Melbourne is facing tougher lockdown restrictions within days, which could mean more businesses in Australia’s second-largest city closing their doors, stricter stay-at-home rules and drastically cut public transport services.
It comes amid calls from doctors for a “New Zealand-style full lockdown”, as Covid-19 infections and deaths in Melbourne mount.
Victorian government officials and politicians worked late into Saturday night on the details of the next stage of the fight against the killer virus
The state’s premier, Daniel Andrews, earlier in the day reported another 397 new Covid-19 cases and three more deaths, two from aged care homes as the deadly crisis in the sector deepened.
* Kiwi-made masks back in vogue as Australia’s Covid-19 crisis worsens
* Editorial: We’re all covidiots if we let complacency rule
* Coronavirus: Australia’s Covid-19 death toll passes 200 after three Victoria deaths
The premier provided no detail at his press conference on what was being considered, but sources close to the planning process say Melbourne could move to “stage four”, likely to be in force for six weeks, as early as Wednesday under the plan being considered.
The rest of the state would be placed under the “stage three” lockdown that has been in force in the metro area for the past four weeks.
The news comes as two more workers, believed to be health department officials, in the state’s troubled quarantine hotels program for returned travellers tested positive to Covid-19.
The state’s government also expressed frustration on Saturday with the “appalling behaviour” of some people who had been fined by police for breaching the present restrictions, with one man telling officers he had driven from Melbourne to the town of Wodonga – 300 kilometres away – to buy a hamburger.
Andrews said his government was deeply worried that 49 “mystery cases” identified on Saturday could indicate the virus was spreading widely through the Melbourne community and confirmed he was in discussions with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about tougher restrictions.
Moves being considered as part of the stage four response include an almost total shutdown of Melbourne’s bus, tram and rail networks, stricter rules that would force residents to stay even closer to their homes and the shutdown of many more businesses.
However, cafes and restaurants would still be able to provide takeaway services, unlike during New Zealand’s Level 4 lockdown.
Andrews said further restrictions were needed to act as a “circuit breaker” to curb community transmission, as he acknowledged tougher restriction would take an economic toll.
“We are giving due consideration to a whole range of different options,” the premier said.
“Even minor changes have a significant cost. But the numbers are too high and there is a growing case for us to do more. What we may be doing now may not be enough.”
Active cases in the state’s aged care system on Saturday surged beyond 1000 – with outbreaks in 100 different homes – for the first time since the pandemic began.
Andrews said hospital nurses had now worked more than 570 shifts in care homes.
Days after at-risk aged care residents began moving into hospitals, some families were struggling to make contact with loved ones or to even get information about where they had been taken.
The Australian Medical Association and other medical experts have led growing calls for the type of tough stage four lockdown that has halted the virus in New Zealand.
But Victorian health authorities have been cautious, saying it was unclear if such an approach would work here due to the high levels of community transmission.
“The AMA’s position has been very clear: we called for a New Zealand-style full lockdown two weeks ago”, Victorian AMA president Julian Rait said.
Since the start of the pandemic, Victoria has recorded 1841 community transmission cases, where the source of a person’s infection is not known.
The state had its second-worst day of the pandemic on Friday, with 627 new cases and eight deaths.