The federal government said on Sunday it was prepared to help Victoria with more resources should it be required, particularly through contact tracing and greater enforcement of hotel quarantine protocols.
Queensland has declared all of Melbourne’s 31 local government areas as COVID-19 hotspots, meaning anyone who returns from those areas must self-quarantine for 14 days.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also requested urgent briefings from her state’s chief health officer on Victoria’s coronavirus spike ahead of interstate travellers arriving for the school holidays.
There were 19 new cases reported in Victoria on Sunday: four have been linked to known outbreaks, four were detected in hotel quarantine, three were identified through routine testing and eight cases are under investigation.
Of those new cases, one is a close contact of a Keilor Downs family, taking the total number linked to that outbreak to 11 spread across nine households. Another new case is linked to a Coburg family, taking that outbreak to 14, and three are linked to the Stamford Plaza Hotel, bringing that outbreak to 13.
Six schools were forced to close on the weekend after positive cases were reported. St Mary’s Primary School in Hampton, St Monica’s College in Epping and Keilor Downs College remain closed. Albanvale Primary School, Springside Primary School and Camberwell Grammar School are expected to reopen tomorrow.
The AHPPC does not have powers to enforce a lockdown but the recommendation has been made to the Victorian government.
There are now 210 cases believed to be related to community transmission, an increase of 10 from Saturday’s figures.
“The AHPPC notes that while these Victorian outbreaks are of immediate concern, it remains probable that Australia will experience periodic outbreaks,” said the AHPPC, which is made up of the state and federal health officers.
“It is critical that we are able to continue to control transmission. The AHPPC recognised the importance of the measures taken by the Victorian government yesterday, which seek to reduce further spread and the development of new outbreaks.”
A government spokesperson said on Sunday night that residents of Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Cardinia and Darebin should be “particularly vigilant” in adhering to limits on visitors in their homes, avoid unnecessary travel, and practise good hygiene and social distancing.
“If we keep seeing high case numbers each day, we will have to consider returning whole suburbs back to Stay At Home directions. We have not reached that stage yet,” the spokesperson said.
“Our message to every Victorian remains clear – if you can work from home, you must work from home. Minimising the number of people on public transport and in common areas is the best thing we can do to reduce our levels of community transmission and get case numbers down.”
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said authorities were extremely concerned about family gatherings, which have contributed to the uptick in coronavirus cases following a period of relative stability.
“Just because you can do something does not you mean you should do it,” Ms Mikakos said.
“Yes, you have been able to go to local shopping centres, you have been able to go to cafes, you have been able to do many things in recent weeks … but it’s important to understand that in Melbourne, in particular parts of Melbourne, we have many confirmed cases.
“Therefore moving about, having interactions with other members of the community does present you with the risk and presents a risk to your loved ones.”
The Victorian government announced on Saturday it was scrapping plans to further ease restrictions amid a double-digit growth in cases for five days in a row, making the state “absolutely at risk of a second peak”.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said on Sunday officers would once again begin cracking down and issuing fines to Victorians who “deliberately, obviously and blatantly” breached the restrictions.
Police will flood holiday hotspots, as they did over the Easter long weekend in April, to ensure Victorians are complying with the new orders, which have seen household gatherings reducedto five guests and outdoor gatherings halved from 20 to 10.
Authorities, including police, community leaders, faith-based groups and local councils, would also go door-knocking in coronavirus hotspots to educate people about the new restrictions and the importance of heeding them, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said.
“There’s fatigue about this globally,” Professor Sutton said.
“This has been going on since the beginning of the year and it is incredibly hard to sustain behaviours that are not natural to us.
“We all want to see friends, we all want to see family, we all want a psychological break of doing things that are normal, and so, yes, there has been a drop-off in the kind of constraints people have put on their lives – that’s happened across the world.
“But as the [World Health Organisation] warned this week, that is a danger … this is a tipping point and we need to bear that in mind.”
Professor Sutton urged Victorians to adopt a “tempered” approach to travelling over the school holidays, and warned people from mingling with other families interstate.
He said he was “open to the idea” of mandating masks in public, but did not believe it was necessary in Victoria, where the surge in cases had been driven by family transmission. He said masks could give people a false sense of security.
He has also ruled out allowing crowds at AFL games for the near future as the state grapples with trying to suppress the spread of coronavirus. This comes after Essendon player Conor McKenna tested positive to COVID-19, and a “small group” of his colleagues identified as close contacts were forced to self-isolate.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said while he knew it was difficult for people to avoid hugging or kissing friends and family, social distancing needed to be maintained.
“It is a hard thing to remember. You have to catch yourself now when you see your friends and family who you have not seen for a long time,” he said.
“These things are nonetheless important and, arguably, far more important than, say, wearing a face mask.”
The Victorian Opposition has blamed the Andrews government for the recent growth in the number of coronavirus cases and what it said had been the “double standard” from the Premier in enforcing restrictions while not stopping thousands gathering at the recent Black Lives Matter protest.
“Daniel Andrews needs to explain why he’s so keen on fining families now when he refused to take action against 10,000 people who were gathering [for the Black Lives Matter protest] in direct breach of the Chief Health Officer’s directions,” Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said.
Three people tested positive after the Black Lives Matter protest but there is no evidence to suggest anyone acquired the virus at the rally, which took place two weeks ago.
“Daniel Andrews has undermined community support for this government’s response by his double standards and his hypocrisy: one law for the protesters, another law for every other Victorian,” Mr O’Brien said.
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra