Victoria’s chief health officer is staying firm on keeping Melbourne’s shopping precincts closed, saying COVID-19 outbreaks in retail settings “can happen in an explosive way”.
While announcing 41 new infections and nine more deaths on Monday morning, Professor Brett Sutton said keeping retail precincts closed would play a crucial role in controlling transmission of coronavirus.
“In a retail setting, people are mobile, there are thousands and thousands, tens of thousands or more, moving through on a daily basis and I‘m sure the risk of transmission is there … they’re indoors, people getting in close proximity, but we can’t identify them as outbreaks because those individuals will go back home and they have been to one particular retail setting but also been shopping for food, also gone out for medical care, emergency purposes,” he said.
“And so we can’t always identify the transmission in those places. And I’m sure a lot of those retail settings would say, ‘we never had an outbreak identified with our setting or with our chain of stores’, but the risk is there especially if it’s indoors, especially if people gather in large numbers and are in relatively close proximity.
“So I’m sure transmissions is occurring and that’s been the consideration in terms of just bringing down the volume and the movement of people in those tens, hundreds of thousands, that we know retail occurs.”
Premier Daniel Andrews echoed prof Sutton’s thoughts, saying reopening retail precincts could result in thousands of daily cases.
“We had this discussion a few different times now over many months that if everyone who can mount aneloquent argument that they don’t have a safety problem, that they’re safe, if you agreed to every one of those pleadings, and a lot of them – they’re emotional and eloquented andmotivated by only the best things, but if you said to all of those, everything would be open, and we wouldn’t have 41 cases today.
“We’d have an awful lot more than that. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that France has 25,000 cases in the last three days. Spain who opened up about 100, 200 cases a day, they’re at the 8000, 9000, 10,000 cases a day. The UK, 64 per cent increase in daily cases from yesterday to today.
“It gets away really quickly and then you’re in a situation where what levers have you got to pull then? What strategy would work then? Well, you’re back again faced with this really terrible choice that you can’t leave it open. You got to shut it down again.”
While prof Sutton admitted the road map out of lockdown announced by the Premier on Sunday would be “a long road ahead”, he said there was no other alternative.
“It is a long road ahead and it‘s not – it’s not easy from a mental health point of view for anyone and so I think we have always been cognisant of what it means to have these restrictions in place,” he said.
“Equally, what’s the alternative? Because we – we have done this modelling to understand what it would mean to lift at an earlier point in time, to lift at different numbers, and going into another lockdown, I think, would be even more devastating.
“Unless you have eliminated it (the virus) completely, you really are playing that balancing game of trying to minimise the restrictions in place, but not put at risk everything that we have gained over the last month, which is very substantial.”
A total of 675 Victorians have died from coronavirus so far.
There are 266 Victorians in hospital and 25 in intensive care.