Victoria records three new local COVID-19 cases after a week in lockdown

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Victoria has recorded three new cases in the past 24 hours to midnight after spending a week in lockdown and as restrictions are due to ease in regional areas at 11.59pm.

Authorities administered a further 23,921 vaccine doses and received 57,519 tests.

One of the cases is the second aged care resident who tested positive at Arcare Maidstone Aged Care on Wednesday.

The new cases come amid a debate over the virulence of the latest outbreak. Australia’s peak pandemic advisory group has found that the COVID-19 strain at the centre of the outbreak is not moving faster than other variants of the virus or spreading in new, unexpected ways.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, who has described the virus strain at large in Melbourne as an “absolute beast” that was spreading “in settings and circumstances we’ve never seen before”, toned down his language on Wednesday, as acting Premier James Merlino detailed the state’s next stage of COVID-19 restrictions.

The state government justified Wednesday’s extension of the lockdown by claiming what is now being called the “Kappa” variant of the virus is more contagious than previous outbreaks and infections are occurring more readily between people who only briefly came into contact.

University of Melbourne Professor James McCaw, an infectious disease expert and member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which advises the national cabinet, said this was not supported by the data he had seen.

“There is no epidemiological evidence that this virus spreads faster,” he said. “There is no clear reason to think this virus is spreading in different ways.”

Speaking to Hamish Macdonald on RN Breakfast, Professor Catherine Bennett from Deakin University said the start of any outbreak would always be challenging, but as data has been gathered about transmission familiar patterns were emerging in this spread.

“I think when you’re in the thick of it, particularly if you’re looking at outbreaks that have started weeks ago when you first discover it, there is a tendency to think that the virus is moving faster than you’re anticipating,” Professor Bennett said.

“It can be quite overwhelming so we’ve, we’ve heard a little bit of that over the last few days and I think that was a bit checked yesterday by the Chief Health Officer.”

While Professor Bennett was optimistic the outbreak would be controlled, the Australian Medical Association’s new Victorian president has said Australia’s opportunity to get ahead of COVID-19 has been squandered.

Dr Roderick McRae, an anaesthetist, intensive care doctor and qualified lawyer, was appointed last week to lead the doctors’ group, taking on the job in the midst of Victoria’s outbreak and concerns over a health system under immense strain.

“You have to be honest and say yes, the golden window is gone,” Dr McRae said. “But we are at silver, and let’s maximise what we can do.”

More to come

With Chip Le Grand, Liam Mannix, Aisha Dow

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