This month, however, the number of positive diagnoses has slowed significantly, with the daily rate of growth slashed to about 4 per cent.
The rise in the number of new cases has dropped day on day for three consecutive days. The 20 positive tests announced on Sunday represented a rate of growth of 1.75 per cent of the total 1135 cases.
“We’re seeing some really significant milestones, some wonderful success in the strategies with that flattening, or at least the reduction in the rate of increase,” Mr Andrews said on Sunday.
“We’ve got a long way to go, and if you look to other parts of the world you see what failure looks like, with rapid transmission of this virus where it gets away from you.”
The downwards growth trend comes as The Alfred hospital reports a general decline in the number of patients requiring emergency and intensive care – probably due to a reduction in incidents such as car crashes as daily activity winds down to counter COVID-19 – freeing capacity to care for coronavirus patients.
While the rate of growth is slowing, governments and public health experts are hoping to see about two weeks of similar low growth rates in order to be satisfied the virus’ transmission has been curbed.
However, the recent rise in the number of locally transmitted cases – those with no link to someone who was infected overseas – is a worry for authorities.
At 75, there are more than triple the number of community transmission cases than there were a week ago, and Dr Sutton said these cases would grow as testing expanded to public-facing workforces including healthcare workers, police and prison staff.
The reduced number of overseas arrivals has allowed health authorities to focus their efforts on stemming local transmission.
Dr Sutton, who said he was “for the first time” optimistic that “we could actually beat” the virus, advised that widening the testing regime would help identify exactly where the virus had spread.
Infectious diseases expert Professor Bill Rawlinson said the trend of recent days would need to be sustained for at least another 10 days to be sure the virus has been slowed.
After this period, health authorities would be sure there was not a spike in infections in the days before the nation went into a strict lockdown. The incubation period for COVID-19 can be up to two weeks.
“I live in hope that the changes we are seeing continue, but I think we need a couple of weeks,” Professor Rawlinson said.
Meanwhile, Melbourne University will launch on Monday a new rapid course to give paramedics and nurses the skills to perform lung ultrasounds to diagnose COVID-19 speedily and without the need for a time-consuming CT scan.
Paul is a reporter for The Age.