Victoria recorded another 16 coronavirus deaths on Sunday as well as 279 new cases, as the premier Daniel Andrews expressed “cautious optimism” that the state’s harsh stage four restrictions were finally bringing the crisis under control.
“These numbers are heading in the right direction,” Andrews said. “They speak to a strategy that is working. At the same time, no one day necessarily guarantees the outcome – that is a long hard slog.”
The 16 deaths – among people aged in their 70s, 80s and 90s – were broadly in line with the daily fatalities of the past week, except the four deaths recorded on Saturday, which the state’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, had acknowledged was likely a “blip”.
Andrews said 11 of the 16 deaths were linked to aged care, where there are now 2,075 active cases, while there were 662 Victorians in hospital, including 40 people in intensive care. There are also 1,164 active cases among Victorian healthcare workers.
In New South Wales, meanwhile, a man in his 80s died, as the state recorded five new Covid-19 cases on Sunday.
NSW Health said three of the new cases were linked to a cluster at Tangara School for Girls, another, a man in his 40s, was locally acquired and still being investigated, while a fifth case was a contact of the man.
The department has identified a Crust Pizza outlet in Concord, Den Sushi in Rose Bay, Café Perons in Double Bay and Horderns Restaurant at Milton Park Country House Hotel and Spa in Bowral as venues where the confirmed cases had visited.
Sydney Girls High School said in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon it would also close on Monday, delaying a trial HSC exam, after a student tested positive. The school is working with NSW Health to establish close contacts and all staff and students are being asked to self-isolate while that process is underway.
Commenting on Victoria’s improved figures, Andrews noted the seven-day average had only recently sat at about 700 infections. It has now fallen to 328.
Sutton said the reproduction rate, which authorities try to keep below one, was now sitting at about 0.86.
“We are going to see further chains of transmission, but the trend is good,” he said.
Andrews declined to say whether he was now more confident restrictions could be eased at the end of the six-week lockdown.
“The key point here is that it is perfectly appropriate for us to look at these numbers and say right, ‘The numbers are coming down’, that is what we want to see happen,” he said.
“But none of us can in any way become complacent or think that, ‘OK, now it will all just automatically kick in.’”
The premier also highlighted two growing outbreaks in aged care – Sunbury’s Japara Goonawarra aged care home, which now has 72 cases – and a Doutta Galla facility in Yarraville, where a number of residents have been transferred to hospital. Both are now receiving workforce support from state health authorities.
Although there is some concern about a possible aged care-like scenario in disability accomodation, Andrews said the number of cases had reduced by eight over the past 24 hours to 81. This included 61 staff cases and 20 residents, across 53 sites.
Still, Andrews hinted at dissatisfaction with the commonwealth’s involvement in a rapid response unit established by Victoria to handle outbreaks in disability accomodation. In Victoria the sector is mostly, though not exclusively, funded and regulated at the federal level.
Asked about the need for a system similar to the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre established by the commonwealth, Andrews said: “My view is that would serve us well with disability services as well. That’s something we’re going back and forth [on] with the commonwealth.”
Asked if the commonwealth was involved in the state’s response unit, he replied: “No, but I want them to be.”
The comments came despite a move from the federal government this week to announce a panel of four major disability providers would offer additional workforce support – as well as accomodation – for participants living in residential support settings.
The NDIS minister, Stuart Robert, said Aspen Medical had also been contracted to provide a clinical first response to any identified outbreak.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Robert said the commonwealth had been a “formal member of the Victorian Government’s Disability Rapid Response Group since 29 July 2020”, and that three federal officials were involved in its meetings.
Andrews also confirmed the government had extended Victoria’s state of emergency by four weeks to 13 September, which gives authorities the legal power to continue restrictions, including the six-week stage four lockdown announced earlier in August.
Queensland Health confirmed on Sunday there were no new cases recorded in the state overnight, with just nine active cases across the state.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report