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Victorians on Friday celebrated the state going a full week without a new Covid-19 infection or death, but the government and experts say there is still virus out there.
As lockdowns being to ease, Melbourne’s residents seem to have relaxed, filling restaurants and cafes to their maximum density capacities, gathering in the hundreds on beaches, and venturing outside the home more and more, often with face-masks wrapped around their chins rather than their mouths and nose.
But professor Mary-Louise McLaws from the University of New South Wales said Melbourne was not out of the woods when it comes to a possibility of a third wave.
“You’ve had zero or less than five cases for 12 days … That’s a very short period of time, and people can have a very long incubation period,” she said.
“So you’ve come a long way, and it’s really important that you take it slowly.”
Melbourne’s rolling 14-day average of daily cases now sits at 1.3, but McLaws said there was still a significant possibility that asymptomatic people were walking around with the virus. This could either peter out by itself or result in an outbreak.
“They are about 50% as infectious as someone with symptoms … Now if they’re not coming into contact with a lot of people, they may not spread it, or they may be highly social or work-connected, they meet a lot of people, and therefore you can get a cluster.”
This message was echoed by Daniel Andrews on Friday, as the premier announced Melbourne’s first full week without a Covid-19 infection since March.
“Victorians have done an amazing thing, building something that’s very fragile, building something that is precious,” he said. “And we’ve all got to play our part to safeguard that we are properly protected in the weeks and months to come.”
On Tuesday, the testing commander at the Department of Health and Human Services, Jeroen Weimar, confirmed the government believed the virus was still present in Victoria.
“Our focus is on detecting any remaining traces of Covid that might be out there in the community,” he said.
“We’re delighted to see zero cases … I suspect that there will be others out there that we haven’t found yet, but that’s where the ongoing message around testing is important, as is the gradual easing of restrictions.”
The next round of restrictions easing is set for this Sunday, with Andrews promising “really significant” changes. One of these changes will likely include the removal of the 25km travel limit and the possible relaxing of the “ring of steel” separating regional and metro Victorians. There are likely to also be announcements on the opening of indoor gyms and pools and increases to hospitality density limits, and Andrews is set to map out a plan for future easing through November.
Questions have now turned to whether universal mask-wearing in Victoria is still necessary with such low numbers. The chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, Prof Catherine Bennett, said it might be beneficial for Andrews to reduce the mandate before the public became too fatigued.
“People are now thinking, ‘Well, I’m outdoors, I’m not near anybody, I’m pulling them down because I can’t breath when I walk.’ That’s a problem, and it has increased, probably because the perceived threat is going down,” Bennett said.
“But I think the government is getting to a point where they should probably call it and say, ‘Let’s wear them properly, but when we’re indoors – in shopping centres, or you’re on public transport.’
“If people are not doing it already, it doesn’t matter what [the government] is saying. Calling it, I think it’s actually a good thing from a public health point of view because you’ve got a better chance of keeping them wearing them where it tends to matter a lot.”
McLaws and Bennett agreed that even if Melbourne continued to suppress the virus and Australia went a number of weeks without cases, the risk caused by the global freight trade and returned travellers and diplomats would still require some level of caution.
“We are not closed down from the rest of the world,” Bennett said. “We still have freight, we still have emergency travellers … Even if you had everything perfectly operating in quarantine, you still might have somebody who has an unusually long incubation period, who does all the right things, tests negative, leaves, and then it appears.
“We can never say we are completely free of it because we don’t have our borders completely closed.”
On the same day Melbourne recorded its seventh day in a row of zero cases, NSW recorded four new locally-acquired coronavirus cases in the state’s Southern Highlands region. Five cases were also reported in overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.
Source: The Guardian
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