Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has warned the state to expect more COVID-19 cases to emerge next week, with contract tracers still searching for answers to where and how a Reservoir family of four caught the virus.
Professor Brett Sutton said they had now genomically identified that the family – a man in his 80s, a woman in her 70s, a man in his 50s and a man in his 20s – are carrying the Kappa variant of the virus, which is the same as the outbreak in Whittlesea and in Port Melbourne.
However, the train of transmission remains unclear: authorities have not been able to both determine how the family or how the two Victorians who tested positive for the virus after travelling to Queensland caught COVID-19.
“There are a number of potential exposure sites and acquisition sites, where they may have been when another infectious case was also present,” Professor Sutton said.
The warning comes after Victoria recorded no new local cases for the first time in almost three weeks on Friday, with the state moving to eased coronavirus restrictions overnight.
Professor Sutton also said thorough interviews were ongoing with the two Victorians who tested positive in Queensland, but it “does seem to be that they were right at the end of an infectious period” when they were tested.
The pair are also carrying the Kappa variant.
“The week ahead probably won’t be all zero cases,” Professor Sutton said. “We have thousands of primary close contacts, some of which will become positive.”
Victorian government defends outdoor mask-wearing
Professor Sutton defended the state government’s rules around mask-wearing outdoors, arguing outdoor settings “shouldn’t be dismissed” as potential exposure sites.
While the state’s COVID-19 rules have eased, heavy restrictions remain: masks are still required outdoors and indoors when away from home, including in workplaces where QR code check-ins are set to become mandatory.
Melburnians can now travel within a 25km radius from their home and home visits are still off the table, but those in metropolitan areas can now meet outdoors in groups of 10.
Schools in metropolitan Melbourne have reopened on Friday, but due to extreme weather, the Department of Health has closed a number of kindergartens and education facilities.
Professor Sutton said health authorities were reviewing the lockdown settings all the time, and he was currently “not nervous about opening up”.
“[Masks] still reduce transmission substantially, people move in and out of indoor and outdoor areas all the time, and it is not always easy to judge how close others are,” Professor Sutton told reporters on Friday morning.
“It will, especially if both individuals are wearing a mask at the same time, reduce the transmission risk.
“It is a substantially smaller risk, that is why we encourage a whole lot of activities to take place
outdoors, and for individuals to meet outdoors, but [transmission] still occurs.
“Obviously we do not want to impose things that are excessive, but it is always under review, because the risk remains until we have run all of this down.”
Elective surgeries to restart in Melbourne from Tuesday
Melbourne hospitals will be able to restart normal elective surgery lists from Tuesday.
The state recorded no new local cases on Friday and one new case of COVID-19 was reported in hotel quarantine. There were more than 17,000 test results received across Victoria.
During the COVID-19 update on Friday, Acting Premier James Merlino said the lack of new local cases reported was the “news I know everyone in Victoria wanted to hear”.
He said hospitals would be working hard to “clear the backlog as quickly as possible” of surgical cases in metropolitan Melbourne.
“It is not as simple as flicking a switch. Hospitals need time to scale up,” Mr Merlino said. “They need staff and resources available to ensure that Victorians needing surgery will receive world-class care that our health services have always provided.”
Concern over virus fragments
A number of new viral fragments have also been found in Melbourne suburbs between June 3 and 7.
Anyone in Glenroy, Hadfield, Oak Park, Pascoe Vale, Burwood East, Forest Hill, Glen Waverley, Scoresby, Vermont South, Wantirna South, Wheelers Hill, Balwyn, Balwyn North, Blackburn, Blackburn, North, Box Hill, Box Hill North, Bulleen, Doncaster, Doncaster East, Donvale, Mitcham, Mont Albert, Mont Albert North and Nunawading between those dates are being urged to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested if the symptoms develop.
Singapore travel bubble being considered: Dutton
Defence Minister Peter Dutton has signalled he wants to see a travel bubble with Singapore up and running “as soon as possible”.
“Singapore has managed COVID very effectively like Australia and we want to see an extension of the travel bubble arrangement that we’ve got with New Zealand, which has worked really well,” he said on the Today Show on Friday.
Mr Dutton said the bubble could be trialled by allowing international students from Singapore into Australia.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but let’s work toward it as quickly as we can.”
With Daniella White
Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at [email protected]