Victoria has confirmed another 55 COVID infections and eight more fatalities as a political storm erupts over its post-lockdown plans.
Tuesday’s figures are up from Monday’s 41, but still continue the steady recent overall downward trend.
The fatalities take Victoria’s pandemic toll to 683. They were two men in their 60s, two men in their 80s and a man and three women in their 90s.
Premier Daniel Andrews said six of the deaths were related to aged-care outbreaks.
It came as federal Health Minister Greg Hunt lashed the Victorian government’s plan to emerge from weeks of tough virus measures in a blitz of Melbourne media on Tuesday.
“These are objective sets of data where, under the Victorian-proposed rules, Sydney would be in lockdown, under curfew and businesses shutting and yet they are able to operate at the level that they are, with a
high-quality public health system,” he told the ABC.
“We supported, reluctantly, but we recognised it needed to be done given the situation in Victoria, the entry into Stage 3 and Stage 4 restrictions. We do disagree now, respectfully.”
NSW confirmed nine more COVID infections on Tuesday. Five are linked to known clusters, one is still being investigated and the remainder were in people in hotel quarantine.
Later, on radio 3AW, Mr Hunt compared the Victorian response to harsh lockdowns in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated.
“Wuhan was under lockdown for two-and-a-half months. Believe it or not, Melbourne will be under lockdown for three-and-a-half months,” he said.
He also rejected criticism of the federal government’s COVIDSafe app. In one case in NSW, it had identified more than 500 close contacts and two positive virus cases, he said.
“That is doing the job it is intended to do but it has to be supported by a world-class contact-tracing system and NSW is the gold standard. But we can get Victoria there.”
Under the Victorian plan, Melbourne is likely to remain under strict lockdown until the end of October.
It will not take even the first small steps into eased restrictions until its rolling fortnightly average of new cases falls to 30-50. On Tuesday, it was 78.6.
Mr Hunt’s criticism echoed Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday, when he blasted the Andrews government’s plan as a “worst-case scenario”.
Mr Morrison also took a swipe at Victoria’s contact tracing capability, labelling NSW the “gold standard”.
But Mr Andrews dismissed the comparisons, noting NSW had not experienced the same level of community transmission as Victoria.
“That’s not a point of pride, that’s just a fact,” he said on Monday.
“I’ve seen this commentary that under our settings, they’d be in lockdown – no they wouldn’t, because they’ve not had the community transmission that we’ve had.
On Tuesday, he said senior Victorian health officials and Australian Defence Force personnel working with them had been in constant contact with their counterparts in NSW and other states, to compare practices.
Victoria will send a team to Sydney this week to “double and triple check whether there is anything that is different between our response and the response in NSW”.
“They have got case numbers at levels that we are heading towards and there might be, when you are dealing with that particular challenge of very low numbers and trying to keep them very low, there may be some insights that they can provide us, given that they are in a different place,” Mr Andrews said.
“All of that, though, helps to inform very much the tailored response in Victoria to the challenge that we face in terms of levels of community transmission.”
Business leaders are also unimpressed at Victoria’s reopening plan.
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell called on the state government to cover the costs of small business closures.
The conservative-leaning Institute of Public Affairs has released an analysis of the state’s jobs market, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics wages and employment data. It estimates the road map will destroy 260,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott is demanding the release of modelling that underpins the Victorian plan.
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said there would be no change to the September 28 milestone, when some Melbourne workplaces and schools will reopen if the 14-day case average drops below 50.
But other key dates for the potential easing of restrictions on October 26 and November 23 could be brought forward if the data is close to prescribed thresholds.
Regional Victoria, meanwhile, is on a different timetable and will be able to move to the ‘third step’ of restrictions soon.