News Coronavirus Victoria’s 12 new COVID cases scuttle hope for major lockdown easing

Victoria’s 12 new COVID cases scuttle hope for major lockdown easing

Sign of the times: Through the gloom of a grey Melbourne morning a freeway sign reminds drivers that the COVID crisis is far from over. Photo: ABC
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Some COVID lockdown rules will be eased in Victoria next Sunday, but the changes will “not be as big as hoped”, Daniel Andrews has warned, with the five-per-day case threshold now out of reach.

“Who knows?” chief health officer Brett Sutton said, when asked if Victoria would ever get to that average case number.

Strong new rules to keep a tighter cap on the “stubborn tail” of cases could see people forced to quarantine for an extra 10 days, if they refuse to get tested according to a new schedule.

Victoria recorded 12 new cases of COVID-19 and one death on Sunday. It means the metropolitan 14-day rolling average figure is now at 9.4. With just seven days until the October 18 deadline to get to five cases per day, it’s now mathematically impossible to get there.

Premier Daniel Andrews said some lockdown rules will change next week. Photo: AAP

On Sunday, Premier Andrews said a new rule for ‘close contacts’ of confirmed COVID cases would be enforced from midnight. For people obligated to quarantine for 14 days due to their contact with a case, they will now be asked to get a COVID test at day 11 – it will not be “mandatory”, the Premier stressed, but that if a person refuses, they will be forced to quarantine for an extra 10 days.

That’s 24 days in total.

“This is just an abundance of caution to make sure that we’ve got the most complete data,” Mr Andrews said.

“This is just double checking, triple checking that you haven’t, in fact, still got the virus.”

Health minister Martin Foley said it was about giving health officials every bit of information possible.

“What we want to make sure, as we deal with the stubborn tail of the second wave, is that we give our public health teams the one percenters they need to drive this infection rate away,” he said.

Mr Andrews said he had also authorised the extension of the state of emergency and the state of disaster in Victoria to 11.59pm on November 8.

Changes will be ‘significant’

A fortnight after he said the state was ahead of schedule to ease restrictions, Premier Andrews warned the next step would not be as big as hoped.

He suggested restrictions would likely be eased in a series of small steps, starting from October 19, rather than introducing the full suite of third step measures outlined in the state’s roadmap.

“Because of the hard work and the absolute determination of particularly Melburnians, but all Victorians, there will be steps that will be able to be taken next Sunday,” Mr Andrews said at his daily press conference on Sunday.

“They  will not be as big steps as we hoped but they will be significant, and they will allow us to move more freely. They will allow us to connect more easily with those that we love the most. Those that we miss the most.”

He said the exact list of changes was still being worked out, but said outdoor activities and group sizes for people gathering outside were among those being considered.

The targets for the third step in Melbourne had been a rolling 14-day case average of five or lower, and a total maximum number of five “mystery” cases over a fortnight.

CHO Professor Brett Sutton. Photo: AAP

Sunday is the first time in four days a death with COVID-19 has been recorded.

The city’s fortnightly average of daily cases has fallen from 9.4 to 9.3, while in regional Victoria it remains the same at 0.4.

The number of cases in Melbourne with an unknown source over a two-week period remains at 10.

Asked whether Victoria would ever get to an average of five cases per day, Professor Sutton replied “who knows?”

“No-one’s been to this point with a second  wave anywhere in the world. We are treading new ground,” he said.

“So I won’t say in absolute terms what the possibilities are. We can’t discount that it might be extraordinarily difficult to drive down to zero but I think it’s possible.”

Outbreaks linked to Chadstone Shopping Centre, Box Hill Hospital and the town of Kilmore, north of Melbourne, have driven case numbers higher.

But on Saturday, only six of the 14 new cases were immediately linked to known outbreaks, with the rest under investigation.

Regional Victoria is currently living under the third step of the roadmap, and has its next steps tied to statewide case numbers.

Mr Andrews has suggested minor changes could be made to regional settings if case numbers remain high in Melbourne.

-with ABC