For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.
The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has spread further into regional Victoria, upended AFL teams and cast doubt over the state’s chance of emerging from lockdown on Tuesday night.
Mildura in the state’s north-west recorded its first case in 15 months on Sunday after a man in his 30s went to Mildura Base Public Hospital on Saturday night and later returned a positive result.
The Mildura case is in addition to the 16 new local cases announced yesterday morning.
A testing clinic in Cowes on Phillip Island on Sunday.Credit:Wayne Taylor
On Sunday night, Greater Western Sydney Giants stars Toby Greene and Matt de Boer withdrew from their AFL match against the Sydney Swans and were forced into isolation, in chaotic scenes at Metricon Stadium on the Gold Coast.
Sources said Greene and De Boer arrived at Metricon for the Sydney derby and were ushered away into a separate area of the venue.
They were among six Swans and nine Giants players and staff who had attended the rugby Test between the Wallabies and France at AAMI Park in Melbourne on Tuesday night, in a section that has since been classified as a tier 2 exposure site.
COVID-19 restrictions being imposed around the country also mean the top-of-the-ladder clash between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs is likely to be brought forward to round 19 as the AFL attempts to readjust its schedule.
Victoria’s lockdown is scheduled to end at 11.59pm on Tuesday but Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole said the thought of opening up then was “a bit optimistic” due to daily case numbers still being in the mid-teens.
He estimated it could be seven to 10 days from when lockdown began that restrictions could start to ease, whereas it could be four to six weeks before Sydney restrictions would roll back.
“I think if we get to below five cases per day, all linked to a chain of transmission, that would be a comfortable number to open. This is what we used last year to start easing restrictions, but you don’t drop them all at once, he said.
He said masks would be the last restriction to be dropped and it was possible Victorians would be wearing masks indoors until the end of the year.
As health authorities scrambled to trace the Mildura man’s movements, Premier Daniel Andrews said it was proof the virus could move “to the furthest point of our state very, very fast”.
Regional towns had hoped to be released from lockdown before Tuesday night but concern over the Mildura case and a growing number of exposure sites near Phillip Island and Bacchus Marsh means regional areas are unlikely to be offered an early reprieve.
“I know it is incredibly frustrating for people who are a long way from Melbourne, but this virus can reach you,” Mr Andrews said. He said while the outbreak was “unfolding as we had hoped it would”, he would not rule out extending the lockdown beyond five days.
University of South Australia epidemiologist Adrian Esterman said the case in Mildura made it less likely the state would emerge from lockdown after five days, though it was too early to determine.
“Although there was a slight drop in case numbers today, the moving average is still going up and the [effective reproduction number] is still too high. We are starting to see it spread out of metro Melbourne. It’s very early days. I would be surprised if they came out on Tuesday.
“But I think they went so fast and so hard there is a good chance they can bring this under control, unlike NSW.”
The NSW government on Sunday announced it would ban all construction work, cut public transport services by up to 50 per cent and have schools running on a skeleton staff in an effort to slow the spread of the Delta strain across Sydney.
NSW reported another death and a further 105 local COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total for the outbreak to 1242 and the death toll to four.
Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said she was not giving up hope of Victoria’s lockdown being eased if potential cases and contacts presented for testing immediately.
Queues at the testing clinic in Mildura on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s really stretching us. Every exposure site with reasonable exposure is translating to a number of cases,” she said.
“It’s critical everyone comes forward for testing and we identify every case in this next ring of exposures. If we do that then we can still do it.
“If we can’t contain it by Tuesday, we might only have to extend lockdown by a few days. Triple the effort now will save 100 times the effort later.”
COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar confirmed the Mildura case had attended the Carlton-Geelong match at the MCG last Saturday, where he is believed to have contracted the virus in the MCC Members’ Reserve.
The MCG remains one of the four transmission sites of concern for health authorities, along with AAMI Park, the Young & Jackson pub and the Ms Frankie restaurant in Cremorne, where almost one-third of the new cases acquired the virus.
Mr Weimar said the four sites were responsible for “significant community transmission” and had forced thousands of Victorians into 14 days of quarantine.
At least six schools have been affected by the outbreak, including Bacchus Marsh Grammar, Barwon Heads Primary School, St Patrick’s Primary School in Murrumbeena, and Trinity Grammar in Kew.
A teacher from Trinity Grammar who was at the MCG is believed to have transmitted the virus at the rugby match and at the Ms Frankie restaurant. He also attended The Crafty Squire on Russell Street, where he watched the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton urged people who attended the rugby match to check which gate they entered and where they sat, and get tested if necessary. He also called on those who supplied tickets to the Euro 2020 final event at The Crafty Squire to contact anyone who may have attended.
On Sunday health authorities updated the exposure information for both AAMI Park and the Ms Frankie restaurant, raising concerns a sick employee at the restaurant continued to work without knowing they were infected.
There were 60 cases connected to the Victorian outbreak on Sunday, with 14,000 primary close contacts in isolation across the state.
Mr Andrews said the state’s contact tracers were “finding people very fast” but Victoria was not in a position to help NSW.
“The greatest contribution that we can make is getting this under control in our state,” he said.
“We help others when we can. At the moment we can’t, but hopefully in the future we will be able to.“
Concerns are also mounting about a COVID-19 cluster developing at the Tokyo Olympic Games athletes’ village, after two athletes tested positive ahead of Friday’s Opening Ceremony.
As Australian athletes began arriving at the village, the number of cases connected to the Olympics stood at 10 on Sunday night, including members of the media, contractors and other officials.
Globally, health authorities are increasingly concerned about the risk the Delta variant poses to younger people, particularly in Australia, where those aged under 40 have lower rates of vaccination due to the delayed rollout.
In Melbourne the latest list of tier 1 exposure sites includes a number of popular CBD bars such as the Emerald Peacock on Lonsdale Street and Cookie on Swanston Street.
Professor Sutton said the pattern was an indication that many older Australians had already received one or two vaccinations.
“That will remain a vulnerability in Australia until we have rolled out our vaccination program more fully,” he said.
“Supply remains the primary constraint. You could open it up to everybody but then you would be preventing other individuals from being able to finish their course or even start.”
Professor Toole said the trend of young people driving the Delta outbreak was happening “all over the world”.
Because more than 75 per cent of over-70s in Australia have been vaccinated, they are “more or less protected”, leaving the more infectious strain of COVID-19 to latch on to younger people in higher numbers, he said.
“Young people are just out and about more, both for work and leisure. And because it’s so infectious, it will just spread wherever most people are gathering.”
With Ashleigh McMillan
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article