Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has conceded that COVID case numbers in his state will keep climbing – even under tough lockdown rules.
There were another 120 coronavirus cases in Victoria on Wednesday – the first time the state has reached triple COVID-19 figures in almost a year.
But Mr Andrews said only 20 had been in isolation during their infectious period, signalling “a dramatic shift in the nature and the number of cases” in the state.
“In just the past two days, the number of cases, the nature of those cases, the depth of the seeding of this outbreak has become clear and the chief health officer’s advice to me and the government has changed – fundamentally changed,” he said.
“We will not see these case numbers go down. They are going to go up.
The question is – by how many and how fast?”
Mr Andrews said Victoria now had to try to manage two peaks – “the peak of those who are vaccinated and the peak of those who get infected with this Delta variant”.
“What we must do is suppress case numbers sufficient to buy us time to get people vaccinated. What that means is that we can’t ease restrictions today in any profound way,” he said.
Victoria has 900 active COVID cases, including 58 people in hospitals. None of the hospital patients is fully vaccinated.
It has also had its first deaths in the current outbreak, with two women aged in their 40s and 60s dying at home on Tuesday.
“We are in for a difficult time, a challenging time, over these coming weeks. This is very, very tough,” Mr Andrews said.
He urged Victorians to get vaccinated – pointing out that 70,000 appointments for AstraZeneca shots remained available across the state this week.
“My message to every Victorian is – no, we cannot wait. You need to get vaccinated and you need to get vaccinated as soon as possible. And the best vaccine is the one that you can access today,” he said.
“This is a race to 80.”
Because of the escalating coronavirus challenge, the Premier said he could not significantly ease lockdown rules in Melbourne. There will be two minor changes from midnight Thursday – playgrounds will reopen and some in-home childcare will be permitted.
Further rule changes are likely after Victoria meets its target of having 70 per cent of its eligible population with at least one COVID vaccine dose by September 23.
“That’s a significant milestone,” Mr Andrews said.
Changes flagged from September 23 include:
- Expanding the five-kilometre travel limit for shopping and exercise to 10 kilometres;
- Extend time to exercise from two hours a day to three;
- Allow outdoor communal gym equipment and skate parks to reopen;
- Outdoor personal training also allowed with up to two people plus trainer;
- Further changes to child-minding for school-aged children;
- Private real estate inspections of unoccupied premises;
- Construction sites able to increase to 50 per cent of capacity (if 90 per cent of the workforce has had at least one shot);
Schools will not return to face-to-face learning until at least term four. However, about 70,000 students sitting VCE subjects will be prioritised for virus shots ahead of end-of-year exams.
“We’ll take a little bit more time to finalise the work that’s already been done and we’ll say more of what term four will look like for all our students next week,” Mr Andrews said.
The changes announced on Wednesday do not apply to regional Victoria, where lockdown will lift from next week.
The central Victorian town of Shepparton – where there has been a recent virus outbreak – will remain under Melbourne rules for an unspecified period.
Mr Andrews said “significant restrictions” would apply in the regions once lockdown ended.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said Burnet Institute modelling had shown that the restrictions in Victoria’s sixth lockdown had probably avoided 6000 cases.
“But it’s not just those historically averted cases, it’s the 1700 cases that would have been added today in that modelling. It’s the more than 2000 cases that would have been added tomorrow – those cases increase by about a third every single day,” he said.
“There would have been more than 3000 cases per day by the end of the week if we had not applied these restrictions.”
He said it was crucial for Victorians to keep following lockdown rules, including leaving home only for the five approved reasons.
“Absolutely it’s tough and three weeks seems like an eternity,” he said.
“That light at the end of the tunnel is too dim and the tunnel is too long, but it is a light at the end of the tunnel.”