For the first time since early June, New South Wales has recorded more locally acquired coronavirus cases than Victoria as local clusters continue to grow.
NSW recorded 14 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, with only three from returning travellers in quarantine, while Victoria recorded only seven cases, prompting federal health minister Greg Hunt to call on Victoria to open up.
“We have a commonwealth definition in terms of hot spots, that’s a rolling average of less than 10 cases, Victoria is below that rolling average, in fact, today Victoria’s numbers were below New South Wales … From our perspective the 10-case threshold would be an appropriate one for Victoria to utilise,” he said.
“The commonwealth standard but with the NSW model would respectfully provide a way forward for Victoria, and Victoria has already reached that commonwealth standard … NSW was able to operate at a greater than 10-case rolling average for 24 days, during the latter part of July and the early part of August.”
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrew, stated that in his most recent conversation with the prime minister, Scott Morrison did not voice these same opinions on the need to open up faster.
The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian stated on Wedensday she is becoming increasingly worried about the surge in infections in her state.
“This is the most concerned we’ve been since that first incident when the Victorian citizen came up, infected his colleagues and went for a drink at a hotel,” she said.
“Our state is on the verge of being where it was when we had the first seeding incident from Victoria.”
Nine of the new cases reported on Wednesday are linked to the emerging cluster at a GP clinic in the Sydney suburb of Lakemba, bringing the total in the cluster to 12 – all household contacts of known cases, including three who attended the clinic.
Hundreds of patients who visited the practice are now being tracked down by contact tracers. Health authorities are still investigating the source of the cluster, but it is believed it links back to another south-western Sydney GP.
The other two new locally transmitted cases are linked to the private clinic cluster in Liverpool, which has now reached 10. One attended the clinic, while the other was a staff member.
The state’s chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said it was “reassuring” that all the cases were linked to known clusters.
“[But] due to the large nature of the contacts that we’ve had to do, the multiple venues, all of that means that there is potentially infectious people in many settings.”
The premier said the government had planned to announce a further easing of restrictions to hospitality on Wednesday, but was now holding off until Chant deemed the current clusters under control.
Increasing the limit on venue bookings and the number of people who could attend weddings had been on the table, the premier said, and might still be agreed to later this week.
Although case numbers in Victoria were relatively low on Wednesday, three were of particular concern as they were residents of the regional city of Shepparton, more than two hours north of Melbourne.
Five Victorians also died in the previous 24 hours, bringing the state’s death toll to 816 out of the national figure of 899.
Jeroen Weimar from the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the virus was brought to Shepparton by the same Melbourne worker who spread the virus to Kilmore several weeks ago.
The worker, a household contact of an infected staff member at the Chadstone outbreak, disclosed their trip to the Oddfellows cafe in Kilmore and stopped off at a tyre shop in Benalla, launching wide testing efforts in these communities, but failed to tell contact tracers they also visited the Central Tyre shop in Shepparton.
This was discovered only after a worker presented for testing with symptoms.
“We immediately tested 12 other people at her workplace at a tyre shop in Shepparton and identified two further positives,” Weimar said. “As of late yesterday evening, we had three positive cases, nine negative cases in Shepparton, all associated with a tyre shop.”
Authorities were then able to establish a link to the Melbourne worker.
The premier, Daniel Andrews, said the case would be referred to police to make a decision on a fine or other penalty.
“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,” he said.
Before the daily press conference the chief health officer, Brett Sutton, defended Victoria’s contact tracing capacity, saying on Twitter investigations into clusters were “immediate”.
To be absolutely clear, delays in cluster investigations are not about the response, which is immediate. We need everyone to be honest about who their close contacts are, where they work, and where they’ve been. Every time. For everyone’s sake. 1/2
— Chief Health Officer, Victoria (@VictorianCHO) October 13, 2020
Andrews urged all Shepparton residents who visited hotspot locations at particular times to be tested and isolate for 14 days, regardless of symptoms. Any symptomatic locals have also been urged to come forward.
“What has occurred in Shepparton will require an urgent public health response and that has been brought to this task … I know just like Kilmore, they will respond to this challenge. They will come forward and the early reports are many people have already presented for testing,” he said.
People waiting to be tested reportedly faced six-hour waits on Wednesday.
Shepparton has a high immigrant population and a large number of low socioeconomic residents, potentially increasing the population’s vulnerability to the virus.
Andrews said the small number of positives from more than 16,000 tests on Wednesday was a good sign.
“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. We will need to see the days between now and Sunday unfold”.
Melbourne is expected to have some restrictions lifted on Sunday, but not all those originally indicated by the metro roadmap.
According to the Courier-Mail, the woman lived in Townsville but travelled through Cairns and Brisbane before flying to Melbourne on 7 October. The Queensland health minister, Steven Miles, said a number of people had been asked to isolate for 14 days.
Queensland recorded no new cases on Wednesday.