Victorian Cases Plateau as Lockdown Hopes Fall

Victorian Cases Plateau as Lockdown Hopes Fall
Empty streets of the city are seen in Melbourne, Australia, on July 27, 2020. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

As new outbreaks slow the downward trend of COVID-19 infections in Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews is set to appear at his 100th consecutive press conference.

On the first day of his media marathon it was July 3 and the state reported 66 fresh cases.

Ten "hotspot" postcodes in Melbourne were already back in lockdown and Andrews was a day away from sending police in to shut down nine public housing towers.

Five days later, Melbourne and Mitchell Shire residents were back under strict stay-at-home orders. The second wave was in full swing.

Three months on, daily cases have been falling steadily but restrictions on daily life have barely changed.

Strong hopes of an easing of restrictions on October 19, a date flagged by the premier in previous weeks, have dissipated.

Growing outbreaks linked to Chadstone Shopping Centre, a cafe in Kilmore and Box Hill hospital are making daily case numbers plateau.

Melbourne needs a 14-day average of five cases and no more than five mystery cases during the same period, to trigger the next step out of lockdown.

The city's current average is 9.4.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said on Friday the plateau was frustrating but he remained upbeat about the overall trend.

"We will get on top of these outbreaks, we always do," he said.

The Butcher Club cluster at Chadstone numbers 32 cases, up one from Thursday, and has led to five cases nearly 100km away at Oddfellows cafe in Kilmore, after an infected person linked to the Chadstone outbreak dined there.

One Chadstone case who lives in Frankston has led to a cluster of 12 in that suburb, who are mostly family members.

An outbreak at Box Hill Hospital in Melbourne's east has grown to four cases. Prof Sutton said staff are being tested but could not say how the outbreak started.

Meanwhile, questions continue to be asked about who made the fateful decision to use private security guards for the state's hotel quarantine program which ultimately led to the second wave.

On Friday, Andrews had to repeatedly brush off questions from Sky News presenter and former chief of staff to prime minister Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin, about his phone records.

She put to him during his daily press conference that he could, of his own accord, release his phone records from March 27 and potentially clear up the question of who decided to use private security.

Andrews said he would not do anything outside the formal inquiry process, saying, "if they want to make a request of me then they are free to do so".

Meanwhile, Victoria's former health minister Jenny Mikakos has told the state's hotel quarantine inquiry the premier's evidence about private security should be "treated with caution".

In her response to closing submissions, Mikakos says it is "implausible" to suggest no one made the decision to use private security guards in the botched program.

Lawyers assisting the inquiry have argued the decision was not made by one person or one government department and circumstances instead pointed to a "creeping assumption that became a reality".

However, in closing submissions to the inquiry on Friday, the hotel where the second wave originated, the Rydges Hotel, submitted that a "creeping assumption" was not supported in the evidence.

"A positive decision from within the Department of Premier and Cabinet is directly supported by the contemporaneous evidence," the hotel stated.

Andi Yu in Melbourne