Victoria has recorded its fourth day of high yet stable Covid-19 numbers, with 77 new cases overnight, as a large cluster of at least 20 people emerged in Melbourne’s north.
The Victorian chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said despite numbers appearing to plateau he was still concerned.
“I get some comfort from stabilisation in numbers, but it is never an easy place to sit when you’ve got 415 active cases, all of which are infectious,” he said.
“Obviously, we’ve identified them. They’re in isolation. Their close contacts are in quarantine, but it’s an indication of a very large number of people who have acquired it, which means there are other infections still to be found out.”
Of the new cases, 13 are associated with outbreaks, including one linked to a new large cluster in Roxburgh Park.
Links have recently been made between 20 cases across eight households in the northern suburb.
“This is illustrative of the challenges we’ve seen and the reasons for the restrictions being in place,” Sutton said.
“They’re not 20 that are all reported today but there are known to be 20 from all of the links we’ve made.”
Five new cases were also linked to the Albanvale primary school outbreak, made up of three students, a teacher and a close contact, and two were linked to the Al Taqwa College in Truganina.
Other new cases included one linked to the Stamford Plaza hotel quarantine outbreak, one associated with the Patterson Lakes family outbreak, one was a student at Springside primary school and one was linked to the Villa Bambini childcare centre in Essendon.
Sutton said that in total Victoria had experienced 87 clusters but not all of these are still active.
Victoria has also seen a jump in people becoming seriously unwell with Covid-19, with 20 people currently hospitalised. But Sutton said Victoria’s hospitalisation rate was still low.
“It’s 5%. They talk about 20% of cases being severe with coronavirus. But with a younger cohort infected, they’re less likely to develop severe illness and be hospitalised. But it’s of concern there are 415 active cases and there will always be hospitalised individuals when you get that number,” he said.
“When you’ve got 70-odd cases every day, there is absolutely an expectation that some of those people will die. That’s why it’s incumbent on all of us to be minimising our interactions with others.”
Thursday was the first day of suburb-based lockdowns, where residents of 10 postcodes in Melbourne’s north and west returned to stage-three stay-at-home orders.
Residents are now only allowed to leave the house for four essential reasons, and police checkpoints have been established to ensure they are complying. Some in these areas have spoken out about feeling targeted and suggesting the lockdowns were unfair.
“I understand that frustration,” said Sutton. “You know, we all have to cop it on the chin. The alternative is that there’s increased transmission and that there are more and more postcodes or all of metro Melbourne or all of Victoria that goes into a shutdown. When it’s been out of control in places internationally and continued to be out of control, it’s taken weeks and weeks and weeks to drive numbers down.”
Sutton said he hoped that Victoria would return to single-digit daily case numbers in a month’s times.
Police minister Lisa Neville gave details on the police’s hotspot operation on Thursday.
“Everyone should know that there will be a big presence, a large presence, in those hot spot suburbs,” she said.
This response includes more than 500 specialist officers, public safety officers, mounted police, the public order response team, highways patrol and local police branches.
“If you don’t need to do something, don’t do it … If you breach those rules, if you blatantly breach those rules, you will be fined, be in no doubt.”
Neville also gave details on the changes to the hotel quarantine system, which include a judicial inquiry to be headed by retired judge and former royal commissioner, Jennifer Coate.
“This inquiry is comprehensive, it is wide-ranging, it focuses on actions of government, on hotels, on contractors, security, on food suppliers. It will look at the decisions that have been made or look at the contracts that were in place, the training that was this place, communication arrangements that were in place,” Neville said.
This comes after premier Andrews said a “significant” number of cases in the community stemmed from infection control breeches inside quarantine hotels by contracted security staff.
“We now have the sheriff that is running the hotel quarantine program. In every single hotel where we have hotel quarantine, we now have Corrections Victoria supervisor, a senior person, in each hotel as we move to provide direct employment of people who will run that program no longer through contracting.”
The Victorian Department of Transport has been forced to review all applications to change the address listed on licences from hotspot suburbs after there was a rush on requests when lockdowns were announced.
One tactic to enforce the lockdown has been for police officers to check the address listed on the licence of drivers as they enter or exist hotspot areas.
Changing one’s address can be done online and does not require proof of residence. The department provides a label to be stuck on to the current licence with the new address.
“As soon as we were made aware of this issue we immediately put in place measures to ensure any changes of address in priority postcodes were for genuine reasons,” said a spokeswoman from the department.
“We are reviewing all changes to licence holders’ addresses from priority postcodes since the premier’s restrictions announcement on Tuesday to ensure anyone who changed their address did so because it was necessary.”
The spokeswoman said the department would be contacting customers requesting a change from priority postcodes to request additional information to substantiate their change.
Falsifying documents or lying or withholding information to Victoria police about a name or place of residence incurs a maximum fine of up to $825.
Sutton said he is reviewing whether students in the locked down areas should return to school.
“I will give as much notice as I can around the resumption of school in those restricted postcodes,” he said on Thursday.
“I want to see both that we’re turning transmission around but also that we don’t have such levels of community transmission, with students becoming infected, that our resourcing is all focused on response to cases in schools.”
He added engagement with families in hot spots had resulted in more children being tested, revealing cases that “would otherwise have gone unnoticed”.