Victorians are bracing for an extension of the state’s seven day “circuit breaker” lockdown today, as officials reveal the alarming way the virus is spreading.
The Victorian government has continually refused to confirm whether the lockdown will be extended past its end date of 11.59pm on June 3, but multiple media outlets have confirmed senior government ministers met overnight to discuss the next step.
Three new Covid-19 cases were confirmed on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections in the cluster to 54.
The lockdown extension is expected to be announced on Wednesday and is expected to remain in place until early next week, according to the Herald Sun.
A cabinet minister told The Age the highly transmissible nature of the B.1.617 strain seen in Victoria is one of the major reasons a lockdown extension is being considered.
This strain was first detected in India and has since spread to more than 40 countries, with the World Health Organisation identifying it as a “variant of concern” as it appears to be much more infectious than other strains.
Cabinet minister were reportedly told the options for a length of extension were between three and seven days, with a final call to be made on Wednesday morning.
On Monday, chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said Victoria was “neck and neck with this virus”, describing it as an “absolute beast”.
He said authorities were discussing the lockdown measures day to day, but the latest developments were “really concerning”.
“We’ve gone from a single case of the beginning of the month to 4200 primary close contacts,” he said.
“It has been a rapidly moving virus and the transmission that has occurred in those high-risk settings has been very substantial.
He said Victoria has to “prepare for anything” in the coming days.
‘Fleeting transmission’ a cause for alarm
Victorian authorities say people are becoming infected with covid after just “brushing past” strangers with the virus.
Testing Commander Jeroen Weimar said at least four of the state’s 54 locally transmitted cases have come from “fleeting” contact between Victorians.
“What we’re seeing now is people are brushing past each other in a small shop, they are going to a display home, they are looking at photos in a Telstra shop,” he said.
“This is relatively speaking, relatively fleeting. They do not know each other’s names, and that is very different from what we have been before.
“This is stranger to stranger transmission.”
Mr Weimar said this is a feature of the B.1.617 variant, saying it is “quite different” to the kind of of transmission Victoria is used to seeing, such as in homes, workplaces or any big social settings.
He said this is the “fastest moving outbreak” to hit Australia.
“This is the biggest outbreak … this year. It is one of the most, certainly the fastest moving outbreak we’ve seen anywhere in Australia. For a long time,” he said.
There are now more than 320 exposure sites across Victoria, with thousands of close contacts already sent into isolation.
Mystery cases are also another major cause for concern for health authorities, with contact tracers still struggling to figure out how a staff member, a woman in her 50s, at aged care facility Arcare contacted the virus.
The case was the first mystery case linked to the current outbreak.
“That of course is a significant concern for us, and we’ve got everybody focused on trying to identify where that’s come from and any other exposure that she may have had,” Mr Weimar said.
The woman worked at the facility on Wednesday and Thursday last week, authorities say.
It’s believed that she was infectious during this period, before she developed symptoms on Friday, when she immediately got tested.
Virus linked to multiple aged care settings
Multiple aged care facilities have been forced into lockdown after either recording Covid-19 cases or having staff linked to confirmed cases.
Menarock LIFE aged care in Heathmont was reportedly sent into lockdown yesterday
after a staff member was confirmed as a primary contact of a confirmed case.
The Age reports that an all-staff email confirmed the contact, with the site going into lockdown just before 6pm last night.
It follows other lockdowns at BlueCross Western Gardens aged care facility in Sunshine and Arcare Maidstone Aged Care Facility.
It comes after the government announced a five-day vaccination blitz for workers in aged care and the disability sector.
Starting from today and running until Sunday, employees in these areas will be given priority access to walk-in vaccination hubs.
New figures have confirmed that less than 10 per cent of the nation’s aged care workers are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, prompting a warning that “lives are at risk”.
The Department of Health revealed that only 32,833 aged care workers have received two jabs of the vaccine.
There are more than 300,000 Australians working in the aged care sector. The new figures also confirm that 39,874 aged care workers have secured one dose.