He also suggested the figures used for easing lockdown might have to be redrawn.
“It may be at a point where we have to call it, where we have to say that this is as good as it will get,” the Premier said.
Melbourne had a target of 70 or fewer new cases between October 5 and October 18 to meet the average required to progress to step three of the government’s road map for reopening.
On Monday it hit 79 with seven days to go. A second target of five or fewer mystery cases in the two weeks leading up to October 19 was also missed.
Despite this, epidemiologists have offered suggestions about which rules it might still be safe to relax, including one that has frustrated many: the requirement to stay within five kilometres of home. However, gatherings of up to five people from another household within a home may be ruled out for the near future, due to the risk of transmission posed by family clusters.
Catherine Bennett, chair in epidemiology at Deakin University, said the case numbers did not necessarily mean Melbourne had to postpone moving to step three, which would involve allowing outdoor dining for cafes and restaurants from next week.
“It is a cautious step and we know we can contain outbreaks,” she said.
However, Professor Bennett said if there was a concern around the number of mystery cases present in the community, meetings between households would need to stay banned.
“One compromise could be [that] you didn’t allow meetings in the home, that you expand it so people can meet people outside the five-kilometre rule,” she said.
UNSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said the five-kilometre limit could be extended to 10 kilometres – or a bit further – to allow more movement, but she would not allow Melburnians into regional Victoria. As for the other rules – “I’d probably go to opening up retail before family gatherings,” she said.
“The only reason they would go the other way is because they think that contact tracing is easier from people’s homes where everyone knows each other.”
Allowing gatherings in homes might lead to further spread of the virus, she said, because people would spend longer periods together while not wearing masks.
“I think you’ll get clusters, home clusters,” she said.
Professor McLaws said to aid with contact tracing in retail, people should have to scan a QR code with their mobile phones when entering a shop.
Mr Andrews has reiterated that restrictions set to ease on Sunday will probably relate to social activities rather than businesses.
“I think it’s unlikely this weekend there will be a big shift in terms of retail,” he said. “There are risks, not so much with the setting. The risk relates to movement.”
University of Melbourne professor of epidemiology Tony Blakely said the five-kilometre rule should be one of the first to go.
Aside from that, he said he expected a “fairly modest” set of changes.
“I don’t think we’re quite ready to get the restaurateurs back in big business,” he said. “I assume we will focus on those that are solo operators, trying to get as many of those back to work as we can, but not opening up the pubs at this point.
“I think we’ll go halfway between step two and step three.”
He likened each rule that gets relaxed to “putting another log on the fire”.
“We’ve just let all the kids go to school this week. They aren’t big spreaders but they are another piece of wood on the fire, as well as the essential workers a few weeks back,” he said.
“We can’t put too much fuel on the fire in case it all blows up.”
Disquiet with government ranks about the slow path out of lockdown emerged on Monday when Labor MP Tim Richardson publicly called on Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton to allow ‘‘family bubbles’’ in Melbourne from this weekend.
In a letter to Professor Sutton, also published on the Mordialloc MP’s Facebook page, Mr Richardson wrote he was buoyed by the success of the “singles bubble”, and that he had received thousands of messages, emails, phone calls and comments about the struggles his community had endured.
‘‘We have heard countless stories of constituents having not seen family since the start of the pandemic in March,” wrote Mr Richardson, a factional ally of recently sacked Labor MP Adem Somyurek.
Tom Cowie is a journalist at The Age covering general news.
Craig Butt joined The Age in 2011 and specialises in data-driven journalism.
Benjamin is The Age’s regional editor. He was previously state rounds reporter and has also covered education for The Age.