A huge spike in new coronavirus infections in Victoria on the weekend threatens to see the state overtake New South Wales as the part of Australia most stricken by COVID-19.
Worryingly, only a handful of Victoria’s new cases were from overseas travellers in hotel quarantine meaning most infections have come from local community transmission. The state‘s chief health office said the virus had the potential to “explode” within nine public housing blocks.
Residents in a swath of postcodes across the city’s north and west were forced back into lockdown and are now allowed out of home for only a handful of reasons.
Across Saturday and Sunday almost 200 people were confirmed as being newly infected with the virus. The 108 new cases on Saturday was the second highest daily total of cases in Victoria since the pandemic began.
Sunday’s news was a little better with 74 cases, but Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was blunt when he warned numbers would almost inevitably rise again as the authorities undertook a testing blitz.
“Obviously 70 odd cases are better than 100,” he said.
“But we are going to see some big days, big numbers in the days ahead. You can’t go and test 3000 people in such a focused and concentrated way and not have numbers go up.”
The 3000 people the Premier was referring to are those public housing residents who have been put into a strict quarantine in the city’s inner northern suburbs.
At least 23 recorded cases have come from nine blocks in Flemington and North Melbourne.
“We are testing absolutely everyone across all of those nine towers,” Mr Andrews said.
“We might be pleasantly surprised but I think it is far more likely that we are going to find what we’re looking for, and that is the strategy working.
“There is no point in not knowing about the virus out there, and then the only proxy measure becomes a number of people presenting at hospital for a machine to help them breathe.”
The government has come in for criticism at what Mr Andrews himself has termed a “hard lockdown” of the housing estates. This has seen residents forced to remain in their flats with police patrolling corridors and food and other services provided to them.
But Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said there was little choice given there were already confirmed cases within the blocks.
“If this had exploded within the towers, and there were literally hundreds and hundreds of people who became infected and they were going about their normal business, it would have spread beyond the postcodes even.
“I think the early, if imperfect control, is the really key element here.”
Residents of the blocks will receive free rent for two weeks as well as payments of up to $1500 to replace lost earnings.
SAY YES TO THE TEST
The Premier urged all the residents to agree to a test amid reports up to 10,000 Melburnians have refused one in recent days.
“I expect that everybody will consent to a test because the sooner we have the testing process concluded, the sooner we will be able to make decisions based on the data about the restrictions that are appropriate for those nine towers,” he said at a press conference on Sunday.
“If someone knocks on your door to do a test the only answer you should give is ‘yes’.
“And if you see someone in your family group, in your friendship group, in your street, who is not taking this seriously, then call them out.”
Sunday’s new cases came from a number of clusters. As well as the housing blocks, new infections were reported at a hospital in Epping, the Stamford Plaza Hotel and Al-Taqwa College in Truganina.
Originally published as ‘Explosive’: Huge virus surge in Victoria