Victorian authorities have issued an urgent alert for bars and hospitality venues across Melbourne after a confirmed COVID case in a pub patron.
The patron, who was one of four new Victorian infections on Friday, is thought to have picked up the virus at the Sporting Globe Bar and Grill in suburban Mordialloc while there for about three hours last Sunday (May 23).
“We now see the significant risk, in particular, at those social venues, the bars and clubs … and we are very keen to ensure that people who have been to those places at those times come forward very quickly,” testing commander Jeroen Weimar said on Friday.
The diagnosis has prompted health authorities to name the bar and four other venues as of particular concern, as they try to quell the burgeoning COVID cluster. They are:
- Three Monkeys, 210 Chapel Street, Prahran, May 22
- The Somewhere Bar, 181 Chapel Street, Prahran, May 22
- Palace Hotel, 505-507 City Road, South Melbourne, May 21
- The Local, 22-24 Bay Street, Port Melbourne, May 21
- See a full and updated list of sites and times of concern here
“[They] are a particular concern to us because essentially, they are clubs, social contacts, places where we expect to see significant numbers of people in close proximity, dancing, singing, doing what they do,” Mr Weimar said.
“[From] one of those locations we have now had one case of confirmed community transmission. Obviously what we are keen to exclude as quickly as we can is whether there has been any other community transmission of those other venues.”
Authorities believe some of the venues had more patrons during exposure periods than QR check-ins have revealed.
“We have obviously talked to the people we know were at those locations. We know that there are more people than were recorded on the QR code systems for that night, that particular time period,” Mr Weimar said.
“The anecdotal evidence we have is that there were in some of those locations tens or hundreds of people – those are not the numbers we are seeing on the QR systems.”
The four COVID cases confirmed on Friday came as Victoria began its first full day of an expected seven-day lockdown.
Daily tests topped 47,000 in Victoria on Thursday, for the first time – with lengthy queues already developing at the state’s testing centres ahead of another bumper day tipped for Friday.
Acting Premier James Merlino said all of Friday’s community cases were linked to the outbreak that started in Melbourne’s north. Thursday was also another record day for COVID vaccinations.
“Those testing numbers are outstanding,” he said.
“We also administered 17,223 vaccine doses. This is exactly the sort of numbers we want to see each and every day.”
The state’s seven-day shutdown began at one minute to midnight on Thursday, to try to contain an outbreak of the Indian variant of COVID-19 in Melbourne’s north, which has spread to 30 people.
Mr Merlino said Victoria would formally request the federal government send it a further 160 defence force personnel to help it quell the cluster.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said authorities remained worried about community transmission.
“Transmission that occurs in these casual contacts or some of these high-risk sites – indoors, close contacts, prolonged contacts, and,
you know, talking without masks, are high risk,” he said.
“That is why we are calling out for people to check those exposure sites across the board, but in particular, these pretty busy social settings.”
Professor Sutton said it was still early in the battle against the latest cluster – with 15,000 primary and secondary contacts in isolation.
“Of course four [infections] is better than 10. It is not over yet. We could get 10 tomorrow, 20 tomorrow,” he said.
“We absolutely have to recognise that there are thousands and thousands of close contacts still to go through the incubation period, who could become symptomatic.”
Victoria’s mass vaccination centres began administering Pfizer shots for anyone aged 40 to 49 on Friday.
The state’s coronavirus hotline was inundated with calls immediately after it was announced vaccination eligibility would be broadened, with some people on hold for hours trying to secure an appointment.
The health department said it was flooded with more than 77,000 calls in a 15-minute window before “technical issues” were resolved. Mr Weimar said call centre staff numbers had been doubled to deal with the surge, and the state could easily double its daily vaccination numbers.
Under the lockdown, which is expected to last until 11.59pm on June 3, Victorians can leave home only for five reasons: To shop for food and essential items, to provide or receive care, for exercise, work or study, or to get vaccinated.
They must observe a five-kilometre travel limit for exercise and shopping, and compulsory wearing of masks both indoors and outdoors.
All non-essential shops are closed but essential stores like supermarkets, bottle shops and pharmacies remain open, with shopping limited to one person per day, per household.
Cafes and restaurants can offer only takeaway.
Childcare and kindergarten facilities have remained open but schools are returning to remote learning for most students. State-run schools are having a pupil-free day on Friday to prepare for the switch.
“I know that this has had and is having a significant impact on people’s lives. But it is all dedicated for our state to get through this outbreak and for our public health team to get ahead of this outbreak,” Mr Merlino said.
Meanwhile, Coles and Woolworths have imposed a limit of two packs of toilet paper per person after shoppers rushed to stock up.
“We have plenty of stock in our supply chain, and this temporary measure will help us to manage demand so that we can return our stores to a fully-stocked position as quickly as possible,” Coles said in a statement on Friday.
The lockdown is expected to cost Victorian businesses up to $1 billion.