Five more deaths from the virus have been recorded in the past day; a woman aged in her 70s, two men in their 80s, and two women in their 90s.
Victoria’s rolling 14-day average of new daily cases has dropped slightly to 10.1.
The Health Department is now urging anyone who visited eight local exposure sites in Shepparton, including retail and hospitality businesses, to get tested – even if they are not experiencing symptoms – and to quarantine for two weeks.
In a more aggressive approach to outbreak management, health authorities are also asking people who live in a house with a person who has visited one of the exposure sites to quarantine for 14 days.
Long queues have formed at the two testing sites in Shepparton, which will extend their operating hours to remain open from 8am to 8pm on Thursday. Goulburn Valley Health was working to establish a third testing site that is set to open within the next 24 hours.
There have been reports that police are telling people at the back of the queue to go home or face a six-hour wait and the Goulburn Valley Health site reached capacity at 2.30.
Australian Defence Force personnel have arrived in Shepparton to provide support with testing and more personnel are expected to arrive on Thursday.
Pharmacist John Anderson, who runs the Shepparton Amcal Pharmacy said people in the city were angry that the virus had spread there. “The mood on the street is frustration,” he said
Mr Anderson said testing clinics in the city had been “absolutely overwhelmed” by midday. “They’re handing out water to people because they’re in the sun and they’ve been in queues since nine o’clock this morning.”
Professor Sutton said that if the same aggressive quarantine strategy had been used during the Chadstone outbreak, the man who spread the virus to Kilmore and Shepparton would have been in isolation on September 30 when he travelled to regional Victoria.
The state government’s testing chief, Jeroen Weimar, said the man only informed contact tracers about his travel to Shepparton on Tuesday, more than a fortnight after the fact.
The man, a contact of a member of the Chadstone cluster who did not know he was infected when he travelled, went to Kilmore, Benalla and Shepparton on the same day. He ate at a cafe in Kilmore, spawning five cases, before heading north to a Shepparton tyre shop and then to Benalla.
A symptomatic woman tested positive in Shepparton over the weekend. A dozen of her work colleagues were tested on Tuesday and two more were found to be positive for COVID-19.
Mr Weimar said it was clear the man was not acting in a COVID-safe way during his interactions with people in regional towns.
“Something clearly happened on September 30 between that individual and the people at the tyre shop which meant the virus was able to spread, very similarly to what happened in Kilmore,” Mr Weimar said on 3AW.
Premier Daniel Andrews said authorities would investigate the matter.
“It has gone to the compliance unit and they will provide further information to Victoria Police from DHHS and they will make further judgments,” he said.
“You don’t get in trouble if you tell the full story, I want to make that clear to people. You potentially do get into trouble if you don’t.”
Mr Weimar reminded Shepparton residents that financial payments are available to assist those who need support to stay home from work.
Also on Tuesday, a COVID-19 case emerged among the school community at Bairnsdale Secondary College in East Gippsland.
The school will not close because the infected person did not attend while infectious, according to a post on the school’s Facebook page from principal Trudie Nagle.
Independent state MP for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said in Parliament late on Tuesday she was “gutted” after receiving a briefing from Health Minister Martin Foley.
“We’ve been clear for many weeks and to find out that tonight there are [three] active cases, possibly with many contacts … is extremely upsetting,” she said.
“It comes at a time for all of us, but especially in Melbourne, I see it driving in, when life has been sucked out of this place. It’s a truly tragic thing to see.
“I’m not here to blame anyone for that because it’s the virus that’s doing it. It’s running absolutely rampant across the world … but we had a moment of hope in regional Victoria where we might have been able to have a much better result.”
Professor Sutton said contact tracers were having trouble obtaining full and frank explanations from people about where they had been and who they had interacted with.
“It’s a really difficult exercise we go back to people several times. I’m really reinforcing the need to be honest, there’s no punishment for being honest, there’s no punishment for being completely open about all of that information that we need,” he said.
“It’s not about single individuals, it’s a genuine challenge across the board [and] we’ve had it for months in this phase of the outbreak.”
He urged Shepparton to “crush it”.
He also said delays in contact tracing were created by people not providing adequate information.
Three of the new cases are linked to known outbreaks and four are under investigation.
“That is a very strong outcome. It is one that gives the very clear sign that the numbers are coming down, whether they are coming down as fast as we hoped, that is another matter,” Mr Andrews said.
The Health Department said a pop-up testing site would be established at the Shepparton showgrounds on Wednesday and that residents can get tested at GV Health’s acute respiratory clinic on Graham Street.
The Goulburn Valley Health hotline can be contacted on 1800 313 070 between 8am and 8pm.
Paul is a reporter for The Age.
Kate Lahey is a producer for The Age.