Too soon to say when Victoria will end snap Covid lockdown, Daniel Andrews says

At midpoint of ‘circuit breaker’ shutdown, premier says decision on easing restrictions hasn’t been made

Daniel Andrews says it is too early to say whether Victoria will emerge from its “circuit breaker” lockdown as planned on Wednesday, despite recording only one new locally acquired case of Covid-19 on Monday.

At the midpoint of the state’s five-day lockdown, and with health officials confident that close contacts of 17 coronavirus cases linked to the Holiday Inn hotel quarantine outbreak have been identified, the premier said a decision on easing restrictions had not been made.

Victoria recorded one new locally acquired case in the past 24 hours, a woman who attended a private function of 30 people in Coburg on 6 February that has been linked to other infections.

The woman returned negative and weak positive results from four tests since Saturday and is asymptomatic, but the public health team have taken a conservative approach, meaning 150 patients and staff at hospital psychiatric wards where she had worked are being deemed primary close contacts.

Despite negative test results being returned for 129 of 130 people deemed immediate close contacts of positive cases, and Andrews saying the state was “well-placed”, he would not commit to ending the lockdown on Wednesday.

“This is never just about the sheer number of cases,” Andrews said. “The individual circumstances of each case have always been very important to us and they become even more important in circumstances like this.

I’d love to be able to be absolutely definitive on Monday morning about what will happen on Wednesday night, but that wouldn’t be honest. We have to let this unfold. I know it’s painful and challenging but you want the most contemporary picture.”

Jeroen Weimar, the state’s Covid-19 commander, said 1,100 primary close contacts, the classification below immediate family and friends of positive cases, had been identified and almost 80% had returned negative test results.

This figure did not include the 150 contacts relating to the psychiatric wards, or 101 contacts from two kindergartens, which were linked to a three year-old who tested positive on Sunday.

The kindergartens, and the Queen Victoria Market, which was visited by another positive case on Thursday, were identified by Weimar as active “lines of inquiry”.

A further 1,600 people who travelled through or worked inside Melbourne airport’s terminal four, where a positive case worked at Brunetti’s cafe, had been contacted.

Weimar said he was confident the contact tracing and testing system would withstand the latest outbreak, and that reducing pressure on it was only part of the reason for the lockdown.

“The Victorian approach to how we deal with these cases, based on the hard experience of the last year, [is] we take all of the information available to us, look at every single thing we can possibly do and put the best possible policy response together.”

Victoria also recorded one case in hotel quarantine on Monday.

There were no locally acquired cases reported in any other state.

Andrews flagged the need for a “cold, hard discussion” last week about whether Australia should cap international arrivals further, given the increased rate of transmission associated with new variants of the virus and the impending vaccination program in Australia.

On Monday he said that the only way to eliminate the risk of cases spreading from hotel quarantine into the community was to reduce the number of international arrivals to zero, but that it was possible the risk could be better managed if quarantine occurred in purpose-built facilities.

He said he was speaking to other premiers and chief ministers about the prospect of establishing these facilities, and expected the idea to be discussed further at national cabinet next month.

The first shipments of vaccine arrived in Australia shortly after Andrews’ press conference on Monday.

The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, announced the arrival of 142,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Contributor

Nino Bucci

The GuardianTramp

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