As daily cases of coronavirus surged beyond 500 for the first time in Victoria on Monday, a growing number of experts are urging the state government to enforce a stricter lockdown.
The president of Victoria’s Australian Medical Association, Associate Professor Julian Rait, believes if a similar lockdown that was rolled out in New Zealand was implemented across metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, it could provide a quicker route out of the current crisis.
"What New Zealand did for a month is that they closed pretty much all businesses other than pharmacies, medical clinics, grocery stores, petrol stations and really curtailed a lot of retail shopping, and a lot of businesses," he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.
"That’s the model that I would look to and clearly they were able to achieve elimination through that with a month of such measures.”
Assoc Prof Rait said it was evident with the rising numbers over the past three weeks, the current measures were failing, and while he said tougher restrictions might not be as effective due to the spread of the virus already, it could prevent “months and months” of the stage-three restrictions.
Griffith University infectious diseases expert Nigel McMillan said on Tuesday the current measures were “not working”.
“I am calling for stage four, which is essentially a strict stay-at-home order and the closure of all businesses except what is essential businesses and education facilities,” he told Channel Nine’s Today.
“This is what New Zealand did. We know it works.”
Professor McMillan said if Melbourne remained under current restrictions, daily cases could plateau, but the state may record several hundred cases daily until 2021.
“What we want to avoid is getting into the situation you see in a number of other countries where it's limping along at the same level week after week, month after month where because people aren't perhaps behaving in the way we want to and the measures taken in stage three aren't quite as effective.
“You essentially hold things at bay without getting the numbers down.”
The focus of Victoria’s outbreak has now turned to aged-care facilities, with 683 active cases linked to the sector.
On Monday, five of the six confirmed daily deaths were from aged-care facilities, with Premier Daniel Andrews warning of further deaths in these facilities across Melbourne.
“[It’s] a big, big problem,” he admitted.
Modelling from health authorities indicated Monday was to be the peak of the current outbreak, but Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton refused to say whether it was the case due to the volatile nature of outbreaks in aged-care settings.
“I'm not going to sit back and say today is the peak,” he said on Monday.
“At the moment, I'm more concerned that we'll probably see a rise in numbers because the outbreaks are really volatile in aged-care settings. The numbers can increase very significantly in a very short period of time.”
Federal government call for adherence to current measures
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC News 24 on Tuesday he was “very cautious” about suggesting the peak had been reached.
“We won't count any flattening of the curve until we see a week of sustained lower cases. And at this point, cases have been rising, not falling. So, I think we have to continue to take all of the difficult steps,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Monday the current numbers were “concerning” and it would take time for locally-acquired cases to lower.
“We just ask for the continued cooperation and goodwill of the people of Melbourne and Victoria more broadly to ensure that we can get on top of this and even will continue to work together to that end,” he said.
Mr Morrison said current advice indicated it would be “premature at this point” to further tighten restrictions in Melbourne.
Mr Hunt suggested the current orders to distance, wear masks, maintain hygiene and staying at home would “defeat this virus”.
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