australia

Key factors that could determine longer lockdown

Acting Prime Minister James Merlino has hinted that Melburnians may face an extended lockdown, with the decision depending on these key factors.

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A longer lockdown seems increasingly likely amid stark warnings that Victoria’s growing Covid-19 outbreak “could get worse before it gets better”.

Eleven new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Monday, bringing the outbreak that plunged the state into a seven-day lockdown to 51 infections.

Health authorities warned they were “neck and neck” with the fast-moving super strain, as tracers grapple with hundreds of exposure sites and thousands of close contacts.

Acting Prime Minister James Merlino refused to rule out an extension of the lockdown, which would end on Friday.

He said that decision would depend not only on the number of cases, but also on the “type of cases,” including whether they were in a high-risk environment and linked to other known infections.

“There is no doubt that the situation is incredibly serious,” said Mr Merlino. “The next few days remain critical … this outbreak could get worse before it gets better.”

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the lockdown was being assessed “day by day” but the latest cases, particularly in aged care, were of concern.

“We are neck and neck with this virus, and it is an absolute beast,” said Prof Sutton. “It has been a fast-moving virus and the transmission that has taken place in those high-risk environments has been very significant.

“We could get some reassuring news… but things have come to us in the last 48 hours that are very concerning.”

Business leaders called for more clarity on when restrictions would ease, saying the best support the government could provide would be to allow them to trade.

“Businesses want as much notice as possible that the lockdown will end on Friday, but not even a notice period is preferable to staying closed,” said Paul Guerra, head of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “If this lockdown is lifted, we need to get back to the conditions we had last Monday to give Victorian affairs a good start from the blocks to economic recovery.”

Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said it seemed clear the lockdown would last “much longer” than seven days.

“It is a very worrying day for Victorians. The pretty clear message is that we can’t look forward to the easing of restrictions on Friday,” he said.

Hundreds of shoppers have been forced into isolation with the Brimbank Shopping Center on the corner of Neale and Station Roads in Deer Park, now listed as a Tier 2 exposure site. Anyone who was at the center on Friday should be tested and isolated until they get a negative result.

Anyone who went to the food court on that day is considered particularly high risk — with that area being a Tier 1 exposure site — and should be tested immediately and isolate for 14 days regardless of the outcome.

Prof Sutton refused to rule out the return of the “ring of steel” to separate Melbourne and regional Victoria, if the lockdown would be isolated to the metropolitan regions.

But police association secretary Wayne Gatt told the Herald Sun he was against the reinstatement of the steel ring.

“It provided a deterrent on major highways, but left opportunities on other access roads for people who wanted to break the regulations to do so quite easily,” Mr. Gatt said.

“If we put more police at checkpoints, it would dramatically affect our ability to manage other responses and bring an already tense force to unsustainable levels.”

With no confirmed cases in the regions, rural areas have called for easing restrictions there. “It (the steel ring) is not ruled out, it is not locked in,” said Prof Sutton.

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