Premier Daniel Andrews previously said it would be two weeks before results of the second lockdown were seen.
On Wednesday, exactly 14 days into lockdown 2.0, Victoria recorded 484 new cases, its highest daily total so far.
Australian Medical Association president Julian Rait has called for a stage four lockdown and mandated face masks across the state, saying “harsher and swifter” measures are needed to prevent the movement of people.
Professor Rait said the Premier had so far failed to explain how the government would drive behavioural changes.
“There is a large backlog on cases under investigation, so the [government] is really flying blind when it comes to the granular community level information that is required,” Professor Rait said.
“There were a lot of unanswered questions, and apparently with no other strategy, with nearly 500 new cases today, we must move swiftly to get this situation under control.”
Victoria’s first wave of coronavirus infections mainly involved returned travellers, but the second surge has hit some of the state’s most vulnerable.
Many new patients speak English as a second language, live with large families in high-density areas, fuelling transmission, and face barriers in accessing medical support when they fall sick.
The virus is also spreading as people huddle inside through winter. Scientists suspect cold weather might be fuelling the spread.
“There is good evidence to suggest the virus can remain viable for longer when exposed to the wintry weather,” Dr Robert Moss, a University of Melbourne epidemiologist and part of the state government’s epidemic-tracking team, said.
There are also signs the second lockdown has been less effective in changing people’s behaviour than the first – which produced dramatic and quick results.
“When the [first] orders came in, there was already a lot of fear,” said Professor McVernon, one of the key figures providing regular modelling of the epidemic to the government. “The public was kind of ready for the lockdown.”
Without a vaccine, the best weapon health authorities have against COVID-19 is getting people to change their behaviour – to keep their distance and stay indoors.
Some scientists fear restrictions may become less effective over time as people suffer “lockdown fatigue”.
Almost every day government scientists review mobility data from Facebook, Google and Apple as well as population surveys of people’s movements.
Worryingly, early data shows lockdown 2.0 has been unable to reproduce the dramatic behavioural changes observed in March.
“From mobility data, we’re definitely seeing we’re not perhaps as restricted in our movements as we were in the first lockdown,” Dr Moss said.
“You can point fingers and say people are being complacent. But for a lot of people, it’s a very difficult process to go through again.”
A national study by a team from Griffith University found that after five weeks of lockdown, more than 50 per cent of people surveyed reported social contact with people who did not live in their house.
As the lockdown lengthened, the rate of non-compliance increased.
This presents a major challenge to policymakers, because no data exists on how much the effectiveness of lockdowns falls over time.
Dr Moss is hoping it is not too much.
“You have to try to predict how much people are going to behave two months from now. And, God, that’s a hard problem,” he said.
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As Victoria becomes the test case for mandated face masks in Australia, Associate Professor James Wood, an applied mathematician at the University of NSW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine, predicts infections will plummet in the next 10 days.
But he says how quickly that drop occurs is the key to containing the virus.
“What Victoria needs to do is get down to tens not hundreds of cases per day, because when you’re in the hundreds it’s very hard to bring those cases down and stop new infections occurring,” he said.
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter