Victorians have been warned not to linger while shopping for groceries as COVID spreads across the state.
Supermarkets make up a third of Victoria’s current exposure sites, prompting a warning for shoppers to beware of potential COVID-19 transmission while picking up their bread and milk.
The state has more than 970 listed exposure sites – and a third are supermarkets.
“We’re now in an environment where there is widespread community transmission,” COVID commander Jeroen Weimar said on Thursday.
“That person next to you at the grocery aisle may be positive and they may not know it, they may not be showing any symptoms, but we’re seeing transmission in that environment.”
A Coles in Melbourne’s inner-north and a Dan Murphy’s in Mildura in the state’s far north-west are among new exposure sites visited by infected shoppers as the state reported 324 local cases on Thursday – its highest daily tally since August 2020.
“The people you are talking to in your local neighbourhood store may have been exposed. We don’t know,” Mr Weimar said.
“You need to ensure you protect yourself – protect them from you, and you from them.”
Another third of Victorian exposure sites are smaller community retail hubs, while construction sites make up most of the remainder.
There were a further two positive cases linked to a Melbourne CBD construction site on Thursday, taking the outbreak across multiple floors to eight people.
Nearly 90 primary close contacts are already in isolation, with Mr Weimar expecting more of of the group to test positive in coming days.
Despite operating with limited staff, construction sites remain a “significant area of concern” and managers and workers have been urged to maintain strict infection control measures.
“We’ve been fortunate this outbreak that we haven’t seen widespread transmission at worksites. We really need to ensure we don’t get into that territory in the days and weeks ahead,” Mr Weimar said.
Melbourne’s large-scale construction workforce is capped at 25 per cent. That will double once 90 per cent of its workers have had one vaccine dose.
Vic backs calls for Pfizer ramp up
Elsewhere, the Victorian government has backed calls to pour more vaccines into Melbourne’s north and west, where the bulk of new COVID-19 cases are being found.
Of Thursday’s new local cases, 297 came from the city’s northern (195) and western (102) suburbs.
In an open letter on Thursday, GPs, community leaders and pharmacists from Melbourne’s north urged the federal and state governments to redirect Pfizer doses to the region to prevent a surge in hospitalisations.
“The vaccination rate in the Hume LGA is now the second-lowest in the state, at a time when it has the highest number of active coronavirus cases in the state,” they said.
“This will create enormous pressure on our healthcare system and will cost lives.”
The medical professionals and community leaders want Melbourne’s hardest-hit suburbs to be prioritised for vaccines, as happened as the virus swept through Sydney.
In just two weeks in August, Sydney’s COVID-hit south-west went from the city’s lowest first-dose vaccination rate to one of the highest – thanks to a vaccination blitz.
State health authorities boosted Pfizer availability and prioritised younger workers in the 12 hotspot council areas, including through a special “Super Sunday” vaccination day.
Health Minister Martin Foley said about half of Victoria’s vaccine doses were already going to Melbourne’s north and west. But he backed the call for more.
“We will be doing all we can in our available stocks to reprioritise even more of those vaccines,” Mr Foley said on Thursday.
“But we would also clearly support the call for the Commonwealth to deliver as much as they possibly can to the north and west.
“What we are seeing now is a recognition of just the level of seriousness of the outbreak in the north and the west.”
Also on Thursday, Premier Daniel Andrews said he wasn’t shocked by the jump in new infections.
“The key point is to keep those numbers as low as we can – not zero – but to keep them as low as we can so that our nurses have got a fair fight,” he said.
Mr Andrews said the Burnett Institute was working on detailed modelling that will forecast the peak of Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak, how the healthcare system will have to respond, and what vaccine uptake will do to slow the spread.
The information is likely to be made public in the coming week.
Under the health department’s latest projections, Victoria will have 18,000 active cases by October 16 – about 10 times the current rate of infection.
Of those, 800 will need hospital treatment, including 250 who will require an intensive care bed.
There are about 400 staffed and available intensive care beds available in Victoria daily.
The state can make 1500 intensive care beds available in the public hospital system if required.
Mr Andrews said there was an “enormous amount of work” being done to prepare the state’s hospitals for a surge in virus cases.
Meanwhile, Canberra is on track to become the first jurisdiction in Australia to fully vaccinate half of its over-16 population.
There were 15 more COVID infections in the ACT on Thursday.