The end of this week will be key for Victorians as the state edges closer and closer to reaching the average number of new cases that is a tipping point to ease restrictions.
Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton announced Victoria’s “lowest number in 11 weeks” yesterday, with 35 new COVID-19 cases and seven in the last 24 hours on Monday.
But Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average for new cases is the crucial figure officials are tracking and is expected to drop below 50 by the end of this week.
Under the state government’s current roadmap, metro Melbourne would move to stage two once the average daily case number drops to between 30 and 50. That is scheduled for September 28.
The current 14-day rolling average to September 11 is 54.4 cases in metropolitan Melbourne.
Stage two restrictions would see public gatherings increased to five people from a maximum of two households and allowing some children to return to school, among other things.
“It will drop below 50 by the end of the week, I am sure,” said Professor Brett Sutton on Monday.
But despite the closing gap, Sutton said the state refuses to reopen metro Melbourne early and that authorities need more time.
It comes as the Premier hinted regional Victoria was even closer to reopening “in just a few days” after recording another dip in virus cases.
“Regional Victoria took a step yesterday, as did Metropolitan Melbourne”, Mr Andrews said on Monday.
“There’s an opportunity for regional Victoria to take yet another step in just a few days time if these trends continue.”
The 14-day rolling average for regional Victoria dipped below four for the first time yesterday. It’s now 3.9. Regional Victoria’s trigger to move to the next phase of the roadmap is below five, along with no “mystery” infections – those with a source unknown – for two weeks.
“That means they are on the cusp of taking that next step, all things being equal,” the Premier said, noting the region has “just a couple more days we need to get through” as they watched for community transmission rates and mystery infections.
“But we are very pleased to think we’ll be essentially be able to take those big steps — but safe steps — towards opening regional Victoria up,” he said.
“The rules have changed, but the rules still need to be followed.
“We’ll have much more to say in the coming days about individual plans for every single workplace, the Victorian police efforts to make sure that the border between Melbourne and regional Victoria is as hard as it can possible be.”
RESTRICTIONS DUE TO BE EASED ON SEPTEMBER 28
Mr Andrews said metropolitan Melbourne was following the same “trend” as regional Victoria but despite the drop in numbers, Professor Sutton said Melbourne would not see the same fate as regional Victoria and that the September 28 date was set in stone.
“We need that time for the (policy) settings that we have, but I am very confident we will be in the 30 to 50 range for average daily cases,” he said.
“If it’s in the 20-30 range all the better, but we need that time for policy settings to be in place.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth told ABC News Breakfast that, while the state was “overwhelmingly” headed in the right direction with falling coronavirus case numbers, those cases without a known source are still a concern.
“(Stage 4 restrictions) are clearly having the desired effect, that light at the end of the tunnel’s growing bigger by the day,” he said.
“But 20 cases yesterday that have as yet been unlinked. That is still a number that’s too high.”
Mr Andrews earlier warned that a drop in test numbers over the weekend could skew results and harm the state’s lockdown exit plan.
He said while Victoria was meeting the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for the number of tests that should be done for every case detected, officials “want to do better than that”.
Professor Sutton said he was disappointed by the most recent testing numbers and stressed that the pathway out of lockdown was testing.
“Testing is our pathway out of this and testing is the way to make sure that any restrictions that are in place are in place for the shortest possible time,” he said.
“Testing should be seen as the way out, more than anything.”
— with Alexis Carey