People living in six Melbourne local government areas identified as coronavirus hotspots should not be travelling interstate or regionally, in order to avoid spreading the virus, the nation’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says.
The councils, including Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Cardinia and Darebin have been identified as coronavirus hotspots based on figures showing more than 83 per cent of the new COVID-19 cases in Australia in the past seven days were recorded in Victoria.
The state on Monday recorded 16 new coronavirus cases, the sixth consecutive day of double-digit increases.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has advised against travel to and from those local government areas.
Professor Murphy told RN Breakfast the recommendation was a “strong advisory” that he did not want to see people from the six areas travelling regionally or interstate.
“School holidays are coming up so if you live in one of those areas, we don’t want you to fly to visit your family in Sydney or to go to country Victoria and potentially spread the virus,” Professor Murphy said.
“If you are coming from interstate and you have family in one of those areas, we would prefer you not to come and visit that area and potentially take the virus back [to a regional area].
Professor Murphy said he was confident Victoria would “get on top of this”.
“The message really is that this sort of complacency, which is understandable, after all these months of restrictions is dangerous,” he said.
Many Victorian independent schools are already on holiday, while the term ends on Friday for government schools.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, said the new advice did not constitute a “lockdown” and there were no legal directives.
However, he said it was important to limit travel to and from Victoria’s coronavirus hotspots to prevent the “seeding” of new cases of the virus into areas where there was none.
“It would be a very significant thing for there to be re-established community transmission, you know, in rural New South Wales or some other parts where that can be avoided,” he said.
“It’s not a lockdown. There aren’t legal directions that apply to these areas and it is a very broad descriptor.
“But it is sensible from a national perspective to say if these areas can be avoided … then just make a consideration about your travel plans for these areas.”
Jeff Springfield, the Mayor of Cardinia Shire, which is centred on Pakenham, south-east of Melbourne, said he found out his council was a hotspot when the AHPPC advice was made public on Sunday.
He is expecting to get more detail in a briefing with Victorian Government officials on Monday.
“It’s good to know where the cases are so we can focus on them,” Cr Springfield told ABC local radio.
Cr Springfield said with 100,000 residents in the shire, which covers 1,300 square kilometres, more detail was needed on how to approach the problem.
“The brush strokes are a bit too broad to say no travel to and from the Shire of Cardinia,” he said.
“Because we’ve got to isolate which communities they’re focusing on here and which suburbs so we can act on it.”
Hotspots home to almost one in five Victorians
Almost 18 per cent of Victorians live in the six hotspots and most of the new cases are linked to clusters within extended families, Victorian health officials said.
Tony Blakley, an epidemiologist and public health specialist at the University of Melbourne, said it was always part of the pandemic plan that some suburbs might have tighter restrictions than the rest of the state.
Until a vaccine was available, this would happen again and again, Professor Blakely said.
“This will be our new reality. And here is the severe conundrum — it’s just Victoria,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
He said the idea was to create “regional containment”, a more nuanced approach than a blanket shutdown.
“If you have children going to school outside of those areas then you probably shouldn’t be taking them to school in those areas,” he said.
“If you want to go shopping in those areas but don’t live in them, please don’t.
“If you’re a tradie and you’re moving into those areas to do your work or you’re a tradie living in those areas and you want to do your work please don’t.”
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
A Victorian Government spokesperson said people who lived in those areas should be “particularly vigilant”, adhering strictly to rules limiting the number of visitors to their homes, practising social distancing and getting tested if they display even the mildest symptoms.
“Our message to every Victorian remains clear — if you can work from home, you must work from home,” the spokesperson said.
Anyone who is placed into quarantine or is waiting for test results must strictly self-isolate for 14 days or until they are told they can leave the house.
The Victorian Government is providing a $1,500 payment for those who cannot rely on sick leave to stay at home.
Cinemas, gyms reopen, but other restrictions tighten
Despite the recent increase in new coronavirus cases, some restrictions are being eased.
Businesses including gyms, cinemas and theatres are allowed to reopen with a limit of 20 patrons per separate space.
Cafes, pubs, bars and clubs can once again sell alcohol without patrons having to order a meal.
However, plans to allow restaurants, cafes, libraries, museums, community halls and places of worship to host up to 50 people per space have been put on hold, with the 20-patron limit remaining in force.
Other restrictions are being tightened up.
The limit on gatherings in homes has been reduced from 20 people including the household to five visitors plus the household.
The limit on outdoor gatherings has been reduced from 20 people to 10 people.
The restrictions will be reassessed in three weeks.
Shoppers not waiting for test results, union claims
Workers in shopping centres are worried that they could be put at risk by the behaviour of some people who are not obeying directions to self-isolate until they receive their test results.
A worker at H&M in Northland tested positive to the virus last week and the union representing shop workers said there were disturbing signs that Victoria was on the verge of a second wave of infection.
Gerard Dwyer, the national secretary of the SDA, said while it was prudent COVID-19 testing centres had been set up at shopping centres, some people were not returning home to await the outcome of their test.
Nurses at the testing centres at Chadstone shopping centre told SDA representatives about half of the estimated 300 people tested on Saturday went into the shopping centre afterwards.
“The advice from health authorities is that those who do get tested should return home immediately and wait for their results,” he said.
“As shopping centres have failed to take the necessary action so far, it is time for government to step in.”
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