Victoria’s coronavirus cases have surged by a record 33 as the state battles to contain a worrying wave of infections.
Thursday’s numbers – the highest yet recorded in a single day as Victoria endures an escalating COVID strike – came as Premier Daniel Andrews announced a huge boost to testing and management of the deadly virus.
“This is a public health bushfire, and when it comes to the bushfires, we always work together,” Mr Andrews said.
The outbreak that began with rising infection numbers on June 14 has now added more than 160 cases to Victoria’s coronavirus caseload. Thursday’s confirmed infections, the most in the state since April 7, were made up of:
- Seven people in hotel quarantine;
- nine linked to existing outbreaks;
- six picked up in routine testing;
- 11 still being investigated.
Late on Thursday, the Victorian government reportedly withdrew its request for 1000 ADF troops to help the manage the state outbreak. It was being widely reported that Mr Andrews was expected to make a revised request as early as Thursday night, although details remained sketchy.
The military was to help with a massive three-day testing blitz in the two Melbourne suburbs with the highest amount of community transmission.
“The first three days are solely focused on Keilor Downs and Broadmeadows, but we will move to the balance of those suburbs over the course of a 10-day period,” Mr Andrews said.
“There will literally be hundreds and hundreds – indeed, the entire team is a thousand-strong – of doorknockers out there, talking to the community, inviting them to come and get a free test..
“We have ambulances and other vans that will literally be at the end of people’s streets … they’ll only have to travel 50 metres or 100 metres in order to complete that test.
“We are bringing the public health and coronavirus response to your doorstep.”
That is expected to account for 10,000 coronavirus tests in three days. The blitz will then expand to the other hard-hit suburbs (mostly in Melbourne’s north and north-west) – Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham.
“That is about 100,000 tests. It may finish up being more than that,” Mr Andrews said.
“I expect that if people are visited and they’re asked to participate in an unprecedented suburban testing blitz, I would expect that most people’s answer will be ‘yes’ – and we will look to get as many tests as we possibly can from those communities.”
Victoria carried out 20,304 COVID-19 tests on Wednesday – a record for the state. In a further boost, it will add 10 new drive-in sites to bring testing facilities across the state to 135.
“This suburban testing blitz is all about finding all of those people that have this virus, then having them quarantined in their home with appropriate support,” Mr Andrews said.
“It’s about bringing further stability to these numbers.”
ADF troops will help manage the testing sites, and transport test samples to laboratories in other Australian capital cities because Victorian labs cannot keep up with the demand.
Mr Andrews also said Victoria would be the first state to use a new saliva test developed by the Doherty Institute. It will be used in at least some of Melbourne’s testing blitz from next week.
“It’s a more pleasant experience than the current test,” he said.
“It won’t completely replace the current test, it won’t change the amount of time that the laboratory takes to analyse the test, but it will certainly reduce the time taken to take that sample, to actually conduct the test.”
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien blamed the need for the testing blitz on government failings, claiming the premier had to be “dragged kicking and screaming to get the ADF in”.
“Daniel Andrews has been very quick to blame Victorian families for the spread of the coronavirus,” Mr O’Brien said.
“I think his government needs to actually look in the mirror and look at the mistakes that they have made.”
Victoria’s COVID spike since June 14 – which included the death of a man in his 80s reported on Wednesday – has driven a jump in the state’s active cases from 58 to 176. Combined, the rest of Australia has had only 24 cases – including four reported in NSW on Thursday.
Australia’s coronavirus toll also rose by one on Thursday, to 104, after the reclassification of the death of an 85-year-old man in NSW in April.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said deploying ADF personnel to Melbourne sent a “strong message” about the seriousness of the virus.
“Complacency has possibly started to set in and it is a reminder that the virus is still there,” he told the ABC.
“We need to get on top of this before, indeed, it becomes anything more and leads us into a second wave.”
Since the spike in new cases, drive-through testing sites have experienced extremely high demand while panic buying has also returned, with Coles and Woolworths reinstating purchase limits.
-more to come