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The State of Victoria and What To Do About It

On Saturday Victoria had 273 new cases of coronavirus. This followed 216 infections on Friday and 288 on Thursday. At the moment most of these cases are still under investigation so contact tracing has not yet established the sources of the infections. This means there may be clusters throughout Victoria that have not yet been identified and infected people who are not in isolation.

People infected with the COVID 19 virus have to wait two weeks to have symptoms emerge so it will take a fortnight before we have a reading on the extent of the infection in the state. Even then the testing may not be complete. At the moment it is being concentrated around the hotspots in Melbourne so Victoria’s regions are largely being ignored.

Cases are likely to keep increasing for the next couple of weeks until the reintroduced restrictions take effect.

Notably, nearly half of current cases are among people under 30. This probably has a lot to do with the spread of infection within families.

It’s a positive step that residents of Melbourne’s public housing towers who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be offered the option of hotel quarantine until they are well. As much as possible, to prevent spread in families, any infected person living in crowded conditions should be moved to hospital or hotel quarantine.

The Victorian government has come down hard on the virus. , Apart from returning to lockdown in the hotspot postcodes, it has suggested that people in Melbourne should wear masks when they cannot social distance, such as when traveling on public transport or shopping in supermarkets.

It’s also essential the government presents clear messaging around why the restrictions are needed, especially to communities from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

At the same time, they may need to get stricter in enforcing the various facets of their strategy. They should not allow people to refuse testing and should limit exemptions to restrictions as much as possible.

How big is the risk that the virus will spread to other states. New South Wales and South Australia have closed their borders but they have granted exemptions to people living in Victorian border regions. Because there is no community transmission in these regions the risk of infection is currently low but if a cluster emerges then the borders are likely to be totally closed. This will have a deleterious effect on the economy.

The second wave in Victoria has led to calls by some health experts for Australia to go for the elimination of the virus. The argument is that the psychological stress of having to endure successive lockdowns will be too much for the Australian public. With the prospect of a vaccine two and a half years away, suppression is bound to lead to more breakouts and lockdowns.

The benefits of elimination, despite the greater short-term pain of tougher lockdowns, are to be seen in New Zealand. As of Thursday, there were 24 cases there, all overseas returnees and all in hotel quarantine. There is currently no community transmission. The NZ health ministry said it had been 69 days since the last case was acquired locally from an unknown source. The economy has been able to reopen.

On the other hand, elimination would not have prevented the Victorian breakout which resulted from lax security in hotel quarantine. This seems to confirm that the virus is impossible to eliminate without a vaccine.

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