News Coronavirus Suburban testing slump sparks worries, despite Vic’s COVID-free day

Suburban testing slump sparks worries, despite Vic’s COVID-free day

victoria lockdown craigieburn
Craigieburn residents have been urged to get tested for COVID after a bump in cases in their area. Photo: AAP
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Residents of one Melbourne suburb have been particularly urged to get tested for the virus after a worrying slump in testing numbers across the city.

Victoria achieved its first “doughnut day” in weeks on Friday, with no locally acquired coronavirus cases as millions of Melburnians emerged from lockdown.

It is the first day since mid-May, when Victoria’s latest outbreaks began to emerge, that there have been no community cases in the state.

“It is good news and news I know everyone in Victoria wanted to hear,” Acting Premier James Merlino said.

But he said there was no room for complacency, especially as testing numbers plunged in Victoria during Thursday’s wild storms. There were more than 17,000 coronavirus tests across the state in the 24 hours to Friday morning – well down on peaks of 50,000-plus at the height of the recent COVID crisis.

Authorities are particularly concerned about Craigieburn, in the city’s north, where many infections have been concentrated. There are additional concerns for Craigieburn Central, a busy shopping centre that has been linked to at least nine of the most recent cases.

“In some areas, where we would like to see an uplift [in testing] because of community transmission, it was lower than we would have liked,” Mr Merlino said.

“If you live in the Craigieburn area and did not get tested yesterday, please go out and get tested today.”

Chief health officer Brett Sutton warned Victorians not to expect a run of days without new community infections.

“We have thousands of primary close contacts, some of which will become positive,” he said.

“[But] it is not a concern as they have been quarantined for the entire period.”

There are still 3400 close contacts in isolation in Victoria, after a further 900 were cleared to head back into the community on Thursday.

“[We’ve seen] terrific testing numbers but we must maintain them. We are at the halfway point in many respects. A day of zero cases is terrific,” Professor Sutton said.

“There is a lot of work to do for those primary contacts, there are potential trains of transmission to be run down.”

He said many Victorians should be prepared to have several coronavirus tests throughout winter, as cold and wet conditions brought on respiratory symptoms.

Friday’s doughnut day also came after a worrying development on Thursday, with confirmation of mystery infections in four members of family from Reservoir, in Melbourne’s north.

None is a close contact of anyone who has the virus, and none has visited any exposure sites.

“This is a real lesson that we might still see cases. Still lots of investigation to go, and a reason for everybody with symptoms to get tested because you could be a part of this unknown chain of transmission,” Professor Sutton said.

Genomic testing has confirmed the family has the Kappa variant of the virus.

There have also been wastewater detections of the virus across Melbourne, including Pascoe Vale, Scoresby and Vermont, and some suburbs in the Whitehorse, Manningham and Monash local government areas.

Anyone with respiratory symptoms in those areas is also urged to get tested.

While Melbourne’s easing of restrictions went ahead at midnight on Thursday as planned, residents must continue to wear masks whenever they leave their homes.

They are also restricted to a 25-kilometre travel limit from home.

Virus rules have also been further relaxed in regional Victoria.

Meanwhile, Victorian health officials have finished interviewing a couple who left outer-suburban Melbourne during the extended lockdown. They drove through NSW to Queensland and tested positive for the virus while staying with the woman’s parents on the Sunshine Coast.

The couple remains under investigation by Queensland Police.

The woman and her husband left Melton, in Melbourne’s outer west, on June 1, reportedly so he could start a new job on the Sunshine Coast. She tested positive on Wednesday, followed by him on Thursday, after their road trip through regional NSW and into Queensland.

However, Queensland health authorities are confident the couple are at the end of their infection period.

They say the couple did not apply for a travel exemption to enter the state.

Testing has been boosted in regional NSW and Queensland following the couple’s diagnoses. So far, neither state has reported further community-acquired cases.