It will take Melbourne months to map its way out of lockdown, according to an infection prevention researcher who warned Victoria would need to be hesitant when lifting restrictions.
The state is starting to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel after it was struck by its second wave of coronavirus cases last month and thrusted into a Stage 4 lockdown, the harshest in the country since the start of the pandemic.
With Premier Daniel Andrews not yet making the road map out of lockdown public just yet, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it would have to be transparent and likely location specific.
But infection prevention researcher and nursing and midwifery associate professor at Monash University, Philip Russo, said with still over two weeks to go before the current lockdown ends, it is too premature to say restrictions will be eased on September 13.
In response to the Prime Minister’s suggestions, Associate Professor Russo said looking at the past, locking down specific suburbs while opening up the rest of the state did not work.
At the beginning of the second wave in July, Mr Andrews locked down 10 postcodes in Melbourne with residents only allowed to leave their home for four reasons – for school or work, shopping for essentials, medical care, or to provide care to another person.
But despite putting those measures in place, the virus rapidly spread throughout Melbourne, forcing the whole city into a strict Stage 4 lockdown.
“It could be argued that didn’t quite work, but we will wait and see,” Associate Professor Russo told Yahoo News Australia.
How Stage 3 lockdown could look
Associate Professor Russo said as restrictions eased, Melburnians were likely to have more freedom on a daily basis and would be allowed outside for more than just the hour currently allowed.
“They should also have the ability to socialise and may be looking at being allowed five people in their house,” he said.
“Whatever restrictions are lifted, it needs to be very transparent and needs to be well-staged.
“We need to allow time to allow for adverse impacts. We should have very minor restrictions lifted and wait and see how that goes before we look at lifting more. It needs to happen carefully.”
Associate Professor Russo said the lockdown would not end overnight and expected it would take a number of months for most of the restrictions to ease.
“You more or less will need to wait the 14-day period after lifting a restriction to wait for any new infections to manifest,” he said.
“It wouldn’t be wise to do this rapidly, it could well take a number of months to lift the restrictions.”
The rules likely here to stay
Associate Professor Russo predicted masks would be mandated in Victoria for some time and like all states, hand hygiene and social distancing will be paramount.
He said the curfew, restricting Victorians from leaving their homes after 8pm, would likely be one of the first rules eased and predicted Melburnians would be allowed to visit family and friends.
Victoria’s coronavirus cases continue to edge towards double-digits, with 113 new coronavirus cases reported on Friday for the second day in a row.
The daily case number in Victoria has now been below 150 for the past five days.
Epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, Professor John Mathews, attempted to predict the number Victoria would need to hit before lifting its lockdown, and it still has a while to go.
Professor Mathews said numbers would likely have to be as low as NSW, with it reporting just 13 new cases on Friday compared to Victoria.
“The simplest thing is to look at NSW. They’re still under about 20 cases per day, and unless we get to at least that stage in Victoria, it would be hard to recommend stopping the lockdown,” he said.
“Because the numbers are smaller, the contact tracing is more manageable and they can track the new cases and the context down pretty quickly.”
‘We’ve all got to be really careful’
On Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews again gave no details about when the government would announce the new rules for the state.
But he made it clear that there will be no immediate shift back to stage one or two rules.
"The notion we would go from stage four to stage two or stage one, all those businesses would be open like a normal second half of the year, normal spring, we're not going to be able to do that," Mr Andrews said.
"It will have to be gradual and steady because we've all got to be really careful to make sure nothing we do makes it more likely that we find ourselves back here at exactly this place.
"We want to defeat the second wave and properly.
"That means we can avoid a third wave or it's much more likely that we can then find that COVID-19 normal and have a longer term plan which gets us well into 2021, hopefully with a vaccine during next year, and then things are in a different place."
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