and 10 people.
“It’s not twice as hard as the first wave, it is 10 times as hard as the first wave in terms of the challenges of following up these cases.”
Community transmission ‘far harder to control’
Professor Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, said Victoria’s first wave was easier to manage as nearly all of those cases were imported from overseas.
“They’re quite easy to handle as long as they don’t escape from quarantine,” he told The New Daily.
“But a second wave is primarily community transmission, which is far harder to control, especially if there are unknown contacts.
“If we can find out all their contacts, we can isolate them. But if you can’t work out when someone has been infected, it’s a real headache.”
Has Victoria really done better than other countries?
Compared to Pacific nations like Vanuatu or Kiribati, which have so far not recorded a single coronavirus case, Victoria’s triumph over its second wave doesn’t look so impressive.
Looking to Europe, however, it’s a real success story.
“A huge number of European countries are deep in a second wave, but the big difference is they haven’t had a closed border like we have,” Professor Esterman said.
“Their second wave is mainly younger people.”
This trend of younger people spreading the virus has been seen in plenty of second waves around the world, he said.
“Older people have either died, or they’re being very careful,” he said.
“It’s the young people who don’t care that much if they get infected.”
In Victoria, meanwhile, our second wave has largely comprised of outbreaks in large families connected to hotel quarantine, as well as nursing homes and hospitals.
After a painful three months of strict stay-at-home rules, Victoria is on the cusp of wiping out its remaining cases.
“Has Victoria done really well? It absolutely has,” Professor Esterman said.
“You’re getting to the end stage where you’ll soon get down to zero cases and it’ll be fantastic.
“It’s been a huge cost, not just to the economy, but to people’s mental health.”