There are some limitations to Professor Blakely’s projections, which use COVID-19 trends over the past 10 days to predict what the next few weeks might look like before stage four restrictions are set to end on September 13.
Professor Blakely said the virus might continue spreading among essential workers in hospitals, aged care and distribution centres, slowing the rate of decline. In addition, the slowdown in new cases in regional Victoria may be less dramatic, because residents are living under stage three restrictions.
‘We have gone below 200 new daily cases. We are just starting to have a sweet spot for contact tracing.’
Professor Tony Blakely
But there is a flipside that could counter these potential hurdles.
“We have gone below 200 new daily cases. We are just starting to have a sweet spot for contact tracing,” Professor Blakely said.
“The contact tracing workforce has fewer cases and they can start getting their arms across it.”
Victoria recorded 179 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, its lowest number since July 13. There were nine new deaths, taking the state’s death toll to 385.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he wanted daily case numbers to fall below 50 by the end of stage four restrictions.
But he flagged concerns about outbreaks in high-risk settings such as aged care, saying this could hamper efforts to hit this target.
“I would sound a note of caution – we’re going into a challenging phase in the next couple of weeks.”
He confirmed that Victoria was aiming to eliminate community transmission of the virus.
But while Professor Sutton said case numbers were where he expected, Mr Andrews said the decline had been quicker than he imagined.
“We can be hopeful about these numbers, we can be positive about these numbers, but that can’t be accompanied by any sense of complacency,” he told reporters, as he fronted the media for the 50th day in a row.
The pair said it was too early to be discussing the lifting of restrictions.
Meanwhile, federal health department secretary Brendan Murphy took a swipe at Victoria’s contact tracing efforts, saying the scheme had been “overwhelmed” by the rapid spread of virus during the state’s second wave.
“This virus is incredibly infectious and, unfortunately, the Victorian public health response was unable to control the outbreaks in the way that NSW has done,” Professor Murphy told the COVID-19 Senate committee hearing on Friday.
Victorian Health Department data shows the number of new coronavirus cases where the infection source cannot be traced – which have been dubbed “mystery cases” by the Premier – has also been decreasing this month.
Since the start of the pandemic there have been 3808 coronavirus cases in Victoria where the source of the infection cannot be traced, which make up about 20 per cent of all COVID-19 cases recorded in the state. On Friday, a total of 24 additional cases were added to this tally, the lowest single-day increase in weeks.
There are also currently about 700 cases for which the infection source is still being investigated by the health department, which means the true number of these “mystery cases” may well be higher.
Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said getting on top of these mystery cases was key to driving down new cases to double digits.
While she warned against prematurely abandoning stage four restrictions, she said they could be modified to allow for low-risk activities if new cases continued to decline in coming weeks.
She said letting people exercise for longer, relaxing the rules around grocery shopping and allowing people to venture beyond 5 kilometres of their home could be options.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “We know this is working.”
With Craig Butt
Senior Reporter at The Age