When Daniel Andrews warned Victoria faced the prospect of even more draconian Stage Five restrictions if the state’s infection numbers did not come down, many wondered just how much further could Melbourne go?
Well, according to University of Melbourne disease expert Professor Tony Blakely, the Premier could still impose even more stringent restrictions.
While there’s no suggestion Stage Five measures will be required, if they are, they won’t be fun.
Professor Blakely said a hypothetical next stage could include 1km travel limits for Melbourne residents, grocery shopping restrictions and even wearing a mask within the home.
Stage Five would also likely see the total closure of the construction industry – which has so far been spared tough restrictions – plus the end of contactless takeaway food purchases.
But Stage Four is only just getting off the ground with Mr Andrews announcing tough new enforcement measures on Tuesday as businesses prepare to close tomorrow for six weeks.
Under the Andrews Government’s new rules, COVID-19 patients are now banned from exercising outdoors and Melbourne residents who repeatedly fail to self-isolate face fines of almost $5,000.
‘There’s no joy in crafting these penalties but I think they’re appropriate,’ Mr Andrews said, as he reported a further 439 new cases and 11 new deaths in the past 24 hour period.
In announcing Stage Four on Monday, Mr Andrews suggested Melbourne residents could face a ‘Stage Five’.
‘It’s hard to imagine what a Stage Five might look like. But it would radically change the way people live,’ he said.
‘Not just rules on when and where you can go shopping – but restrictions on going shopping at all.’
The Premier later insisted there was ‘no Stage Five’ and his Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton described it as ‘inconceivable’.
But Mr Andrews then said if Stage Four did not have the desired effect ‘we will have to develop a set of rules that will even further limit people’s movement’.
Disease expert Professor Tony Blakely said while the government could go ‘not much further’, Mr Andrews could still take further steps if necessary.
Under a Stage Five, it’s highly likely many further workplaces would close their doors, the epidemiologist told Daily Mail Australia.
‘For example, construction would just completely close, takeaways would no longer be doing contactless takeaway, it would be that type of thing,’ Prof Blakely said.
‘Other places you could go include you could tighten up the stay-at-home order.
‘We could only be allowed to out once a week to do go shopping.
‘You could start talking about what happens in the household more, so for example, mask-wearing in the household.
‘That sounds silly and it probably is silly but it would help a bit because some of the chains of transmission are in households – (but) probably more talking about how people in quarantine are keeping quite separate in the household.
‘You could impose harder geographic boundaries – a one kilometre radius from the home, that sort of thing.’
But Professor Blakely is hopeful extreme measures like these won’t be necessary.
He said: ‘Stage Four will bring the numbers down – we know it did in the other European countries – so long as it’s enforced.
‘I don’t know how fast they’ll bring the counts down but they will definitely work, 95 per cent probability. I can’t quite see why they wouldn’t work, as long as they’re enforced.’
The ABC’s in-house health expert Dr Norman Swan said today that Melbourne’s ‘Stage Three’ measures had already been working – just not fast enough.
Dr Swan referred to modelling by Victoria’s Burnet Institute on Tuesday as he told News Breakfast on Tuesday that Stage Three restrictions had successfully ‘bent the (infection) curve down.’
‘At the beginning of July, ten people were infecting 17 or 18 other people,’ Dr Swan said.
‘At the end of July, ten people were infecting 11 or 12 other people. So that’s pretty good.
‘And that means 20,000 people – 20,000 Victorians – weren’t infected with the coronavirus when they otherwise would have.’
But if Stage Three had continued, Victorian health officials and the nation’s Acting Chief Medical Officer have said large numbers of cases would have kept going.
Professor Paul Kelly said: ‘Stage Three lockdowns have been effective to a point but if we were to continue … those large numbers we’re seeing at the moment would continue.’
Australia will learn what impact Stage Four will have in the coming weeks, with Victorian health officials hoping for a ’30, 40, 50 per cent’ fall in cases in a week’s time.