Victorians could be cut off from the rest of Australia for two years as the state battles a second outbreak of coronavirus.
From midnight, wearing a face mask will be mandatory throughout metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire and failure to do so punishable with a $200 fine.
The latest health directive was implemented in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19 as cases in the state continue to soar.
A further 484 cases were diagnosed in Victoria in the 24 hours to Wednesday – the largest single day spike in Australia since the pandemic began.
Professor Tony Blakely on Wednesday told ABC the nation faces a ‘real dilemma’ as six of the eight states and territories have almost entirely succeeded in eliminating the virus.
Victoria is the only state grappling with widespread community transmission at this point, while New South Wales is seeing some cases from unknown sources but on nowhere near the same scale as in Melbourne.
Newly diagnosed cases in other states have been largely linked to returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
‘Why would they let anybody in if there’s enough of a risk that they are going to bring the virus?’ Prof Blakely said.
‘Let’s assume that Victoria doesn’t get rid of the virus… It essentially means Victoria is going to have to function in isolation from the rest of Australia until such time as we get a vaccine, assuming the other states don’t want the virus back in. If I was in the other states I wouldn’t want the virus back in.’
If the other states opt against blocking Victorians from visiting, it could force them to let the virus back in and ‘move to the yoyo common denominator’.
Blocking Victorians from travelling interstate will have further detrimental impacts on the Australian economy, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg expected to announce an annual shortfall of around $200billion on Thursday.
Mr Frydenberg will reveal the ‘eye-watering’ budget deficit is the worst since World War Two due to the coronavirus crisis, which has crippled businesses and required extraordinary government spending to keep firms and families afloat.
The figure is so high because the government has spent $164billion on propping up businesses and individuals with new policies including subsidising wages and boosting welfare with schemes like JobKeeper and JobSeeker.
Some economists fear the debt could take at least 30 years to repay.
While it is clear lockdowns and border closures make it more difficult for businesses to claw their way out of financial ruin, the states which have successfully eliminated the virus are more concerned about the health of citizens than rushing to reopen.
As cases from Victoria slip across the border to New South Wales, Queensland Police are bracing for the possibility they may have to block people from Sydney from visiting the Sunshine State, a source told the Courier Mail.
New South Wales Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant on Tuesday urged the state’s residents to avoid any non-essential travel.
‘That sort of language is normally a precedent to restrictions being tightened,’ a Queensland police source said.
Currently, any residents from Campbelltown and Liverpool government areas are forbidden from entering Queensland, along with Victorians, but the source said those hot spots would likely be extended.
‘There is no way that more hot spots are not going to be declared, and all of Sydney would definitely be a consideration given what’s happening down there,’ the source said.
‘If the situation continues to deteriorate over the next week, I honestly don’t see how we wouldn’t look at closing the border entirely.’
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk addressed New South Wales authorities’ concerns over the spread of the virus on Wednesday.
‘I do have concerns when the NSW Premier says they are on a heightened alert. That means I am on a heightened alert,’ she said.
From midnight, police in Victoria will issue on-the-spot $200 fines to anybody in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire who do not wear face masks while out in public.
Residents within the locked down suburbs can only leave home for four reasons – daily exercise, shopping for essential goods, to give or receive care or to travel to work.
Officers have vowed to ‘exercise discretion’ for the first seven days of the new health directive, but will not hesitate to dish out fines to people who are purposefully breaking the rules.
The example offered by Victoria Police was that if a person who had a mask in their possession refused to put it on after they were instructed to do so, they could expect a fine.
Similarly, if a person disrespected orders to avoid entering a supermarket due to not having a mask, they could also expect a fine.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is reportedly desperate to reopen his state to avoid economic ruin, but is resolved to only do so when cases dramatically drop.
Senior government figures told The Australian Mr Andrews wanted daily case numbers ‘in the single digits’ before reopening the economy.
‘It all comes down to the data. Every option is open,’ a senior government source said.
Almost nine in 10 Victorians who tested positive to COVID-19 between July 7 and July 21 were still leaving their houses after they developed symptoms.
Even after being tested, 54 per cent still left their homes while waiting for their results, Mr Andrews said.
Royal Melbourne Hospital this week received an order of an additional 22 ventilators to add to bolster its intensive care units, which already have 42 beds.
Hospitals in the state are preparing for an influx of new cases given hospital admissions appear to be about 10 days behind the diagnoses of new cases.
RMH ICU nurse unit manager Michelle Spence said the new ventilators could be ready for use within 48 hours, and will protect nurses as well as save lives.
‘We are ready and within 24 to 48 hours we could have those next 22 beds set up. It gives us the opportunity to start expanding our service and that has been the plan since March,’ she said.
‘The staff are definitely fatigued a little bit in life,’ she said. ‘But we are ready for this. We have been training and practising and getting staffing models since March.
Most of the people brought into hospital with severe cases of COVID-19 are the elderly, but an increased amount of young people are catching the disease.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data released on Thursday showed men were more likely to die from the virus than women, and the median age of death is 80.
The institute analysed data from late January to late May, before the large scale outbreak in Victoria.
Australians aged 20 to 29 had the highest number of infections, while people aged over 70 had the lowest.
Women aged between 20 to 29 and 60 to 69 were the most likely of females to be infected, while men aged 60 to 79 were the most likely of males.
And while the bulk of the infections were acquired overseas during the period studied, 98.8 per cent of cases diagnosed in the last week have been acquired locally.
Authorities in New South Wales have not yet mandated the use of face masks, but have encouraged people to use them where possible.
Dr Stephen Parnis earlier told A Current Affair the state could be heading in a similar direction to Victoria.
He said the virus could easily spiral out of control in Australia.
‘It’s always the case that these things could spread,’ he said.
‘The concern is that NSW could now be where Melbourne was four, five, six weeks ago.’
On Tuesday, 16 new COVID-19 cases were recorded in the state.
One of the cases was linked to hotel quarantine, three to the Crossroads Hotel in Casula and 11 associated with the Thai Rock restaurant in Wetherill Park, taking the total amount of cases related to that cluster to 37.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her state was facing the most ‘critical time’ since the initial March lockdown in the fight against the virus.
She said it was reassuring there were no new outbreaks of coronavirus popping up across the state but was still concerned about community transmission.
‘The next few weeks are the most critical in NSW since the lockdown earlier in March and April,’ she said.
‘We are not out of the woods yet, quite the opposite… We have some level of anxiety regarding the extent of community transmission.’
The latest opinions from medics come as a terrifying new map shows how the virus has rapidly spread through Sydney after jumping the Victorian border.
Sydney’s woes began at the Crossroads Hotel in Casula, in the city’s south-west, with ‘patient zero’ later identified as a Melbourne-based freight company employee who visited on July 3.
New South Wales Health said there are now 50 cases associated with the Crossroads Hotel cluster and 37 linked to the Thai Rock restaurant at Wetherill Park.
The map shows the Sydney hot spots battling coronavirus infections since July 1.
In the Liverpool local government area, there are 11 active cases in Carnes Hill and Cecil Hills and eight in Casula and Chipping Norton following one positive test result in each area over night.
Another coronavirus case was recorded in Bossley Park, in the Fairfield LGA, bringing the number of active cases in the suburb to three.
The Lower Blue Mountains saw an additional person test positive and the area now has five active coronavirus infections.
Sydney’s south recorded another positive case in Caringbah, taking the suburb’s active number of cases to two, while another infection was recorded in Grays Point.
There are five active cases in Airds, Ambarvale and Appin in the Campbelltown LGA and five in Bardia, the Liverpool LGA.
Belmore, in Sydney’s inner south-west, has four active coronavirus cases.
But there are fears of a potential new COVID-19 cluster in Sydney after a staff member at a Sydney care home tested positive for coronavirus.
The employee at Ashfield Baptist Homes aged care in Sydney’s inner-west dined at the Thai Rock Restaurant in Wetherill Park, which has since been linked to 37 cases.
Other staff and residents at the facility are now in isolation and being tested for the deadly respiratory infection, New South Wales Health said in a statement.
‘The risk to other staff and residents is considered to be very low as the staff member wore masks, gloves and gowns when working with residents and did not work while symptomatic,’ the statement said.
Ashfield Baptist Homes has since been closed to the public pending test results.
A toddler who is linked to a previously identified case has also tested positive for the deadly respiratory virus.
A text message was sent to parents of little ones enrolled at Good Start in Anna Bay in the Hunter Region on Wednesday informing them that a toddler at the centre had tested positive.
The facility was then closed for a deep clean.
A Sydney man also infected a friend in his 20s after travelling to visit him in Port Stephens, further accelerating the spread of the virus.
The case prompted authorities to urge Sydneysiders not to travel unless absolutely necessary.
Residents in northern New South Wales and Newcastle were also asked not to travel to Sydney in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
Public Health Physician Professor David Durrheim said the Sydney outbreaks were ‘concerning’ and that non-residents should stay away.
There is usually a lot of travel between the two east coast cities, sitting just 170km apart.
‘We would strongly advise anybody from the Hunter New England region to rather stay at home than visiting Sydney at this stage unless absolutely necessary.
‘This virus, if you give it half a chance, can spread very very rapidly and even from the a-symptomatic,’ he said.