There are calls for Victoria to reconsider its scheduled timeline of easing coronavirus restrictions as it continues to record daily cases of the disease from community transmission.
The state on Friday recorded its third consecutive day of new COVID-19 cases reaching double digits, with 13 new cases announced, including five people connected to an outbreak at the Stamford Plaza Hotel. There were seven other cases identified through routine testing, and one returned traveller.
Professor Michael Kidd, Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said holding off on easing restrictions could be beneficial in curbing community transmission, with Victoria the only state with community acquired cases.
"In a state like Victoria where there are still cases of community transmission, of course, we'd expect the steps to be smaller and more cautious, and more delayed than in other parts of the country where we're not seeing community transmission at this time,” he told ABC radio.
Victoria plans to introduce its next level of eased restrictions on Monday.
The ongoing prevalence of community transmissions in Victoria warranted immediate attention, Adrian Esterman, Professor of Biostatistics at the University of South Australia, said.
“The fact of the matter is that Victoria is still getting some cases, and all it takes is one person to spread it and bust it wide open,” Professor Esterman told Yahoo News Australia.
“If it was me I’d be saying ‘look, we would love to relax restrictions, but until we can get to the same situation as all the other states, we won’t do it’.”
The key was in determining where community acquired cases were coming from, Prof Esterman said, criticising leaders for allowing Black Lives Matter protests to go ahead.
“It’s a simply crazy situation,” he said, arguing that reverting to more strict lockdowns was probably not the best solution and instead calling for a halt in restrictions easing.
“I don’t think they should relax restrictions until they’ve got it under much more control...when you’re getting half a dozen community acquired cases a day, it’s not good. Really they’ve got to do more.”
While enforcing further restrictions was not something Prof Esterman thought would be necessary, he advocated for current measures to be better executed.
“I just think they’ve got to do what they’re doing a little bit better in terms of contact tracing and testing, and certainly not relax restrictions until they’re getting several days without any cases,” he said.
Victoria’s eased restrictions planned for Monday
Gyms, cinemas, indoor sports centres and concert venues are scheduled to reopen on Monday while cafes, restaurants and pubs will increase capacity from 20 people to 50.
Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen on said on Friday the state planned to stay true to its action plan and roll out its next phase of restriction easing on Monday.
“Two days are not going to make a huge difference to be honest, so the current plan is to go ahead,” Dr van Diemen told reporters.
She said numbers were less concerning than Thursday, as more was known about the source of the cases.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos also revealed the next phase would likely go ahead next week.
“At this point in time, in terms of the changes that we have already announced for Monday, they will be proceeding,” she told reporters, adding that assessments based on Dr Diemen’s advice could change the plan in the “coming days and weeks”.
She said when assessing trends since the beginning of the outbreak, Victoria had fared reasonably well in the larger scheme of things.
“We have been tracking quite well in Victoria in recent weeks. We look for the trends rather than just
looking at the numbers on any particular day.
“We have a large number still of returned travellers in today's numbers, as we did yesterday. And as you know, those people are all in mandatory hotel quarantine.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday he was not aware of any state’s intention to “ease up on the pace of reopening their economies”.
“But we will keep watching the data and they are taking advice from their chief health officers as I am from mine.”
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