A testing blitz has been launched across Melbourne’s north, with thousands of people in a swathe of suburbs told to watch for COVID symptoms and two schools closed amid an expanding cluster.
The outbreak is linked to East Preston Islamic College, which has been closed for deep cleaning, after a pupil attended school and then tested positive to the virus.
Pop-up clinics have been set up and a community door-knocking program has begun to alert residents of Dallas, Roxburgh Park, Broadmeadows, Preston, Preston East and West Heidelberg about the potential exposure.
Hundreds of people are also in isolation, including 120 residents of a public housing block in Broadmeadows. They will all be tested for the virus.
News of the cluster came as Victoria confirmed five more coronavirus cases on Thursday. Melbourne’s 14-day average of new cases is down to 6.1, with Premier Daniel Andrews signalling a likely winding back of virus rules from Sunday.
All of Thursday’s cases are linked to the northern Melbourne cluster, which has 16 active infections.
Mr Andrews said an “excellent public health response” was helping to quell the expanding cluster.
“This is the way we operated in Shepparton, the way we operated in Kilmore, the way we have operated in recent weeks,” he said.
“An abundance of caution, cases, their close contacts and contacts of close contacts, that means, yes, hundreds of people are locked up at home.
“That is not pleasant, but that approach means that for hundreds of thousands, indeed millions more, there will be a hopefully greater degree of movement following announcements we will hopefully make on Sunday.”
Elsewhere, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged more people to wear masks on public transport, as the state confirmed another community case.
It is linked to the Liverpool private clinic cluster, which has grown to 13.
NSW also had six more infections in people in hotel quarantine.
Ms Berejiklian said she had been advised by the NSW Department of Transport that mask-wearing had declined on public transport.
“We desperately need it to go back up,” she said.
Testing, tracing boosted in Melbourne
On Thursday, EPIC principal Ekrem Ozyurek said DHHS told him the school didn’t have to close but that he was taking a precautionary approach.
“We are all vulnerable… we can all get this virus,” he told ABC radio.
The grade five boy who has sparked the alarm at the school attended on Monday and Tuesday, after his siblings were given the all-clear after contracting the virus. He had previously tested negative.
Victoria’s commander of testing, Jeroen Weimar, said 73 close contacts had been identified at the school. They included students and teachers.
“They and their households have all been asked and instructed to self-isolate and quarantine for the next 14 days. That is a total of around 400 people,” he said.
Mr Weimar said authorities also wanted to test everyone in the Broadmeadows housing block after a confirmed infection in one resident. They have also been told to self-isolate for 48 hours.
“We are taking the view that although we have every reason to believe that the positive case was contained within a particular apartment, we don’t want to take any chances,” he said.
A close contact of the East Preston student has also been identified at Dallas Brooks Primary School. It has also been closed for deep cleaning.
Text message alerts have also been sent to people who live in or have visited any of the affected suburbs and surrounding areas.
Victoria had another day without COVID fatalities on Thursday. Its death toll remains at 817 and the national figure is 905, with only one death in the past week.