The Victorian Government’s latest lockdown may seem extreme and even overcautious by international standards, but there is still one rule the state needs to impose if it wants a real chance at beating the virus.
The lockdown came into effect overnight, putting metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire back to stage three restrictions for six weeks. The measure was brought in after the state saw a record breaking spike in new COVID-19 cases, with 191 cases on Tuesday and and 134 recorded yesterday.
But while the restrictions may seem harsh, experts say they may not be enough to stop the virus’s spread if another rule isn’t imposed.
World Health Organisation (WHO) adviser and UNSW epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws said making people wear masks in public is an important factor to stopping the spread of the virus from the Melbourne hotspots.
“I think the way authorities are dealing with it now should bring it under control but I would like to see a more preventive approach for people leaving to go to work,” she told news.com.au.
“I would add in wearing face masks in all of Melbourne as they are still allowing workers and students to move out of the hotspots.”
Prof McLaws said introducing the use of masks was important as Victoria had decided to take a “softer” approach with the lockdown by still allowing some people to move out of hotspots.
“If you were going for full eradication you would not allow people to leave at all for two weeks,” she said.
“But as this different approach is being used all of Melbourne needs to use their masks.”
Since the pandemic began the Federal Government has avoided calling for the general public to use face masks. But many experts are urging Melbourne residents to use masks with the Australian Medical Association yesterday adding its voice to the growing calls for masks use.
The decision to send parts of the state back into lockdown has been a controversial one, with many residents upset at facing another six weeks under tough restrictions.
Looking at the advice from WHO on when it is acceptable to start easing restrictions, it may seem that Victoria is being overly cautious in its approach.
One of the criteria outlined by WHO on whether lockdowns should be in place is determining whether spread of the virus is controlled.
The organisation suggests it is considered controlled if testing for COVID-19 show less than 5 per cent positive results for at least two weeks.
The percentage of positive tests for Victoria’s recent outbreak has consistently stayed below 1 per cent. In fact the highest percentage of positive tests in the past week was just 0.7 per cent.
Looking at these figures it may seem that Victoria’s decision to lockdown may have been too soon, but Prof McLaws said there was an issue with applying this advice to what is happening in Melbourne.
“One of the issues with interpreting this advice is that it is aimed at large country approach and areas with large populations,” she said.
“If we are looking at sampling within Victoria it looks low when you are looking at it through this lens but looking at it in the context of the hotspots it isn’t.”
For a small region like Melbourne, Prof McLaws said if authorities waited until the rate of positive tests was any higher then they may have “missed seeing other clusters emerge”.
“It is all about trying to stop the clusters from spreading further,” she said.
“From late May, moving into June and early July what you are seeing is large family clusters that then spill into workplaces and other family clusters.
“You have got background numbers but you have also got a tight community that now has easier spread of the virus because of their social connections.”