Victoria’s Covid surge has reached new heights with 176 fresh cases recorded just as state premier Dan Andrews abandoned the unrealistic goal of eliminating the virus.
Thursday’s case numbers represented a 46 per cent increase in one day from 120 on Wednesday, and were the highest daily numbers in the state since August 19 last year during the deadly ‘second wave’.
Only 83 of the positive tests have been linked to existing outbreaks, with 93 ‘wild’ cases – the most this year – still being hunted down by overwhelmed contact tracers.
Health officials are yet to reveal how many of the 176 new cases were infectious in the community as the list of exposure sites surged past 1,000.
Melbourne will see some restrictions eased on September 23 – the date where 70 per cent of eligible Victorians are expected to have received their first vaccination jab – but the bulk of measures look set to remain for months to come.
The September 23 date will be Melbourne’s 235th day in lockdown since the pandemic began, setting an unwanted world record that surpasses the grim 234 days of lockdown set by the Argentina capital Buenos Aires.
Worryingly, Victoria’s outbreak of the Delta variant is spreading faster than it did in NSW, prompting health officials to slash the time between AstraZeneca jabs from 12 weeks to six.
Victoria’s dramatic surge in Covid infections reached new heights with 176 new cases recorded just as Dan Andrews abandoned eliminating the virus
NSW recorded 176 cases on July 28, representing an eight-times increase on the 22 it had a month earlier.
Victoria’s 176 number is, by contrast, 88 times higher than the two it recorded one month ago.
Of the 1,029 actives cases in Victoria, three quarters are aged under-40, including almost 200 children aged nine or younger.
‘There’s not one corner of metropolitan Melbourne that’s not touched by this virus,’ Victoria’s acting chief health Officer Professor Ben Cowie told reporters on Thursday.
‘If someone you know or anybody in the community, says it is OK to visit friends and extended family because it is just for a short period of time, we have to remind them that this virus is here, right now, and it’s spreading fast.
‘The increasing case numbers are a herald of what our health system is going to be faced with in the coming weeks and months.’
He had a chilling warning for those who are young and healthy and not taking Covid seriously.
‘Young and fit people do catch COVID. And some of them get really sick and tragically, some of them lose their lives,’ Professor Cowie said.
Around 48,372 Victorians came forward for testing (drive-through clinic pictured) on Wednesday
Victoria’s huge escalation in cases were diagnosed from 48,372 tests while another 33,720 rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated on Wednesday.
From the latest cases, 67 were in Melbourne’s north with another 61 were detected in the west.
Another 13 cases were from the Shepparton outbreak 180km north of Melbourne and were in isolation as the result of day 13 testing.
Of the 61 cases currently in hospital, 20 are in intensive care with 13 requiring ventilation.
After hitting that 176 figure, NSW hit 1,000 cases per day just one month later, and Victoria will be desperate to avoid the same fate.
Victoria has halved the time between doses for the AstraZeneca jab from 12 weeks, to six in a desperate bid to protect the community and the health system.
‘So that matches the dosage interval for the Pfizer vaccine,’ Professor Cowie said.
‘It’ll be six weeks for AstraZeneca and for Pfizer bookings going forward.’
‘More importantly, they will really … [aid] the response to community transmission, put a downward pressure on cases and contribute to protecting our health system as we look after all Victorians.’
More than 52,000 AstraZeneca appointments in the coming weeks are still available.
An outbreak at a Melbourne call centre for the state’s coronavirus hotline is of particular concern to authorities after the cluster grew to 17.
Around 400 primary close contacts are now self-isolating.
A case at Base Backpackers in St Kilda is also a concern. The person has been moved into hotel quarantine.
Earlier, Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely warned Victorian case numbers could explode and surge past 2000 a day next month.
‘The case numbers are going up at about five per cent per day,’ Professor Blakely told the Herald Sun.
He added Victoria ‘will probably have 2000 cases a day in late October or early November when the vaccine coverage catches up’ if infections continue on this trajectory.
The state’s huge spike from 120 on Wednesday marks the most new cases it has recorded in a day since August 19 last year during its deadly second wave
Staff at another Melbourne hospital have been plunged into isolation after a worker tested positive.
Staff from The Alfred were sent home to isolate as a precaution after a general medicine ward staff member contracted the virus as the primary close contact of another case.
Close contacts at the hospital have been identified by contact tracers and are isolating, with secondary contacts being notified.
‘Our priority at this time is the safety of our patients and staff,’ she said.
Royal Melbourne Hospital also furloughed staff after several patients, staff and visitors tested positive.
Premier Andrews on Wednesday finally acknowledged the goal of bringing the outbreak back to zero cases was unachievable, and instead joined NSW on accelerating vaccination rates while gradually easing job-killing restrictions.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian hammered home how pointless trying to eliminate the highly infectious Delta strain, and that Victoria’s outbreak was growing faster than hers.
‘I know that people will not believe me when I say this, but we have done [well] to keep the case numbers where they are, given our population, given the spread, in fact if you look at the trajectory of Victoria’s case numbers are going,’ she said on Wednesday.
‘I will let people make those comparisons themselves, but having been through this, we know how quickly case numbers get up to where we are now.
‘And had we not taken the measures we had, they would have been much higher.’
Ms Berejiklian urged other premiers to accept they would need to reopen even with case numbers in the hundreds or even thousands, as vaccines had driven down the percentage of cases requiring hospital treatment or risking deaths.
‘It’s impossible to eliminate the Delta strain,’ she said.
‘NSW has proved successful until this point in time of getting rid of other strains of Covid but the Delta strain is game-changer and every state in Australia, sooner or later, is going to have to live with Delta.’
In capitulating to this reality, Mr Andrews on Wednesday announced a roadmap out of lockdown that will free regional Victoria next week, but Melbourne will not get any significant relief until September 23.
Playgrounds will finally reopen for long-suffering Victorians in their sixth lockdown but night curfews and wearing of masks would remain.
Many more restrictions will be eased once 70 per cent of Victorians have had their first jab, including reopening of state parks and outdoor gyms and construction sites to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
Up to three hours of exercise will also be allowed while the dreaded 5km travel radius will be doubled once the milestone is reached.
Melbourne is on track to break the world record for most days in lockdown on September 23 (pictured Melburnians at a market in the city’s north)
That target is expected to be reached in the next three weeks as a vaccination blitz for year 12 students ramps up.
The night curfew will stay and Melburnians will remain in lockdown until at least September 23, which could be extended another month until at least 70 per cent of the state is fully vaccinated.
‘These will be the settings that we all have to live with for a period of time until we reach not just first dose vaccination thresholds, but second dose vaccination thresholds, as outlined in the National Cabinet plan,’ Mr Andrews said on Wednesday.
‘That is the difficult but unavoidable position we find ourselves in.’
Much of regional Victoria, with the exception of Shepparton, could be lifted from lockdown as early as next week.
Playgrounds will reopen on Friday for children under 12 with only one parent or carer, and adults should not remove their masks to eat or drink.
Playgrounds will also have QR codes for checking in.
In-home carers, such as babysitters and nannies will be expanded to include school-aged children, but only if both parents are authorised workers.
The five essential reasons for leaving home- shopping for food and supplies, authorised work and study, care and caregiving, exercise, and getting vaccinated remain in place.
The state’s dreaded 5km travel radius will be extended to 10km and outdoor exercise will be increased to three hours once 70 per cent of eligible Victorians have had their first dose.
Outdoor recreation parks like skate parks and gyms will reopen at that stage while personal trainers will be allowed to exercise with two other people.
Playgrounds will reopen across Victoria from Friday but strict rules will remain (pictured a closed playground in Melbourne)
Construction sites will be able to operate at 50 per cent capacity once 90 per cent of workers have had the jab.
Private inspections of unoccupied homes for sale or lease will also be permitted.
Only one household can be inside the premises at any time and the real estate agent must remain outdoors during the inspection.
Up to five staff will be able to work onsite at entertainment venues to broadcast performances.
Year 12 students, teachers and examiners will be given priority booking access at state-run clinics between September 7 and 17.
They will need to book an appointment online prior to their appointment.
The Department of Health and the Department of Education will work directly with schools, and students and parents will receive the advice on how to arrange a booking through their schools.
Face to face learning in schools would not return this term with a ‘detailed plan’ for what the final term will look like to be unveiled next week.
Two women, aged in their 40s and 60s, are also the state’s first COVID-19 victims this year, dying in their homes on Tuesday.
With the case numbers and proportion of people not in isolation while infectious still growing, most of the current restrictions will remain in place until about September 23, when the 70 per cent of the eligible population is expected to have received the first dose of vaccine.
Of the 176 new cases recorded on Thursday, only 83 are currently linked to existing cases
Everything you need to know about Victoria’s latest restrictions
From 11.59pm Thursday (September 2)
*Playgrounds will reopen but strict rules will remain in place. Children under-12 can only be supervised by one adult/carer who must wear a mask.
*In-home carers, such as babysitters and nannies will be expanded to include school-aged children, but only if both parents are authorised workers.
The following restrictions will be eased once 70 per cent of Victorians have had their first dose, expected to be September 23
*Exercise limit will be extended from two hours to three
*5km radius of leaving home will be extended to 10km
*Outdoor recreation parks like skate parks and gyms will reopen
*Private inspections of unoccupied homes for sale or lease will be permitted. Only one household can be inside the premises at any time and the real estate agent must remain outdoors during the inspection
*Construction sites can operate at 50 per cent capacity if 90 per cent of workers have received their first dose