Daily COVID-19 cases have fallen in Victoria over the past three days, but that doesn’t mean its cases have peaked, Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said on Wednesday.
Although case numbers dropped slightly from 467 on Monday to 423 on Wednesday, health professionals say the state’s peak could still be months away.
Victorian government officials warned of possible daily cases jumping above 1000 again across the state after a lockdown was declared in the regional city of Ballarat.
“We haven’t peaked, unfortunately. The modelling and everything we know in relation to our current vaccination coverage would suggest that cases will continue to increase,” Professor Sutton said.
“The fact that they have been held in the 400s, again, are a testament to everyone … but it’s a very hard number to keep under wraps and vaccination alone won’t.
“It seems to have stabilised a little bit in the last few days, but we don’t know where that true number is. The risk of it getting to 1000 is real. So we have to press on with vaccinations at the fastest possible rate for that reason alone.”
Melbourne emergency physician Dr Stephen Parnis echoed Professor Sutton, saying Victoria needs to take a precautionary approach to ensure hospitals don’t become overrun with cases.
He said Victoria’s peak was likely to be at least six weeks away.
“My gut feeling would be it’s probably going to be in late October or early November, and then hopefully we will strike that sweet spot where the impact of the vaccines is increasing such that we can try to take down restrictions,” Dr Parnis told The New Daily.
“The reality is that the virus will be with us for a long time to come.”
Dr Parnis said while the reduction in daily cases was encouraging, the moving day averages are still increasing, and are a concern.
Chair of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of South Australia Adrian Esterman said the five-day moving averages in Victoria had increased since Monday from 390 to 433 on Wednesday.
Figures, according to virus tracking website COVID-19 Data, show the statewide moving average of cases on a seven-day average continues to increase, from 343 on Monday to 400 on Wednesday.
“We still appear to be on the ascending aspect of a curve. The number of cases of those presenting to the hospital, to those requiring more intensive methods of care, they are increasing,” Dr Parnis said.
“I think it’s important for us to be cautious and to take a precautionary approach. I have some hope in what has been coming out, and certainly, there is no doubt that the impact of vaccinations is being felt.”
Professor Esterman said despite the steady increase, “what you have to remember is that two weeks ago it was doubled every six days”.
“That has now slowed right, right down,” he said.
He also warned that Victoria could quickly ruin its string of improving figures if it reopens too early, noting the pleasing decrease in effective reproduction numbers of the virus in Victoria was yet to show a trend.
The Reff describes how fast the virus can spread to other people.
For example, a Reff number of two means each positive case of the virus is passing it to an average of two people.
Professor Esterman said the Reff numbers in Victoria decreased from 1.63 on Monday to 1.39 on Wednesday.
“You can say ‘1.39 that’s fantastic, it’s close to one’, but it’s not really. You’re still sitting at increasing case numbers,” he said.
Professor Esterman and Dr Parnis both noted that Victoria in terms of vaccinations was about a month or two behind NSW, which is beginning to reach its COVID-19 peak now.
“NSW is way in front of Victoria in terms of vaccinations, about a month in front,” Professor Esterman said.
“We are expecting 80 per cent of those 16 and over [to be] fully vaccinated in Victoria by about the beginning of December, while NSW is at the end of October, so it’s quite significant.”
Premier Daniel Andrews will announce more details of Victoria’s roadmap to freedom from coronavirus on Sunday.