As South Australia grapples with its worst coronavirus cluster yet, authorities are questioning whether restrictions should be reintroduced to stem the spread that has “echoes of Victoria”, according to one leading expert.
The state’s COVID-19 cluster has grown to 17 cases, and there are fears hundreds of Adelaide residents have been exposed to the deadly disease.
Of the cases, 15 are believed to be linked to one family.
The outbreak has prompted questions about whether restrictions should be reintroduced, but experts say it’s too early to tell.
SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens told the ABC the next 48 hours would be crucial in determining if any changes to current protocols were needed. He said returning to restrictions imposed during the height of the pandemic would be the “worst-case scenario”.
The cluster, first announced on Sunday, had spiked to 17 cases as of Monday morning.
Epidemiologist Adrian Esterman, from the University of South Australia, said he would hate to see Adelaide sent back into lockdown, but health experts and state leaders wouldn’t know how bad the outbreak was for another few days.
“I’m not sure it’s necessary (to go back into lockdown),” he said.
“There are lots of different approaches that can be taken.
“Sydney had several clusters over the last few months, and they’ve (health authorities in NSW) managed to successfully squash them without going into lockdown.”
Professor Esterman said the scale of any restrictions are reintroduced would depend on how quickly the state got the outbreak under control.
He said mandating masks in places where social distancing isn’t possible could be a good first step.
“I’d certainly recommend anyone who’s high risk should wear them every time they go out,” he said.
“But in places of transit like buses and train … it’s a good idea to start wearing them.”
He described the “worst-case scenario” as shutting down Adelaide’s northern suburbs.
Professor Esterman’s comments come after Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered to deploy the army to South Australia as it battles its first bout of community transmission since April.
The outbreak at Parafield in Adelaide’s northern suburbs was revealed after a woman in her 80s was diagnosed after attending Adelaide Lyell McEwin Hospital emergency department.
Two of the woman’s family members, a female in her 50s and a man in his 60s, also tested positive for the deadly virus, with four other family members displaying symptoms.
The large family has members working in high-risk medi-hotels, aged care, healthcare and a major prison.
“This has very similar echoes of what happened in Victoria,” Professor Esterman said.
But Professor Esterman said he had faith the state’s health department would swiftly get it under control. He added Adelaide had the gift of space, unlike Melbourne, which had a higher density population.
“If they can get this under control within the next few days there might be no need to bring in any heavy restrictions,” he said.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we had to, but this might just include social gatherings and the number of people you can have in your home.”
The West Australian government is now requiring all visitors from South Australia to quarantine for 14 days, just 48 hours after opening the border on Saturday.
The SA Health Minister has been contacted for comment.