Consultants call for more difficult restrictions as Victoria records 627 …

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Victoria has confirmed 627 new cases of coronavirus today, marking the second-highest daily increase since the pandemic began.

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Experts call for tougher restrictions as Victoria records 627 …

About tougher

The state yesterday recorded 723 cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths, Australia’s highest daily totals since the pandemic started.

New restrictions banning visitors to homes in six local government areas around the Geelong and Colac regions have come into effect today, and wearing face coverings will be mandatory across all of Victoria from next week.

Experts call for tougher restrictions as Victoria records 627 …

However further lockdown measures are being considered by authorities, and some medical experts have warned Victorians must prepare for the dismaying prospect of the lockdown’s extension.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews held discussions last night on how to tackle the coronavirus crisis in Victoria.

The nation’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) also met yesterday to talk about possible recommendations for additional measures.

“The number of new cases that we saw yesterday was quite alarming,” he said.

“It does have to be looked at in the context of the figures over the past couple of weeks and the trend that we are seeing … which is an increase in numbers despite the restrictions which have been in place.”

At this stage, no further restrictions have been confirmed and the Victorian Government says it is canvassing all options.

‘Challenging times’: Experts say longer lockdown likely

Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire are now more than halfway through their six-week coronavirus lockdown.

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Modelling from previous shutdowns suggests the curve should be flattening, especially after the introduction of mandatory masks more than a week ago.

But after yesterday’s case numbers, experts have warned Victorians to ready themselves for the likelihood of a longer lockdown.

“Stage 3 is not ending in three weeks. I can say that with 98 per cent probability,” University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said.

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) also said Melbourne’s restrictions would be needed for longer.

“It’s really unlikely that we’re going to be able to see any lifting of restrictions within the next three weeks,” AMA president Tony Bartone said.

Professor Blakely said Victoria was facing “very challenging times”.

“Seven-hundred-and-twenty-three is quite high and I was frankly quite floored by it,” he said.

Calls for clothing, shoe stores to close

Professor Blakely, who has repeatedly called for an “elimination strategy” for the virus, said Victorian authorities needed to redefine what constituted “essential” workers and industries.

He said the movement and mingling of people needed to be further curtailed.

“If you’ve got ‘essential’ industries open that aren’t really that essential, it’s quite likely that in two weeks time that may be where the virus is propagating,” he said.

“Going hard can pay dividends down the track because you can open up sooner.

A woman wearing a mask looks at her phone in front of Chemist Warehouse as two men walk past
Pharmacies, supermarkets and aged care are considered essential, but there are calls for tighter restrictions on some other industries.(ABC News: Margaret Burin)

“So I would recommend at this point in time that industries that aren’t really essential, footwear stores, that type of thing, are closed so we’re moving to a tighter definition of what is an essential worker or essential workplace,” he said.

“That would see the department stores that sell shoes, clothes, construction sites closed, it would only allow industries open that are essential to us.

“So that’s food, healthcare, pharmacists and the aged care facilities.”

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The Victorian Government has pointed to workplace transmission as a key driver behind the state’s growing case numbers in recent weeks.

Earlier this week the Premier warned “restrictions will be in place for longer than they should be” if people continued to work while sick and the Government might need to close entire industries.

However Professor Blakely said Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, in a speech to the National Press Club last week, made it clear a move to stage 4 restrictions was off the table, “making it very challenging for us”.

“It means somehow we’ve got to get this virus down and head towards elimination, which is the national goal, without going to stage 4,” Professor Blakey said.

“We’ve got to use really clever stage 3.

“We’re in this awkward no-man’s or no-woman’s land at the moment whereby we can’t use stage 4 to go for elimination even though that’s the national goal.

“We’ve got to do this smart and hard stage 3.”

A woman in a mask walking a border collie dog.
Epidemiologists had hoped to start seeing the results of Melbourne’s mandatory mask policy reflected in lower COVID case numbers by this stage.(ABC News: Freya Michie)

Move to ‘the next level’ now, AMA urges

The AMA also wants tougher measures to restrict people’s movement and a critical examination of all industries.

“Pharmacies, supermarkets, medical facilities, they clearly remain essential and it’s extremely important they remain open,” AMA president Tony Bartone said.

“After that we really need to produce a very strong, clear reason why we should be having any activity in that sector.

“We need to move to the next level.

“Going harder, earlier will certainly, I believe, result in less overall pain in the long run.

“This sees a really significant curtailing to the amount of movement, reducing the amount of mixing in the community and really we need to look at the definition of what is an essential industry.”

A sign warning people to wear masks and not to enter if they are feeling unwell.
The AMA says it’s now unlikely Melburnians will see any restrictions lifting in the next three weeks.(ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said it was important to find ways to stop people who were infected or waiting for test results from going to work.

“This doesn’t go away if we all go to work when we’ve got COVID-19,” Dr Coatsworth told Radio National Drive.

“So any hardship that we’re feeling at the moment is going to be magnified manifold if we don’t get this under control and that’s where we can all play a part.”

Meanwhile, Professor Blakely said he would be expecting the impact of mandatory mask wearing to “kick in”.

“So I don’t want to be too despondent about it — nevertheless we have ongoing high numbers by Australian standards,” Professor Blakely said.

He said his “most optimistic” guess would be a scenario where Victoria could get to a state of zero community transmission in six weeks, but only with “six weeks of incredibly hard lockdown” … but he also said that it could go on for up to 20 weeks.

“It is now going to be a long haul,” he said.

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