No new cases again, Vic readies test blitz

Benita Kolovos and Roger Vaughan
·3-min read

Victorian authorities are planning a large-scale asymptomatic testing blitz in an effort to find any remaining cases of coronavirus lurking in the community.

As Victoria notched its 11th consecutive day without a new virus case or death, it emerged the Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to roll out the nation's first asymptomatic testing blitz.

Premier Daniel Andrews and DHHS Commander of Testing Jeroen Weimar would not confirm a report in The Age, which claims the local government areas of Hume and Wyndham would be the target of such a blitz.

But Mr Weimar said there would be a "combination" of statewide testing and working with local authorities, such as councils and community groups, going forward.

Hume and Wyndham, along with Brimbank in Melbourne's west, have been hit hard by COVID-19, with almost 6000 infections recorded in the regions since the start of the pandemic.

Some asymptomatic testing has been carried out in Victoria but authorities have largely been focused on those with virus symptoms.

"We do need people who are feeling a little bit crook still to get tested because we really want to make sure that we haven't got the virus still circulating in small pockets of our community," Mr Weimar told ABC radio.

"We're very keen to focus with certain council areas on what else could we possibly do to get under the skin.

"Are we seeing low numbers generally, or are there particular parts of your community we want to go in and have a good test at?"

He said the same principle would apply in workplaces as lockdown restrictions eased and fewer people worked from home.

Mr Weirmar said 12,955 Victorians were tested for COVID-19 on Monday, providing authorities with a "really strong and consistent picture".

Melbourne's mystery cases are now down to one and there are only four active cases across the state.

Mr Andrews said Victoria's testing rates during the past fortnight were the best in Australia.

"The more you look, the more you find," he said.

"As we move into the summer, as we move into next year, I think trying to make sure that we've got the most complete picture of how much virus is out there is even more important.

"We'll have more to say about testing in high-risk workplaces, across communities."

Life in Victoria is inching towards "COVID normal", with iconic institutions preparing to reopen and many Melbourne residents stuck in traffic as they rediscover the regions.

The National Gallery of Victoria announced it would reopen the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square next Friday, ahead of patrons being allowed back at its main site just before Christmas.

Melbourne is slowly coming alive after almost four months of lockdown, with gyms, museums and cinemas able to host up to 20 people.

Outdoor and indoor patron limits have also been upped for pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Sunday's easing of restrictions has fed debate about relaxing mandatory mask rules, with Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett expressing her surprise they weren't changed.

Mr Weimar noted Melbourne had only started coming out of lockdown less than a fortnight ago and said masks were a "critical element in safeguarding gains we have made".

The premier said masks wouldn't be around "forever".

"As unpleasant as it can be, particularly as the weather gets warmer, it is serving a purpose," Mr Andrews said.

"We'll make changes when it's appropriate to do so."

The state's virus death toll remains at 819 and the national figure is 907.