Victorian authorities have refused to rule out extending Melbourne’s tough COVID shutdown to the entire state as virus cases climb steadily in regional areas.
There are nearly 500 COVID infections in regional Victoria, and the tally is climbing every day in what Premier Daniel Andrews said was a worrying trend.
It came even as Victoria’s daily infection growth dropped to its lowest in weeks on Thursday.
Victorians had 278 confirmed COVID infections on Thursday – the lowest number since 266 on July 29. It was well short of the state’s apparent peak of 725 on August 5.
Unfortunately, its death toll also rose further, with eight more fatalities confirmed.
Melbourne is at the start of its second week of a strict shutdown of all but essential work. Outside the city, Victorians are following slightly more lenient Stage 3 measures, while masks are mandatory across the state.
Victorian authorities say they are increasingly concerned about rising COVID cases outside Melbourne. Deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng said they were looking “very closely” at whether further measures were needed to contain regional outbreaks.
“It’s a day-by-day proposition and we really encourage the community to come forward to get tested so that we can sort of get on top of these transmission chains and hopefully obviate the need for Stage 4,” he said on Thursday.
He noted that Stage 3 restrictions had been in place for country Victoria for just a week, with the effects only just starting to be seen.
Among the centres of most concern are Geelong, where 176 cases have been reported in the past fortnight.
“A lot of those have been attributed to outbreaks, which are coming under control, but there is certainly some outbreaks and some cases where we don’t know where they’ve come from,” Professor Cheng said.
Ballarat has 23 cases in the same time frame – including three unrelated clusters. Bendigo, also in central Victoria, has 51 confirmed infections, although most are in known outbreaks that are being brought under control.
“We’re not wanting to, you know, make any assumptions about what will happen,” Professor Cheng said.
“We get these numbers every day and we look at them very closely, but we’re certainly keeping a very close eye on these settings.”
- See information on Victorian virus testing sites here
A regional testing push will start in the three country cities on Friday.
Mr Andrews said infection numbers in regional areas remained low, but there had been significant growth.
“As far as some of those worrying trends in those three large regional cities, this testing push over the coming days and weeks will be a really important way in which we can be confident that we’re finding all of the virus that’s there, or at least as much of it as we can,” he said.
Elsewhere, Victoria’s active case numbers have finally begun to fall – albeit only slightly. They appear to have peaked at 7880 on Tuesday, and were at 7866 on Thursday.
There are 664 Victorians in hospital, 37 of them in intensive care. There are four children under the age of 10 among the hospital patients.
NSW toll grows
NSW’s coronavirus toll has grown, with the death of a woman in her 80s in a Sydney hospital.
She is the 53rd person to die of the virus in the state, and the second in August. The woman died on Wednesday.
Her infection was linked to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Our Lady of Lebanon Church in south-western Sydney.
NSW Health authorities also confirmed 12 more virus infections on Thursday (diagnosed in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday). Four of those were locally acquired and linked to known cases, while five are in returned travellers from overseas.
The remaining three were locally acquired, from sources that are yet to be traced. They add to a growing tally in NSW of mystery cases.
NSW has 135 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including seven in intensive care.