Drastic China move Victoria must consider
As the alarming rise in coronavirus cases continues in Victoria, one expert says the government needs to consider some radical measures to get the infection under control.
Cases of COVID-19 have jumped by 816 cases in just over a month, with the state recording a spike of 108 cases yesterday after 17 days of double-digit growth.
There is also concern about the rise in community transmissions, with the number of cases from an unknown source doubling from 168 on June 1, to 389 on Saturday, July 4.
Dwarfing this figure however, is the number of people who got the virus from someone they know.
This has risen to at least 985 and is now higher than the 975 people who got coronavirus from travelling overseas.
The alarming resurgence of COVID-19 has seen the Victorian Government extend its state of emergency until July 19, reverse the relaxing of some of its restrictions and put the households and businesses of 10 Melbourne postcodes in lockdown. Yesterday it announced a further two suburbs and nine public housing towers would also be locked down.
"These postcodes are experiencing elevated community transmission - and the only way to combat that is with stronger restrictions," Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday.
"As these figures show, we are still on a knife's edge. Rather than spread across the state, we know many of these cases are located in specific communities."
The government has previously noted a "continuing and concerning number of new cases associated with transmission in households and families".
This week it also announced a judicial inquiry into the failure of its hotel quarantine system that has seen two outbreaks, amid bombshell claims that some security staff had slept with guests and had also allowed them out to do things like shopping.
Professor Mary-Louise McLaws of the University of NSW told news.com.au authorities needed to consider bringing in tougher measures, and this included looking at how people who tested positive were treated.
"Many Australians don't live in homes where they can be easily isolated from the rest of the family," she said.
"We need to think whether we need to move them out of their homes and move them into a facility so they don't continue to spread the virus among family clusters."
Among the more than 80 outbreaks in the state, many centre around family groups.
One outbreak at Roxburgh Park has seen 28 people infected across eight households. Another cluster in North Melbourne has ballooned out to 30 people and another in Keilor Downs has infected 21 across eight households.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said last month that families having big get-togethers had driven a large proportion of the new cases.
Prof McLaws believes other states should also consider quarantining people away from their families but the decision should be based on data around family structures and dynamics.
"Authorities decided it was likely to spread in China through family clusters so they removed family members when they were sick," she said.
"If you are getting clustering, the person can be moved and this will also give the rest of the family a break from the anxiety of getting sick."
Another measure Prof McLaws believes should be considered is the wearing of face masks.
Prof McLaws is a member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Emergencies Program Experts Advisory Panel for Infection Prevention and Control Preparedness, Readiness and Response to COVID-19.
While the WHO has been slow the recommend the wearing of face masks, it changed its advice last month to support their use where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops and other crowded environments.
"We should be saying that if people want to go to work, they need to wear a face shield or mask so the virus is not given any opportunity," Prof McLaws said.
"This virus is so clever, it hides, so it can take two days before symptoms appear.
"Up to 18 per cent never show any symptoms, or they never think they are unwell."
Prof McLaws said a "perfect storm" seemed to have come together to create Victoria's current problems.
"This is quite complex, it's quite unique to Melbourne but it's also a sobering reminder that it could happen to anyone," she said.
She said the severe resurgence in cases was related to the hyper-interconnection between people in Melbourne, with travellers from overseas infecting staff working in quarantine hotels, some of who have given the virus to their families.
A breakdown in systems around hotel quarantine has led to outbreaks among security and other staff, and Prof McLaws believes the government has also not done enough to communicate health messages to those who can't read English or understand the language well enough to hear the nuances in the warnings.
Another area Prof McLaws believes needs to be watched is the increasing number of cases among health providers.
"These numbers have been growing, one here and there," she said.
There are now more than a dozen cases linked to GP clinics as well as cases in rehabilitation centres, dental centres and among hospital staff.
"They are all potentially a risk to the wider community," she said.
Premier Andrews warned on Friday that further restrictions or extending the lockdown to other postcodes was possible. Some experts have already pointed to other areas where numbers are rising.
"Many hours of the weekend will be spent analysing, considering, discussing back and forth what the status of other postcodes are," Mr Andrews told reporters on Friday.
"I can't rule out further restrictions and I certainly can't rule out other postcodes on that formula being pulled into this."
The Premier said any decisions would be based on data.
Prof McLaws said the Victorian Government should be commended for the actions it had already taken, even though she believes it could have acted a week earlier.
"Authorities are doing a great job and Australia in general is doing a great job but we can't just get cranky when the virus does something we're not expecting.
"Authorities should be thinking proactively and not reactively."