Coronavirus Australia: Despite lockdown, Melbourne sees record cases and fears 'may not have yet hit peak'

Lockdown restrictions were reimposed in Melbourne last week

Matt Mathers
Thursday 16 July 2020 20:29 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

Fears are growing over a second wave of Covid-19 in Australia after the state of Victoria recorded a daily record rise in infections – despite strict lockdown measures being reimposed on 5 million people in Melbourne.

Health officials in Australia’s second-most populous state reported 317 new infections on Thursday – the highest number since the pandemic peaked in the country at the end of March.

Victoria has now reported 2,128 cases of the virus, with a large proportion of those infections linked to local outbreaks across Melbourne.

Two men, both in their 80s, died overnight. At a press conference on Thursday, Victoria premier Daniel Andrews did not rule out a “stage four lockdown”.

It comes little over a week after stringent lockdown restrictions were enforced in all of Metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire areas, with people told to only leave their homes for shopping for food and essential items, caregiving, daily exercise, work and study.

“We have to stay the course on this, we have to keep following those rules,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of discussion, a lot written and said about possible stage four: there are no announcements to be made about that today.

“That shouldn’t be read to mean there will be announcements made tomorrow. We plan for every single contingency.”

Victoria authorities are yet to define what a stage four lockdown might look like, fuelling speculation about what further measures could be implemented, leading to criticism of Andrews’s handling of the pandemic.

Professor Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief medical officer, previously said “all options are on the table” in attempting to suppress the fresh spike in infections.

New Zealand ended stage four restrictions in April. These involved the cancellation of all public venues and events, closure of schools and universities as well as most shops – including fruit shops, butchers and bakeries.

Despite the rise in cases, Andrews said there was “relative stability” in the rate of new infections being confirmed.

“We have made the point with these stay-at-home restrictions only a week old, it will take some time to bring stability to the numbers and start to see a pattern where they are driven down,” he said.

But Prof Sutton said the state may not yet have seen a peak in cases. “It’s a big number, in some ways I expect it to turn around this week but there’s no guarantee,” he added.

Most of the new infections occurred in “hotspots” in the northwest of Melbourne, but Prof Sutton added there were “dozens and dozens” of postcodes affected across the city.

He insisted that the surge in cases, most of which have been transmitted locally, is under control.

As of Thursday, there were 2,128 reported cases of the novel disease in Victoria and 29 deaths recorded. There are 109 people receiving treatment in hospital, 29 of whom are in intensive care units, according to a statement released by Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Daniel Andrews said Victoria had developed a ‘creeping complacency’ over coronavirus
Daniel Andrews said Victoria had developed a ‘creeping complacency’ over coronavirus (EPA)

Elsewhere, New South Wales (NSW) reported 10 new cases. NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said six of the cases were acquired locally, while three were linked to a cluster at the Crossroads Hotel in southwest Sydney.

The remaining cases are under investigation.

“Our aim will be to find any crossover points with the list of venues in southwestern Sydney that have been identified,” Dr Chant told reporters on Thursday.

“Obviously we are concerned when we find cases that can’t be linked back because it does indicate we have missed a chain.”

Prime minister Scott Morrison has said Australia will not shut down again to deal with a potential second wave of coronavirus, insisting that elimination of the disease is not a realistic goal.

“You have to do that [lockdown] sometimes, as is the case in Victoria,” he told Melbourne radio. “You don’t just shut the whole country down because that is not sustainable. I’ve heard that argument. You’d be doubling unemployment potentially, and even worse.”

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