The two milestones are a far cry from the peak of the second wave of the virus in August, when the number of new cases topped 725 in one day. Melbourne was locked down for months and restrictions were imposed across the state to stem the spread of the virus.
There have been 20,345 cases of COVID-19 in Victoria so far, and 819 deaths, most of them among the elderly in aged care.
Click play to see how Victoria’s second wave unfolded:
“When we achieve 28 days we will be achieving it with bells and whistles because we will have had no new cases for 28 days and we will have no active cases left in the community,” University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said. “It’s the complete Rolls-Royce version.”
But Professor Blakely warned that unless Australia changed its border policy and stopped accepting people flying in from the northern hemisphere, where the virus continues to run rampant, it would only be a matter of time before there was a “slip-up somewhere” and more cases leached into the community.
“Our daily probability of another outbreak is going to depend on how many people we bring in across the border, where they are coming from and how well we do quarantine. If we change border policy to fewer people coming in from the northern hemisphere, and more people from East Asian countries, the chances reduce as they present a much lower risk of bringing in the virus.”
The last patient in Victoria infected with the virus, a man aged in his 90s, was discharged from hospital on Monday night, after being admitted last month. The man was treated at the Monash Medical Centre for more than 40 days alongside his wife who also contracted the virus.
The man and his wife – hospitalised since early October – were the last two remaining active cases in the state until the woman in her 80s was discharged from hospital on Thursday.
Monash Health was able to secure an exemption from state authorities to allow the couple’s daughter to visit them.
‘They both had a pretty stormy journey,” Monash infectious diseases physician Rhonda Stuart said. “Both of them got so unwell we wondered if they were going to make it at once stage and we arranged for their daughter to come in and visit them as we were so worried about them passing away.”
Precautions were taken so the daughter, who was also infected with the virus, could spend each day by her parents’ bedsides.
The couple were kept apart in single rooms for weeks as doctors treated them with steroids and Remdesivir, an antiviral medication.
“They started to get better after spending time with their daughter, which was great,” Associate Professor Stuart said. “That emotional support is so important to recovery and survival.”
In recent days, the couple were finally reunited after weeks apart fighting for their lives in separate rooms.
“It’s been a very emotional journey for the family and for staff,” Associate Professor Stuart said. “Watching them together for the first time was really wonderful.”
The team from Monash Health had also treated the state’s first confirmed case of the virus in January.
“We have come full cycle,” Professor Stuart said.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced over the weekend restrictions could ease further before the end of the year, flagging ongoing reviews of the state’s coronavirus restrictions. Easing measures could include offices returning to 25 per cent capacity, more patrons in cafes and restaurants, universities and TAFE resuming classes and up to 150 people at weddings and funerals.
Professor Blakey said “the virus will get back in with some point with high probability between now and the vaccine and we’ll have to squash it out the same way South Australia is doing now”.
When asked what life could look like in Victoria with no more active cases, Professor Blakely said, with “no exact science yet, it was all about judgement calls”.
Professor Blakely predicted face masks would remain a part of the Melbourne look in high-risk indoor environments and on public transport, until a vaccine was rolled out.
“Is it necessary? Maybe not, but is it helpful? Yeah, because if the virus gets out, and before we know it, that will dampen its spread,” he said.
“It means any outbreaks we get going forward will hopefully be a little less explosive than they would have been had we completely abandoned masks.”
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Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.
Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.