The Alfred hospitals tests an average of 250 people per day for COVID-19, while the Royal Melbourne swabs about 150. The Austin’s coronavirus screening clinic also tests about 130 people for the virus each day.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said anyone with fever or acute respiratory symptoms, including a cough or shortness of breath, will be eligible for testing at one of the state’s 40 coronavirus screening sites, which includes some pop-up clinics located in general practices and community clinics.
Until now, testing has largely focused on returned travellers or those with direct contact to infected people. But with more than 120 cases of locally spread infections, the government is shifting its sights to community transmission.
“The number of returned travellers of course has been declining in recent weeks,” Ms Mikakos said. “We are now making a very concerted effort to concentrate on looking at community transmission.”
Infectious disease experts and doctors lauded the broader testing criteria, but concerns remain over the viability of this model with the state having faced critical shortages of swabs and other testing components in the past.
However, the government insisted stock had been ordered to ensure there would be enough testing kits.
Professor Nigel McMillan, an infectious disease expert at Griffith University, said broadening testing was critical to determining just how deeply coronavirus had woven its way into Victoria.
Testing only those with symptoms, however, had its limitations.
“There are certainly people with coronavirus right now and they don’t even realise it,” said Professor McMillan said.
“They may have really mild symptoms or be asymptomatic so they’re really hard to find because they are not going to even be thinking about getting tested and they can still be spreading the virus.”
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Harry Nespolon said testing every Victorian with symptoms was good in theory, but there was a hitch.
“To achieve this we will need adequate stocks of testing equipment and that has proven challenging so far,” Dr Nespolon said.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said widened testing would allow authorities to isolate infected people and find others with whom they may have been in contact.
“I don’t think numbers will be huge because I think people are doing the right thing and we are driving numbers down,” Dr Sutton said.
But he warned it was far too early for complacency.
By Tuesday morning there were 10 new confirmed cases but no additional deaths, leaving the total number of fatalities at 14.
There were more than 1290 confirmed cases in total while 1118 people had recovered.
Ms Mikakos said she was feeling “optimistic” about the drop in new coronavirus cases.
“It is still too early at this point to be making predictions about when the restrictions will be lifted,” she said, adding that lifting measures too soon could lead to thousands more Victorians being infected.
In NSW, health authorities have started testing anyone with symptoms in coronavirus hotspots where clusters and large scale outbreaks of the disease have emerged.
Benjamin is a state political reporter
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.