Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews offered a grim outlook for the state yesterday after a sharp rise in new Covid-19 cases.
“In just the last two days, the number of cases, the nature of those cases, the depth of the seeding of this outbreak has become clear and the chief health officer’s advice to me and the Government has changed, fundamentally changed,” he said after announcing the state had recorded 120 new infections.
“None of us have the luxury of ignoring that, none of us have the luxury of shopping for the advice that we want. When we get advice we follow it and the data and the evidence and the experts are very clear with us. We will not see these case numbers go down. They are going to go up.”
A further 170 local cases were recorded today – the highest spike in 366 days.
Andrews said officials now have to try to suppress case numbers until vaccination rates increase, adding it isn’t possible to “ease restrictions in a profound way” until those rates rise.
This will mean that instead of linking an easing of restrictions with case number thresholds, like Andrews originally indicated, restrictions will now be linked to vaccination rates.
“These numbers are considerably worse than they were yesterday,” he said. “When you add the two of them together and indeed go back three days, this has deteriorated quite fast.”
Under Australia’s national plan, Victoria will remain in limbo until vaccination rates hit 70 to 80 per cent of the eligible population.
Restrictions will remain in place until that first target is met, which is expected later this month, but it remains unclear what freedoms Victorians will be allowed to enjoy when the state reaches that target.
The city’s 9pm curfew will remain in place for now, a decision some infectious diseases experts do not agree with, while a decision on releasing regional Victoria from lockdown is still undecided.
Victoria’s Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said too many residents had sacrificed too much during what was meant to be a “short, sharp” lockdown, and industry leaders criticised what they saw as a lack of forward planning.
Innes Willox, chief executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said New South Wales had shown an ambitious roadmap forward and Victoria had not.
“Our two largest states need to get on the same page as soon as possible, and this will be best achieved by Victoria raising its aspirations for Covid freedom,” she told The Age. “If the aim is to shutter many more businesses in the state, Victoria is moving in the right direction.”
Epidemiologist Tony Blakely told the same publication that Victoria was no longer in a position to ease any restrictions.
“If cases hadn’t moved, and stayed at 40 per day, you could have relaxed restrictions slightly and let cases go up to 500 by the end of October,” he said. “We lost that headroom because cases are going up … and the game has changed.”
Daily cases could peak at 2000 a day in October, he said, and relaxing restrictions in such a situation would not be possible.
“If it went from 5 per cent daily increase to even 6 or 7 per cent, at the end of October, that peak would be two or three times higher. We really are in a bind.”
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