Three suburban contact tracing hubs to be set up next week
“It’s important to set these teams up [and] do it properly,” Mr Andrews said.
“The inevitable outbreaks we’ll see as a result of the wildly infectious nature of this virus – that localised response, that ever faster response because of the input of local knowledge, will really come into its own when we’re trying to keep already low numbers even lower, or at least to maintain them so that we can maintain that COVID-normal.”
Western Health will lead the response in Melbourne’s west, while Austin Health will be the lead agency in the north-east. Monash Health, which has already set up a local contact-tracing team to contain the Casey cluster, will expand its current services and continue its lead role.
The Victorian government announced the new model more than two weeks ago but was yet to provide details about the new suburban hubs or the location of two public health units it planned to set up.
Although the decentralised system has proved successful in NSW, where daily infection rates have been kept down to the high-teens and low-20s while the state remained relatively open, epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said Victoria was still not ready to relax restrictions sooner than planned.
“Even if you had the best and an endless supply of contact tracers, Victoria has had a large problem where at the peak you were at 467 cases on average per day,” Professor McLaws said.
“[The suburban contact-tracing model] is only a part of the answer. The other part of the equation is that Victoria never got to the ‘green zone’ – they always had a challenge, from being in the ‘amber’ and ‘red’ zone.”
“The [road map] is a very safe plan because by lifting them all, you would be lifting them without any science,” Professor McLaws said.
“It would say you’re hurting emotionally and financially, but that supersedes the hurt of transmitting a deadly disease.”
Mr Andrews said Melbourne was “absolutely on track” to take its next step out of lockdown on September 28, after the state recorded 28 new coronavirus cases – 24 of those linked to known outbreaks in aged care – and three deaths.
The new cases bring the 14-day rolling average down 32.8 for Melbourne and 1.6 for regional Victoria.
The Premier said the detail of Melbourne’s first significant step out of lockdown on Sunday night “isn’t settled”.
“This is a matter that will be informed by the data I have just reported, plus tomorrow’s numbers, and so on and so forth,” Mr Andrews said.
Asked if that meant businesses would only get a day’s notice, the Premier said the government was in “deep conversations and ongoing conversations” with industry representatives.
“I wish I could provide an absolutely definitive answer today [about] what was going to happen,” he said. “That is not the nature of this thing. There are many wicked things to this virus.”
with Zach Hope and Paul Sakkal
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.