The easing of coronavirus restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne will be delayed while health authorities await further test results from the city’s northern outbreak.
Victoria has recorded seven new coronavirus cases since yesterday, with six linked to the cluster in Melbourne’s north, and one healthcare worker.
There were no further deaths recorded, keeping the state toll at 817 and the national toll at 905.
“We had hoped today to be able to announce that metropolitan Melbourne would take significant steps … around retail, hospitality and a whole range of other important next steps,” Premier Daniel Andrews said at his Sunday morning press conference.
“We are not in a position to do that today because we have at least 1000 test results from that northern metropolitan outbreak that are in the labs. We will get those today, probably the balance of them tomorrow, and there will be additional testing conducted throughout the day.”
Mr Andrews stressed this is “not a setback”, but rather a “cautious pause” as authorities wait for additional test results.
“It is appropriate just to be doubly sure that there is not more virus out there in the northern suburbs than we think,” he said.
“I know it’s very frustrating, I know people were keen to have a long and detailed list of changes to the rules. It is not appropriate for us to do that now.
“Victorians have given too much, done too much, sacrificed too much to make a decision now.”
The regional average is at 0.2 while there are nine cases with an unknown source in Melbourne.
A reporter accused the premier of “dangling a carrot for Victorians” and today “hitting them with a stick”.
Mr Andrews denied misleading Victorians, saying he always stressed that “nothing can be guaranteed except… the data and the science”.
“We have come a long way, we all have, and the last thing any of us need to do now is to ignore the fact that there are cases in the northern suburbs, there are results that are pending and we do not have those processed tests,” he said.
“As soon as they are and as soon as we can establish that they are cases linked to each other, rather than some much bigger problem, potentially across the northern suburbs, then we will be able to not only announce the next steps, we can confidently take them and rather than that being midnight Tuesday, it may be midnight Wednesday.”
Mr Andrews also rejected the claim that the Victorian government does not have confidence in its contact tracing system.
“That is wrong. It’s not a fact, it is wrong. We would not have found the 11 households in very quick time, we would not have people isolated by the hundreds in their homes, and we would not be reporting cases in the 30s for this outbreak – it would be in hundreds.
“So that criticism is neither factual nor fair on the thousands of people who are out there, working their guts out to pull this thing up.
“If I haven’t been clear, that’s on me. We are on track for 1 November, we may get there before then.
“Today was to be a day where we made announcements, but we’re not in a position to do that until we get the test results at the labs as we speak.”
The premier said tens of thousands of tests needed to be processed and the results taken into account before any decisions were made.
The premier indicated health authorities would not lock down the affected suburbs as had been done in the past but rather may delay the easing of restrictions for the whole city.
About 800 residents in Melbourne’s northern suburbs have already been isolating because of the East Preston Islamic College outbreak, which began when a family supposed to be isolating mistakenly sent a child back to school.
“The notion that whenever something happens that ought not to happen, that is somehow a fundamental deficiency in our public health response is not fair,” he said.
More than 20,000 warnings have been sent via text and email to taxi and Uber drivers who might have visited the area, asking they go and get tested.
Health workers have been doorknocking homes and new drive-through testing sites are operating across three council areas in the northern region.
Further north, a number of secondary contacts at Sirius College in Broadmeadows and Ilim College are being tested after they were linked to separate close contacts of a confirmed case.
At present, Melbourne residents are allowed to travel up to 25km from home. They cannot have visitors to their home unless for caregiving.
On-site hospitality and non-essential retailers remain closed.
Outdoor gatherings are capped at 10 people from two households and face masks must be worn in public.
– Additional reporting by AAP.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
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