Number that shows Vic lockdown is failing
Victoria's coronavirus numbers are not falling as steeply as expected despite Melbourne's strict stage 4 lockdown being in place for two weeks.
But Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely told news.com.au that the numbers were not as low as hoped.
"On the five-day average graph, we reached a peak on July 30 and then plateaued one week to 10 days after mandatory masks were introduced," he said.
"Cases fell quite quickly in the week following August 4, quicker than I expected but then in the last week - which is seven days after stage 4 lockdown - it's actually slowed and that's what I find odd.
"It's still going down, which is good, but at this rate of progress we'll be lucky if we are at less than 50 cases a day by the end of the six-week lockdown."
The slower than expected decline could leave authorities with a tough decision to make at the end of the lockdown on September 13.
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There was hope Victoria would get its coronavirus case numbers down to low double digits or even single digits.
Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Associate Professor Julian Rait told Today on Monday that low double digits would be "very manageable" for contact tracers and Victoria could "look forward very likely to the measures being relaxed at that point".
"I think many of my colleagues would like to see zero numbers but I think more realistically if it got down into the low double digits or even perhaps the single digits, that would be very manageable," he said.
"The idea would be that at that point you could have very aggressive contact tracing and be able to find all the possible contacts an test and isolating them as required.
"So I think once the numbers get down to a very low level, it's a much more manageable situation than it currently is."
However, if Melbourne ends its stage 4 lockdown with Victoria still recording 50 cases a day, this would remain a challenge for contact tracers. In contrast, NSW is dealing with about 20 cases a day.
"I was certainly hoping for better than 50," Prof Blakely said. "But let's see how we go, maybe things will steepen up in the next week."
Prof Blakely, who previously warned Victoria may regret not going into a stricter lockdown earlier, said the slowing decline in cases may be due to continuing circulation among essential workers in industries such as aged care and health care.
"You've still got essential workers out there moving around, that's where the virus gets its hooks into and it will be hard to dislodge," he said.
Another factor could be that regional Victoria is only under stage 3 restrictions so this means the numbers are falling a bit slower, although this is unlikely to be a big factor as most of the state's population is located in the metropolitan Melbourne area.
VICTORIA HEADED FOR 'SUPPRESSION'
Victoria's slow case improvement also opens up the possibility that the state's lockdown may need to be extended, although this will ultimately come down to what its goal is.
Prof Blakely believes elimination of community transmission is still possible in Victoria but concedes it's now unlikely that authorities will go for this option due to the economic and social impacts of continuing a stage 4 lockdown.
"If we are going for elimination, 50 cases a day is not nearly low enough," he said.
"It does look like Victoria is headed for suppression land. To achieve elimination from here would be a big effort, it would take political and social leadership and it's possibly asking too much of the population."
If authorities decide to cut their losses and embrace suppression, then Prof Blakely said restrictions could be eased with 50 cases a day as long as the state's contact tracing was ready to work hard and keep cases to less than 100 a day.
"Maybe that's where we are headed now," he said. "We can take some hope from NSW, which has done extremely well with controlling its incursion to 10, 20 cases a day with light restrictions, contact tracing and luck - there's always some luck involved."
Last week, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews suggested the goal of elimination was not a real option, despite it being raised as the only way to return to normal life.
"The endpoint is to lower numbers and get numbers as low as possible so that we can have confidence that we can manage the inevitable outbreaks that will occur, and the inevitable transmission that we will see,'' he said.
Mr Andrews has shied away from guaranteeing that lockdown measures in Melbourne would be eased from mid-September but on Sunday he said he had "cautious optimism".
"I am always very cautious but there is, on my part at least, a cautious optimism and a sense of real hope that this strategy is working and that we are seeing numbers fall now," he told reporters.
Prof Blakely said the good news is that deaths should start falling in the next week, as cases have been falling since August 4, and people die on average about two weeks after their cases are notified.
"This suggests to me that we're about to see deaths go down, certainly in the next week we should start to see them fall reasonably well."
Originally published as Number that shows Vic lockdown is failing