Victoria will embark on a testing blitz to combat a worrying trend of new coronavirus cases in regional cities and avoid a potential move to stage four lockdown.
Premier Daniel Andrews said three more testing sites would be set up in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo from Friday after a “significant growth” in cases.
“We encourage anybody in Bendigo, Ballarat or Geelong and anyone across regional Victoria, if you’ve got even the mildest of symptoms, please come forward and get tested,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Thursday.
“As far as some of those worrying trends in those three large regional cities, this testing push over the coming days and weeks will be a really important way in which we can be confident that we’re finding all of the virus that’s there.”
The new testing sites will be based at Ballarat UFS Respiratory clinic, Kardinia Health in Geelong and Bendigo Respiratory Clinic at Spring Gully Primary Health.
Other testing clinics in the three regional Victorian hotspots will remain open with increased operating hours and staff.
Deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng said Geelong (176 cases), Bendigo (53) and Ballarat (23) had recorded more than 250 cases in the past 14 days.
There are 492 active cases in regional local governments under stage three restrictions, down from 512 on Wednesday, compared with 7155 in Melbourne.
Geelong accounts for almost half of all regional cases, Ballarat has the highest growth rate in the past week and Bendigo’s active case numbers are stable but stubborn.
The premier rejected the notion Geelong should immediately join Melbourne under stage four lockdown, insisting any future decision would be data-driven.
“Today’s not about foreshadowing that there’s some next step going to occur tomorrow,” Mr Andrews said.
“There is a concern here but I think the best response is to get more data, a clearer picture.
“The only way we can do that is if people step up and come and get tested. We’ve made that a little easier for people.”
Mr Cheng said officials were considering moving the regional cities to stage four restrictions, although it’s a “day-by-day proposition”.
“We really encourage the community to come forward to get tested so that we can sort of get on top of these transmission chains and hopefully obviate the need for stage four,” he said.
Rural doctors say it’s the region’s one chance to avert a full-scale COVID disaster, urging people to stringently adhere to current restrictions, including wearing masks.
“If the virus starts to circulate freely in our towns, it will be like an out-of-control bushfire,” Rural Doctors Association of Victoria president Dr Megan Belot said in a statement.
“It will be very hard to put it out and it will wreak massive devastation on the people of rural Victoria.”
Victoria’s coronavirus isolation payment has been lifted from $300 to $450 for those awaiting test results.
More than 340,000 regional Victorians have been tested so far.
TESTING SITES IN VICTORIA’S THREE BIGGEST REGIONAL CITIES
GEELONG AND SURROUNDS
* Barwon Health North (clinic and drive through clinic), Norlane
* University Hospital Geelong – Barwon Health
* Kardinia Health, Belmont
* Newcomb Community Health Centre
* 4Cyte Pathology, Geelong
* Bellarine Respiratory Clinic, Ocean Grove
* Ballarat Senior Citizens Centre
* Ballarat UFS Respiratory clinic, Lucas
* Latrobe University Rural Health School (drive through)
* Bendigo Health
* Bendigo Respiratory Clinic, Spring Gully Primary Health