‘Heading in right direction’ but lockdown extension likely

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Melbourne’s lockdown is set to be extended beyond Thursday, with the majority of new cases not in quarantine during their infectious periods and authorities concerned over undetected spread in the western suburbs.

Two senior government sources told The Age they were looking for a run of several days in which a much greater proportion of new cases, if not all, had been in quarantine for their infectious periods before the lockdown can lift.

Just five of Tuesday’s 20 new cases fit that criteria, up from one of Monday’s 11 and none of Sunday’s 11.

“It does seem to be heading in the right direction,” said one government source, who asked to remain anonymous as they were unauthorised to speak publicly.

Victoria’s senior ministers have been meeting daily during the state’s sixth lockdown and an announcement on the extension could come as soon as Wednesday.

The fifth lockdown last month was initially for five days. Premier Daniel Andrews then extended it for a week when nine of 13 new cases – or about 69 per cent – were in isolation during their infectious periods. This is a greater proportion than Tuesday’s 25 per cent, suggesting it will not be enough to lift the lockdown on Thursday.

Adrian Esterman, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, said as well as ensuring cases were isolating during their infectious periods, the government should not ease restrictions in Melbourne before daily infections drop to single digits.

Victoria recorded 10 new cases, all in isolation while infectious, when it lifted the previous lockdown and Professor Esterman said in hindsight that appeared “about a week too early”.

“I would hate them to do the same thing this time,” he said. “The four-day average of this outbreak is still going up and I think it will be another two or three days before it peaks. You will probably need the same time frame, so at least a week, if not more, for the curve to die out.”

COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar on Tuesday urged all visitors to CS Square Shopping Centre in Caroline Springs – “the area of most concern” in Melbourne’s west – between July 27 and August 5 to get tested.

Of Tuesday’s 20 cases, 10 were linked to the shopping centre, including two shoppers who may have contracted the virus through “fleeting transmission”. None had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Health Minister Martin Foley said changes to eligibility that allow people aged 18 to 39 to access AstraZeneca vaccines through state-run hubs had led to a three-fold increase in first doses compared with Monday last week.

“Clearly, young people have assessed their personal situation in a strong and informed manner and many have determined that there are significant risks to remaining unvaccinated during a Delta outbreak,” he said.

Health authorities were continuing their focus on public housing towers in Flemington after three family members were among Tuesday’s cases.

The trio, the first new cases in the towers since eight family members tested positive on Sunday, have been moved to hotel quarantine, with further testing of the two Racecourse Road estates continuing.

“Can I stress there are no positive cases, or no known positive cases at this point, [remaining] anywhere in the Flemington estate,” Mr Weimar said.

He said he also harboured concerns around the Newport Football Club, where five cases have been detected and there is a “widespread social network” centring around 180 identified primary close contacts.

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