The precarious nature of Victoria's coronavirus position

One wrong move could spell the end of Victoria’s promising signs of coronavirus recovery, according to the state’s top health officials.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng detailed on Sunday the modelling health experts were using to determine how and when each step in Victoria’s roadmap out of lockdown could be rolled out.

While he conceded current case numbers were lower than what had initially been predicted, Professor Cheng said Victoria could find itself back at square one without close management of restrictions.

Using one form of modelling, the Burnett model, Prof Cheng said experts were able to gain insight into what would happen if restrictions were relaxed too early.

Pictured is Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng.
Professor Allen Cheng warned Melbourne was far from out of the woods. Source: AAP

“If we had opened up to the final step on the 14 September, this model suggested we would have an 86 per cent chance of a resurgence [and] up to 100 cases a day within four weeks,” Prof Cheng told reporters.

“If we opened up tomorrow to the final step, there would still be a 41 per cent chance of getting to 100 cases a date within four weeks.”

Prof Cheng said updated modelling had suggested Victoria was “on track and perhaps even slightly ahead of where we thought we would be”, but still not entirely out of the woods.

“There is still quite a lot of uncertainty about the role [of modelling] and this reflects the role of chance, so super-spreading events like the ones we have had at Colac or Casey could easily put us back,” he said.

A combination of modelling from The University of Melbourne and the Murdoch Children's Research Institute had largely shaped how schools would be reopened, Prof Cheng said.

“They found that primary school children are at a lower risk of getting and spreading infection,” he said.

“This new modelling suggests it’s relatively safe to return students to primary schools in the first weeks of term four.”

Aged care remains ‘stubborn’

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton echoed Prof Cheng’s cautious optimism while highlighting aged care as the pandemic’s “stubborn tale”.

Professor Sutton said Sunday’s 16 new cases was a stark contrast to just a few weeks ago when Victoria was recording between 50 and 70 new cases a day.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton echoed Prof Cheng’s cautious optimism while highlighting aged care as the pandemic’s “stubborn tale”. Source: AAP
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton echoed Prof Cheng’s cautious optimism while highlighting aged care as the pandemic’s “stubborn tale”. Source: AAP

“We are at a point now and the epidemiology is different, where the demographics of the cases we are seeing a different,” Prof Sutton told reporters.

“We always said that aged care cases would be a stubborn tale of this epidemic curve. That remains the case, but it does mean that not an insignificant proportion of our daily cases are in aged care.”

He added “sporadic, individual community cases” were now being seen in a very small number.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Sunday a raft of easing restrictions under Step Two of the state’s roadmap to recovery, including households and groups of five being allowed to gather outside.

Indoor gatherings ‘most risky’

Strict rules remained in place however for gatherings indoors, with Mr Andrews saying they were one of the most “risky environments” when it came to COVID-19 transmission.

“I know people want to go and visit friends, I know people want that fundamental connection with friends and family, I get that, I understand that, but I also understand, what I am completely clear about, the evidence is irrefutable,” he said.

“The home environment is one of the most risky environments. It is how people let their guard down, and there is a degree of informality, there is no distancing, there is not the cleaning at that kind of industrial level, that is when this virus gets away from you and one big family or small family visiting another and another and another does nothing but potentially spread this virus.”

Two healthcare workers at a Melbourne coronavirus testing clinic.
Melbourne has opened up slightly as part of the roll out of Step Two. Source: AAP

Mr Andrews announced a new hefty penalty for people caught doing the wrong thing after the curfew ends from 5am on Monday.

“We have decided that a new fine, a penalty just less than $5,000, will apply for any unlawful outdoor gatherings or indoor gatherings,” he said.

Prof Sutton said indoor gatherings were a “transmission risk” that was an “ongoing concern”.

“This whole strategy can fall apart if we don't hold the course on the very, very important aspect of limiting our interactions with others to those that are in this new step which is two households or your own household, no greater number than five people meeting outside,” he said.

“That is a very different risk to a private, indoor, unlawful gathering where indeed people are too close together, they are speaking and laughing and shouting and masks are not necessarily worn.”

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