Months of lockdown including almost eight weeks of night-time curfew, mandatory mask wearing, and dramatic improvements in contact tracing all played a part, Professor Esterman said.
Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely said much of the credit should go to the Andrews government’s decision to not reopen until cases were averaging five a day or less, despite pressure from the federal government and state opposition.
He also attributed it to “top-notch contact tracing”, which sharpened through October on outbreaks such as in Kilmore and Shepparton, where Victoria belatedly replicated the more cautious NSW model of isolating contacts of contacts.
“And, of course, a good dose of luck,” Professor Blakely said.
But the Premier was again at pains to urge vigilance. “Seven days of zero is not a vaccine … [coronavirus] is out there. There’s always virus out there,” he said.
“Zero days are great. But it doesn’t mean there’s zero virus, because not everyone gets tested, not everyone gets tested as quickly as they should. It’ll be lurking there.”
Hospitality venues have this week pushed for more flexible rules than the slated increase to limits of 40 people indoors and 70 outdoors on Sunday, while other additions to Sunday’s announcement could include increasing the public gathering limit above 10 people.
Victoria has tested more than 13,500 people a day on average for the last two weeks – more than twice the number we were doing in early June, when the seeds of the second wave were planted.
Professor Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, suggested Victoria should shift its approach in two areas from November 23.
She said no longer making masks mandatory outdoors, where the risk of transmitting COVID-19 is much lower, would make it easier for Victorians to stomach wearing them long-term in crucial indoor settings such as public transport and supermarkets.
Professor Bennett said Victoria should also move to base its hospitality capacity rules on a density limit of one person per four square metres rather than a set number.
“There’s a lot of cafes that shouldn’t fit 40 people and could try, and there’s a lot of bigger venues struggling to pay their rent,” she said.
“At 40 people, those at the furthest end of a large venue will not be a risk. It’s largely about proximity.”
Professor Bennett said while future international arrivals and travel within Australia meant the virus would always be a threat, Victoria’s strong testing numbers “are giving us a strong signal that we have little undetected virus out there”.
“[It’s] time to switch our focus to prevention strategies to protect this, and step up the sentinel surveillance to catch any last cases that may be out there, and detect new cases as borders open up.”
Changes planned for 11.59pm on Sunday, November 8.
- 25km travel limit lifted.
- ‘Ring of steel’ separating regional and metro Victoria removed.
- Gatherings at home: to be advised.
- Restaurants, hotels, cafes, bars open indoor to a maximum of 40 (10 people per space) outdoor maximum of 70 (one person per two square metres).
- Gyms, fitness studios open to a maximum of 20 people per venue (one person per eight square metres, 10 per space).
- Indoor pools up to 20 people or one per four square metres.
- Indoor trampolining centres for under 18s. Same density requirements as fitness studios.
- Indoor non-contact community sport allowed for 18 years and under. Maximum of 20 people.
- Sports capable of 1.5m distancing.
- Spectators limited to one parent or guardian.
- Funerals indoors, a maximum of 20 mourners, outdoors maximum of 50 mourners
- Faith gatherings indoor maximum of 20 people plus one faith leader, outdoors for maximum 50 people plus one faith leader.
- Only one gathering at a time.
- Libraries with 20 maximum indoors.
- Inspections increase to include up to 10 people from any number of households.
- Open but restricted to members of a single household, intimate partners or members of a single household and two adults with any dependents.
- Tour vehicles for trips of up to 30 minutes.
- Larger vehicles for up to 10 people.
CHANGES EXPECTED SOON
- Face masks. Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has flagged the future removal of mandatory masks outdoors.
- Public gatherings to be grow beyond 10.
- Home visits to expand beyond two visitors from one household, once a day.
- Live music – particularly at seated, outdoor venues.
Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter