Victoria on Monday had 21 active coronavirus infections, including one new case linked to the Holiday Inn cluster, which grew to 17. Separately, a young girl who is a returned traveller in hotel quarantine also became infected.
By 1pm on Monday, more than 2500 close contacts linked to the Holiday Inn cluster exposure sites were in self-isolation, with 1567 of those connected to the case at Terminal 4, Melbourne Airport.
All the co-workers of the infected staff member who worked at Brunetti Cafe at Terminal 4 last week tested negative to COVID-19, with just one result outstanding. There are 34 customers linked to the cafe in total, with most residing interstate.
The state’s public health team on Monday said it had directly contacted 1600 people connected to the exposure site over the weekend.
But Mont Albert resident Laurence Van Driel said he had lost confidence in Victoria’s contact tracers after it took Queensland authorities to notify him that he and his adult daughter had been at a “tier one” coronavirus exposure site last week.
Mr Van Driel was at Melbourne Airport’s Terminal 4 early last Tuesday morning, the same time an infected Brunetti cafe worker began their shift, before boarding a flight to Queensland.
He said it was soon after returning to Melbourne last Friday that he received a text message from Queensland Health telling him he needed to get tested for coronavirus immediately.
Three days later, he said he still had not been contacted by the Victorian Health Department, and was upset to be told at a testing site by an official that this was not surprising.
“Had the Queensland Health department not notified us, we could have gone into Melbourne city and been potential spreaders of the virus,” he said.
Mr Andrews on Monday defended the state’s contact-tracing efforts during the Holiday Inn outbreak.
He said 931 of the 933 close contacts identified on February 11 were contacted within 48 hours. “It is the guideline, that is the standard, that is 99.8 per cent, so that is a very strong result,” he said.
He said South Australia’s result on the same measure was 98.7 per cent.
Burnet Institute epidemiologist Professor Mike Toole said despite a new case being linked to the Holiday Inn outbreak, he was optimistic restrictions could be eased on Wednesday night.
“I am quietly optimistic because of the fact that most recent case I am aware of was acquired eight or nine days ago,” Professor Toole said.
“That’s the basis of my optimism. But we have to remember this viruses ambushes you. We now know, from recent cases in Sydney and Melbourne, that people can go 14 to 16 days with negative tests, and then they can still return a positive.”
Professor Toole said whether Victoria was able to reopen again morning hinged on a number of variables, including that the over the next two days the state did not record any cases of community transmission; where the source of infection could not be found.
University of South Australia biostatistics professor Adrian Esterman was less confident, estimating there was a 50 per cent chance Victoria’s lockdown would end on Thursday.
“If it carries on as one or two maximum cases a day then there is a good chance lockdown could be lifted on Wednesday as planned,” the former adviser to the World Health Organisation said.
“But the one thing we don’t want is a case where we can’t trace the origins, in other words a mystery case. As long as all these cases are cases that are in quarantine and their contacts are isolation then I think there is a reasonable chance lockdown will end as planned.”
Professor Esterman said short, sharp lockdowns had worked extremely well after the virus leaked out of quarantine hotels in Western Australia, Adelaide and Queensland.
“There have been quite a few more cases in Victoria, but fortunately, so far they have all been linked,” he said.
“I can’t see the lockdown in Melbourne lasting another three months, that’s not going to happen again. It will either be five days as planned or not too many more days after that.”
Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said the next two days would be critical to see whether there had been “next generation of spread.”
“The next assessment is getting the results back from the woman’s coworkers and from other close contacts around these latest three cases,” Professor Bennett said.
“If they are all coming in negative then I think that does set us up quite well for a Wednesday relaxation.”
“The idea isn’t that they get to zero cases or you having a certain number of days of zero cases. This about it ensuring that it is unlikely there will be cases beyond those close contacts. If all close contacts return negative results, if we don’t see a next generation of spread, then it is looking pretty good.”
A woman, whose three-year-old child contracted the virus at a family function on Sydney Road in Coburg on February 6, is considered to be the seventeenth case in the Holiday Inn cluster.
Mr Andrews said the woman was asymptomatic and had been swabbed three or four times on February 13 and 14, returning negative and weak positive results.
“Given her exposure and the variability of those results, the public health team has taken the most conservative approach and have deemed her a positive case,” Mr Andrews said.
A psychiatric unit at The Alfred hospital and psychiatric wards at the Northern Hospital in Broadmeadows, where the woman worked, are now in lockdown. About 150 primary close contacts across the three hospitals were all tested on Sunday night.
Asked whether there was an acceptable number of cases that would allow the state to emerge from lockdown, the Premier said those public health parameters were being determined by Victorian officials.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the lockdown was “going as well as we could expect”.
“Every single case has been linked. Those immediate social and household close contacts testing negative, that’s all terrific news. I am always aware that we can have a day when something comes completely out of left field, so I hope that doesn’t happen,” Professor Sutton said.
Melissa Cunningham is The Age’s health reporter.
Aisha Dow reports on health for The Age and is a former city reporter.