Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has sought to dampen expectations of easing coronavirus restrictions, but some health experts say it’s time to open up.
The state is waiting nervously after Mr Andrews cast doubt over foreshadowed plans to further lift COVID restrictions on Sunday, pointing to concern over the outbreak in Melbourne’s north.
There are 800 people in self-isolation across the city’s northern suburbs after more cases were connected to East Preston Islamic College.
But UNSW infectious diseases epidemiologist Abrar Chughtai said with the 14-day rolling case average of five in metropolitan Melbourne and 0.2 in regional Victoria means the state could safely open up.
“The number of cases is low now, they should lift some restrictions. People are tired,” Dr Chughtai told The New Daily.
He said Victorians would still need to be diligent, wear masks, and avoid gathering in large crowds, but that cases were low enough to proceed with plans to gradually reopen.
Victoria had done a remarkable job flattening its second wave, Dr Chughtai said.
There have been some hiccups and issues but we should appreciate the response by government and health care workers,” he said.
Pointing to New South Wales, which has so successfully dealt with outbreaks the state saw no locally acquired cases for the second day running on Saturday, Dr Chughtai said it was safe for Victoria to open up a little more.
“If you look at NSW, when they had cases of even 15-20, they had limited restrictions,” he said.
On Friday the NSW government eased restrictions further, with 30 people now allowed to gather indoors, group bookings at hospitality venues been extended from 10 to 30 people, and up to 300 are allowed at places of worship.
Mr Andrews has flip-flopped with messaging over restrictions, saying on Friday the city was “well-placed” to open up, before downplaying that prospect on Saturday.
“I just want to caution people from, if you like, banking that tomorrow I’m making a whole series of detailed announcements about opening up,” Mr Andrews said on Saturday.
“We do hope to get to that point, but with so many thousands of tests that are still being processed, we need to see the results of those tests.”
There had been hopes that easing of restrictions planned for November 1 would be brought forward to Sunday evening, allowing pubs, restaurants, cafes and retail stores to open.
It was expected the four reasons to leave home would also be scrapped ahead of schedule.
Testing is key
In NSW, public health physician Stephen Corbett reiterated the need for people to get tested.
“NSW Health continues to appeal to the community to come forward for testing right away if anyone has even the mildest of symptoms like a runny nose or scratch throat, cough, fever or other symptoms that could be COVID-19,” Dr Corbett said.
It is particularly important for people in western, south-western and south-eastern Sydney to get tested, he said.
Dr Chughtai stressed the need for people to stay vigilant, continue getting tested, and practise good hygiene.
“It’s not over yet, without a vaccine we will see spikes,” he said.
COVID-normal by December
Meanwhile, as 30,000 Australians seek to return home and industries such as agriculture demand thousands of seasonal workers, the government is working through the findings of a review into quarantine.
The review sets out a range of options, including home-based isolation, greater use of technology such as monitoring bracelets and mobile apps, and workplace-based systems.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is weighing the possibility of other forms of quarantine, saying there is plenty of interest from universities and businesses in the alternatives.
“But there’s no undue haste, there is undue risk … so you don’t want to build that aeroplane in the sky, you want to build it before it takes off,” Mr Morrison said.
Australians have started arriving at the Howard Springs mining camp in the Northern Territory, which has been set up to boost Australia’s hotel quarantine capacity.
The mining camp is expected to accommodate 5000 returning travellers over the next six months.
National cabinet on Friday agreed to lift the weekly cap on international arrivals by 290 places next month, with WA and Queensland to take in the extra travellers.