A leading disease expert has hinted Melbourne’s lockdown could be extended beyond six weeks if coronavirus cases fail to drop as significantly as hoped.
Victorian infections peaked at 725 on August 6 and numbers have steadily fallen to below 300, with 222 cases reported on Tuesday.
But Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely is concerned the numbers are not falling as fast as expected.
Melbourne entered Stage 4 lockdown on August 2 and a curfew was introduced from 8pm until 5am. The rest of the state was subject to Stage 3 restrictions as of 11.59pm on August 5.
‘Cases fell quite quickly in the week following August 4, quicker than I expected but then in the last week — which is seven days after stage 4 lockdown — it’s actually slowed and that’s what I find odd,’ he told news.com.au.
‘It’s still going down, which is good, but at this rate of progress we’ll be lucky if we are at less than 50 cases a day by the end of the six-week lockdown.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously suggested the Stage 4 restrictions would cost the national economy between $7billion and $9billion in the September quarter.
Last week it was revealed more than one million Australians are out of work for the first time since records began, with the unemployment rate climbing slightly to 7.5 per cent.
The situation could get much worse, given the latest jobless figures do not reflect the impact of Melbourne’s stage four lockdowns.
If coronavirus cases don’t drop as steeply as hoped, Victorians could face extended restrictions come the end of lockdown on September 13.
Prof Blakely said he is hoping new coronavirus cases drop below 50 a day.
‘But let’s see how we go, maybe things will steepen up in the next week,’ he said.
According to the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Associate Professor Julian Rait, new cases in the low double digits would be ‘very manageable’.
‘I think many of my colleagues would like to see zero numbers but I think more realistically if it got down into the low double digits or even perhaps the single digits, that would be very manageable,’ he said.
‘The idea would be that at that point you could have very aggressive contact tracing and be able to find all the possible contacts an test and isolating them as required.
‘So I think once the numbers get down to a very low level, it’s a much more manageable situation than it currently is.’
By comparison, New South Wales has continued to manage between 10 to 20 new infections a day.
Despite concerns of a slower than expected drop, Professor Catherine Bennett, chair in epidemiology at Deakin University, said daily COVID-19 case tallies had reassuringly declined since peaking at 725 cases on August 5.
Commenting on the link between high case numbers in Melbourne’s low socio-economic areas, Ms Bennett pointed to Victoria’s botched hotel quarantine scheme.
‘The communities hardest hit when their workers brought the virus home were also those most challenged in the face of the pandemic – over-represented in multi-site casual work, unable to work from home or afford to forgo work,’ she said in a statement.
‘The fact that the wave is turning in Victoria is largely a credit to those hardest hit, and who have had to do the really hard yards to shut down local transmission.’
Victoria recorded 25 fatalities on Monday – the most of any day across the pandemic – taking the state toll to 334 and the national figure to 421.
But there were 282 new cases and there have been no 400-plus days since last Wednesday.
An optimistic Premier Daniel Andrews was buoyed by Monday’s figures while issuing his regular plea for Victorians not to rest on their laurels.
‘We are strong, there is good cause for people to be hopeful about the future – we just can’t allow any sense of complacency to creep in here,’ he told reporters.
Of Monday’s record deaths, 22 were linked to aged care.
The deaths include one man in his 60s, four women and three men in their 70s, six women and four men in their 80s, and four men and three women in their 90s.
Authorities have warned of ongoing fatalities even as new case numbers decline.
A breakdown of ICU hospitalisation data released on Monday afternoon shows 31 of 49 patients are aged 60 or over.
There is also one person in their 20s, four people in their 30s, three people in their 40s and 10 people in their 50s in ICU.