Metropolitan Melbourne will go into stage three lockdown for six weeks from 11.59pm on Wednesday after the state recorded 191 new cases of coronavirus since Monday, the highest daily increase since the pandemic began.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, announced that people living in the Melbourne metropolitan area and Mitchell shire would again be subject to restrictions, meaning they can only leave their house for work, education, exercise, for necessary goods or services or for medical or compassionate reasons until 11.59pm on Wednesday 19 August.
Andrews cited the rapid rise in cases in Melbourne and said it was unsustainable to keep the current restrictions in place.
“These are unsustainably high numbers of new cases, he said. “It is simply impossible with case rates at this level to have enough contact tracing staff, to have enough physical resources, no matter where they come from, no matter what uniform they wear, in order to continue to suppress and contain this virus without taking significant steps.
“If we were to fail to take those steps, then it won’t be a couple of hundred cases per day, it will be many more than that and will spiral well and truly out of control.”
Of the new cases, 37 are linked to outbreaks and 154 are under investigation. No cases have been detected in a returned travellers in hotel quarantine. There are now 772 active cases in Victoria, and 438 cases that may indicate community transmission has occurred. There are 35 people in hospital, including nine in intensive care.
Of the total cases since the virus emerged in the state, 2,469 cases are from metropolitan Melbourne, while 261 are from regional Victoria.
Of the cases announced on Tuesday, 13 are linked to outbreaks in the North Melbourne and Flemington public housing towers, with the total number of cases from those buildings now 69. Twelve of the new cases are linked to the Al-Taqwa college outbreak, with that total now at 90. Four new cases have been linked to the Northern hospital in Epping, with the total now nine from that cluster made up of eight health staff and one household contact of a staff member.
A new case has also been confirmed in a staff member at the Assisi aged care facility in Rosanna. The staff member did not work while infectious. Widespread testing of staff and residents will begin on Tuesday.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said there were about 5,000 close contacts being monitored by health officials at this stage. Andrews said Victoria was on the cusp of a second wave.
“We have to be realistic about the circumstances that we confront,” he said. “We have to be clear with each other that this is not over. And pretending that it is because we all want it to be over is not the answer. It is indeed part of the problem. A very big part of the problem.”
Under the reinforced restrictions, people will not be able to stay in their holiday homes (Victoria is in the middle of school holidays), but for those who have already gone on holiday, they will be allowed to complete their holiday then return home.
People would also not be permitted to exercise outside their area, Andrews said, if it was for daily exercise – not long hikes.
Residents will no longer be able to have any visitors in their home, save for those with whom they are in an intimate relationship, and outside gatherings can be of no more than two people save for those who live in the same household.
The detention order on the nine towers in Flemington and Kensington will be lifted once the residents have been tested and the chief health officer gives the all clear. After that the towers will be subject to the same restrictions as the rest of the Melbourne metro area.
“This is not going to last a moment longer than it needs to, to keep those residents safe and to have what I know are very, very challenging measures,” Andrews said. “But they are proportionate to the risk when you consider, as we’ve said many times, the fact that so many people in those nine towers are among some of the most vulnerable people in our Victorian community.”
The premier said the government was still considering how to treat those who test positive, and if they might be moved out of the towers at some later point.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has agreed to provide an extra 260 Australian defence force personnel to Victoria to assist the police in setting up road checks around the metropolitan edges of Melbourne. Andrews said not every car would be checked but police would use licence plate recognition technology to check cars leaving the area.
Years 11 and 12 will return to schools next week, along with specialist schools. The school holidays have been extended for everyone else for one more week, and Andrews said more announcements on the return to school would be announced down the track.
For essential workers, Andrews said, special school holiday programs would be extended.
On regional areas, Andrews said he was planning to announce a further easing of restrictions due to the lack of cases in those areas.
He said the six-week period was to give the virus three lifecycles. “If you are starting to see stability in low numbers, we’d have much greater confidence those are real numbers, rather than a false sense that the virus was not there any more or at such low levels that a suppression strategy would be able to work.”
Meanwhile, the NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, said 650 police were on their way to the border crossings to Victoria as the border is closed from midnight to prevent virus spread into the state. There is confusion, because the process to apply for exemptions to the travel ban has not been finalised. While people who wrongfully attempt to cross the border will be fined, the official public health orders have not been announced.
“We envisage the health orders will be ready sometime later this afternoon,” Fuller said. “Services New South Wales has been working overnight to have the technical solution in place so that people can start to apply for exemptions early this evening.
“We’ll put out warnings once that information is up on the New South Wales government website. If there is a failure in any of the technology between now and midnight Tuesday night, and you need to cross the border, you will need to be patient.
“But you should approach police and explain the situation and we’ll work with you.”
The NSW police minister, David Elliott, suggested that Victoria should pay for the border arrangements. Andrews responded that he didn’t know Elliott, and he dealt with the NSW premier, not her ministers.