Cases of coronavirus in Victoria are slowly declining and Stage 4 restrictions are due to end in less than a month, but there are several things that need to happen before Melbourne can begin to open up again.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said he was looking for key figures before he started thinking about Stage 3 and beyond.
He said it was still too early to make a call on how well Stage 4 restrictions were working, but the data was promising.
New outbreaks have dropped to four or five a day from a peak of up to 30 a few weeks ago.
While cases linked to health care and aged care were still “far, far, far” too high, Professor Sutton said, they were “beginning to stabilise”.
So what else do health authorities have to see before they think about loosening Melbourne’s lockdown?
Where are coronavirus cases still cropping up?
Workplaces remain the settings where cases continue to rise, Professor Sutton said.
He said while activity within essential workplaces had been “pared back” and much had been done to stop people going to work sick, it was difficult to stop people transmitting the virus if they were contagious while asymptomatic.
“Our efforts have to focus now on those tricky settings where transmission is hard to control – those essential workplaces,” Professor Sutton said.
Reproduction number must drop to at least 0.6
Professor Sutton’s most concrete indication the state was on the right track was the virus’s effective reproduction number, also known as Reff.
Reff indicates how many people, on average, someone with the virus will infect.
It dropped below one about a week ago and is lingering at 0.96, but Professor Sutton said it needed to drop to at least 0.6 before he would start to relax.
“A Reff at 0.6 means we are doing very well. If it’s 0.8, it’s too slow. It means we are not doing enough,” he said.
New daily cases also need to keep dropping, he said.
“If we are in the 300s for all of next week, that would be too slow for my liking.
“If it’s mostly community transmission across all of Melbourne and Victoria, that would be even more concerning.”
But he said if a spike in cases could be attributed to an outbreak health authorities had under control, it would give him more confidence the Stage 4 strategy was working.
People are staying away from work, supermarkets and parks
Professor Sutton said publicly available data from Google and Facebook showed Victorians were staying at home much more.
“We know from people’s mobile phones … how much time they are spending at home, how often they are asking for pedestrian directions, how often they are asking for driving directions, and we can get that mobility data at a population level, which tells us very much how restrictive we have been in our activity,” he said.
“It is looking like it is as good as it was in the middle of April when we were at our very best, previously. So that is encouraging.”
Data provided by Google as of August 11 showed a steep decline in people moving around their communities.
Compared to a normal five-week period before the pandemic, Victoria had a 77 per cent drop in public transport use and a 25 per cent increase in people staying at home.
The data also showed:
- A 50 per cent drop in people travelling to work;
- A 56 per cent drop recorded in people going to retail, hospitality and entertainment venues;
- A 26 per cent drop in people going to supermarkets and pharmacies;
- A 45 per cent drop in people going to parks and beaches.
Will Stage 4 restrictions end in September?
Premier Daniel Andrews would not be drawn on what would happen on September 13, when Melbourne’s Stage 4 restrictions are due to end.
He said it was too difficult to extrapolate the data out that far.
“It depends on how hard we all work right now to get to that point. It’s one day at a time,” Mr Andrews said.
He said as long as Victorians stuck to the rules, the current “intense period of quite some pain” could lead to “enormous gain”.
“The modelling gets better every day you have Stage 4 data. The seven, eight, 10-day averages are coming down,” he said.
The Premier warned a vaccine for coronavirus was likely “a long way off” and said 2021 would be “at best, a COVID-normal year”.
Mr Andrews asked people to remember that while it was tempting to go outside more as the weather warmed up, some families were burying loved ones.
“Keep perspective,” he said.
Which restrictions will be eased first?
Professor Sutton sympathised with the public and said he knew everyone wanted to know what would happen in September.
“It’s really difficult to say. We have to see what the data says,” he said.
“It may mean we can ease up in areas we know are not contributing to transmission.”
He said any easing of restrictions would take into account the “profoundly challenging” psychological toll of isolation on many people.
“I am very mindful of the fact that [isolation] is a burden everyone is carrying and some people will be really struggling with it.
“It’s a fine balancing act. We may move to a point where people can have visitors, but we need to balance that with transmission risk.
“We won’t be jumping to 10 people in a home.”
Will the AFL grand final public holiday still go ahead?
On that one, it’s a yes.
Mr Andrews said there was no reason to cancel the holiday just because the grand final would be held in another state.
“I reckon Victorians may well have earned that,” he said.
“If there is a bunch of people who want to criticise me for that, go do it, fine. If that makes you feel better, fine.
“We made a commitment. It is not universally popular, but we made the commitment and we honour our commitments. That day is there and I have no plans to change that.”