Millions of Melburnians will have their hopes raised after confirmation the city is “on track” for its lockdown to end on Thursday night.
With just two more coronavirus infections in Victoria on Tuesday – both linked to existing outbreaks – Acting Premier James Merlino came as close to confirming stay-at-home rules will end as he has done at any time during the latest lockdown.
“Our contact tracing team has done exactly what we needed them to do. They have found the cases, they have tracked them down and they have isolated them,” he said.
“We remain on track to later in this week announce, as we have said we planned to do all along, further easings of restrictions in regional Victoria and careful easings of restrictions in Melbourne.”
However, Mr Merlino wouldn’t be drawn on the details and said “nothing about today” changed the state government’s plans.
Tuesday’s more upbeat update came after 11 more COVID cases in Victoria on Monday. They were also all linked to existing outbreaks and most were already in isolation.
Also on Tuesday, Victoria’s Tourism and Major Events Minister, Martin Pakula, said there were positive signs ahead.
“Today’s numbers are encouraging, yesterday’s numbers were more encouraging than they may have looked on face value because they were all linked,” he said
“Those things are positives, but we’ll continue to asses between now and when the decision point is.”
He said he expected crowds to be allowed to return to AFL games in Melbourne when the lockdown ended.
“I don’t expect that we will be going back to 85 per cent [capacity] or anything of that nature, but I do expect that we’ll have AFL games back in Victoria sooner rather than later,” he said.
On Monday, chief health officer Brett Sutton flagged ongoing restrictions for Melbourne after the end of the lockdown.
“It is certainly not a snapback to large gatherings and a full MCG,” he said.
“It’s frustrating, people want to know what things will look like three days from now.
“[But] we see different changes every day and they can be something from left field.”
On Tuesday, Mr Merlino said there were likely to be different restrictions between Melbourne and regional Victoria for some time.
Also on Tuesday, Victorian authorities confirmed they had linked the outbreak of the more infectious Delta COVID-19 variant to a returned traveller who entered hotel quarantine in Melbourne on May 8.
Authorities have genomically linked the West Melbourne Delta cluster to a man in his 40s who arrived from Sri Lanka.
The man, from the Glen Eira area in Melbourne’s south-east, tested positive the same day and was moved from the Novotel Ibis to the Holiday Inn “health hotel” on May 14 before being released on May 23.
His genomic sequence is a match to the second of the two families identified at the North Melbourne Primary School as part of the West Melbourne outbreak.
But authorities are still unsure how the virus was transmitted from the returned traveller to the infected family.
- See an updated list of Victoria’s virus exposure sites here
Deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng said there were four main theories, with some more likely than others.
The “most likely” scenarios are that the man transmitted the virus to a staff member en route to the health hotel or a fellow guest inside the facility before it spread into the community.
Acting Police and Emergency Services Minister Danny Pearson said all 24 flight passengers and a Skybus crew had returned negative tests.
Some 268 COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria staff worked at the Novotel Ibis on May 8 and 9, and 360 staff at the Holiday Inn.
They, along with 12 residents housed on the same floor of the Novotel Ibis, have tested negative.
“So far there is no reported or obvious breach of infection prevention control protocols or anything else that would indicate a transmission has happened inside the hotel,” Mr Pearson said.
Mr Merlino said there had been 21 hotel quarantine breaches across the country since the start of the pandemic, including two in Western Australia and one in South Australia in the past month.
“We all know that hotel quarantine cannot be made risk-free,” he said.
“Hotels are built for tourists, not for managing infectious diseases.”
One of Victoria’s two new positive COVID cases briefly visited the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre vaccination hub on Tuesday before being turned away and directed to return to isolation.
The hub is now a “tier three” exposure site.