The Victorian government is under pressure to find a way of controlling the spread of COVID-19 in aged care homes and hospitals in the greater Melbourne region in Australia’s south.
Premier Daniel Andrews has not ruled out plans to enforce stage four lockdown measures but is not looking at that right now.
“We, of course, plan for every single contingency. But it’s well too early for us to be moving to a whole new stage,” Andrews said at a press conference with Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton and Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on July 16.
Since the start of the stage three lockdown on July 7, Victoria has had confirmed COVID-19 case numbers in the triple figures with the highest on record being 317 on July 16.
The state’s total number of COVID-19 cases now stands at 4,750 with 2,128 being classed as active.
A growing number of these new virus cases have appeared at aged care homes with 39 facilities now having active cases in Victoria.
Chief medical officer Brett Sutton revealed that 80 new COVID-19 cases were tied to four aged care homes, 31 of which are from Menarock Life in central Melbourne.
Sutton noted his concern based on global statistics for aged care deaths.
“Aged care deaths contributed to a third or a half of deaths in European countries,” he said.
There have been two more deaths due to COVID-19 in hospitals, two gentlemen in their 80s, now making it 29 total deaths in Victoria.
Some have argued 29 deaths is a low enough rate to ease restrictions as it is lower than an average flu season, but Sutton says new virus cases and deaths would be much higher if it weren’t for the measures currently in place.
“And so the idea that 29 deaths is nothing and that we can lift all restrictions and that we can let it run is absurd,” Sutton said.
People admitted to hospital for COVID-19 has swelled from 5 to 109 in the last four weeks. A quarter of these patients are in ICU.
Sutton said that if the government decides to move to stage four lockdowns, it will be based on seeing where ongoing COVID-19 transmission is occurring.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on July 15 that avoiding such restrictions should be the objective in Victoria and the rest of the country.
“Our goal as a country, and whether it’s as a Victorian or a Melburnian, is to avoid having to go to higher levels of lockdown,” Hunt said.
“All of these people are doing it tough as it is already. Higher levels of lockdown would mean even greater hardship for individuals, mental health, social isolation, the elderly who’ll be isolated,” he said.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said in the press conference that the Victorian health system was starting to feel the effects of the recent outbreak and the government would now be making changes to elective surgery to meet growing demand.
“We will pause all category three surgery across our hospital system, and our hospitals that were reaching a close to 90 percent of normal activity will now pause at 75 percent, so this is for all Metropolitan public hospitals,” she said.
Mikakos said since January the government has invested at least $1.9 (US$1.32) billion in ICU beds, PPE and other medical equipment, and staff training for Victoria.