Melbourne’s two-week lockdown appears set to end as planned, but public health officials are reportedly seeking to continue restrictions.
Confirmation of the end to the city’s fourth lockdown was dependent on there being no mystery virus cases on Wednesday.
Just one new infection was confirmed, and it is linked to one of the city’s existing outbreaks.
Earlier, it was being widely reported that a 25-kilometre travel limit will be imposed on Melburnians to stop them fleeing the city for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
The Age reports that a source close to the state government confirmed Melburnians won’t be able to travel more than 25 kilometres from their homes after the lockdown ends at 11.59pm on Thursday.
Cabinet ministers met on Tuesday night to discuss a path to eased restrictions, and were meeting again early on Wednesday to finalise their decisions.
Acting Premier James Merlino is expected to provide an update – including the much-anticipated decision on the future of the lockdown – later on Wednesday.
It’s likely Melbourne will have to follow the same rules in place for regional Victoria for the past week.
They include mandatory masks indoors and strict caps on public gatherings.
It’s also expected schools will return to face-to-face learning from Monday.
Restrictions in regional Victoria are set to ease further later this week, with most businesses – except for gyms – able to reopen.
Both were linked to existing infections.
Because the virus has not yet been eliminated from the community, there remained “significant risk” with restrictions easing, the head of Monash University’s Epidemiological Modelling Unit, James Trauer, said.
“What I believe the health department is going to do is to balance releasing some restrictions to allow some businesses to function, against the risk of continuing outbreaks,” he told the ABC.
“That’s a really tricky decision to make.”
Dr Trauer said the “gamble” of slowly opening up paid off in 2020, and would likely do so again.
“I think we’ll have to do what we did last time round, which is to maintain some restrictions for several weeks,” he said.
Authorities scramble to work out missing connection
On Tuesday, health authorities linked Melbourne’s Delta outbreak to a man in his 40s who returned from Sri Lanka on May 8.
It was found that while infected with the Delta strain, he mistakenly opened the door to his room soon after entering hotel quarantine in Melbourne.
But Emma Cassar, the head of COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, said this incident is unlikely to be the reason for the Delta variant spreading.
Genomic sequencing shows his infection is identical to one of two families linked to the North Melbourne Primary School, the epicentre of the West Melbourne outbreak.
But it remains unclear how the virus was transmitted from the returned traveller – who lives in the Glen Eira area in Melbourne’s south-east – to the infected family.
Health authorities are scrambling to work out the connection.
“The last 24 hours have been a flurry of activity … to make sure we cover off all bases,” Ms Cassar told ABC radio.
Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID-19 in 2020 was sparked from leaks in hotel quarantine, leading to a major overhaul of the system.