Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the military had shown its infection-control capabilities through its management of the Howard Springs quarantine centre in Darwin, where returned cruise ship passengers were held in March.
Mr Morrison said on Monday that locking down suburbs or local government areas was always part of national cabinet’s plan as governments moved towards opening up the economy.
Victoria’s outbreak has prompted NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to urge her residents to reconsider visiting Melbourne, as her deputy John Barilaro spoke of closing the state’s snowfields to Victorians.
Restrictions could be tightened even sooner in the six local government areas if cases continue to rise at alarming levels, but a Victorian government spokesperson said it would first assess what impact new restrictions have on driving down case numbers over coming weeks.
From Monday, Victorians can only visit each other’s homes in groups of five, to rein in family contagions.
Victoria recorded 16 cases of coronavirus on Monday – the sixth day in a row of double-digit growth – with 12 of those believed to be due to community transmission, making it the largest single-day increase in community transmission since the peak of the pandemic in April.
Of the new cases, six are linked to known outbreaks, four are in hotel quarantine, five have been detected through routine testing, and one is under investigation.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the government did not plan to lock down the “hotspot” suburbs imminently, but she did not rule out a return to the tough restrictions to which Victorians were subjected at the end of March.
At the height of restrictions, Victorians were allowed to leave their homes for only four reasons: to go to work or school if they could not work or learn from home; seeking and providing care; buying groceries; and exercising outside within their local area.
Ms Mikakos said people’s behaviour over the coming weeks would be paramount in helping drive down case numbers.
“We haven’t put stay-at-home directions [for those municipalities], but we’re not ruling it out,” Ms Mikakos said yesterday.
“Exactly what form [stricter restrictions] may take is under active consideration, but we’ve had stay-at-home directions in the past that limited the types of reasons that you can leave your home … but we don’t want to be in that situation.
“If people in those hotspot areas particularly limit their movements in the next few weeks, we can assess the situation and see if that makes a difference.”
Although people living in the six local government areas identified as coronavirus hotspots have been urged to “limit” their travel in coming weeks, they have not yet been banned from leaving their neighbourhoods to work, dine or visit others.
University of Melbourne professor of epidemiology Tony Blakely said if cases continued to climb dramatically over the next week a “very severe regional lockdown” was likely to be required.
“By severe, I would expect that would involve a lot more police patrols and possibly bringing in the military … to ensure people aren’t going in and out,” Professor Blakely said.
He said it could also mean children would be banned from attending schools in the hotspots.
“That’s inevitable if we see a huge increase in cases. That’s what you would have to do, there is no escaping that until it’s turned around and you start to see numbers going down.”
The Australian Health Practitioners Principal Committee on Sunday night issued a statement “strongly discouraging” people from travelling to and from Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Darebin and Cardinia until the “control of community transmission has been confirmed”.
The committee does not have powers to enforce a lockdown, but the recommendation has been made to the Victorian government.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said while it was “sensible” for people to consider whether they should travel to and from areas identified as hotspots, they should also be stringent about following social distancing measures across the rest of the state.
Authorities will target their testing, enforcement and messaging in Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Darebin and Cardinia, with the government moving to extend the hours of testing centres in these locations and establish more pop-up sites.
“It is sensible from a national perspective to say if these areas can be avoided, if people can understand that other parts of the country are less of a risk than these particular areas, then just make a consideration about your travel plans for these areas,” Professor Sutton said.
“We don’t want to say only think about these spots or avoid these spots, and be complacent everywhere else.”
While Premier Daniel Andrews did not speak publicly about the outbreak on Monday, Mr Morrison noted the recent outbreaks “should not come as a surprise”.
“This is a COVID-19 pandemic that is intensifying around the world. And Australia still remains, by a very long stretch, in a very, very, very good position,” he said.
“And localised containment rings, rings of containment, have always been part of the plan, together with, of course, the isolation.”
Mr Morrison said locking down suburbs or local government areas to suppress the spread of coronavirus was a more “sensible” measure than tightening restrictions across the entire state.
With Melissa Cunningham and Benjamin Preiss
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.