The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee shares the concern expressed by Victoria on the current state of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Commonwealth and jurisdictions have been assisting Victoria with the public health response.
Case numbers in Victoria have remained persistently high despite a range of measures introduced in the past few weeks. Modelling shows that the estimated effective reproduction number in Victoria is likely to be around 1, indicating a substantial proportion of transmissions are being prevented by the current public health interventions. It is recognised that the current measures have imposed a major burden on the Victorian people. For case numbers to fall substantially, however, more transmissions need to be prevented.
On current trends, it is likely that a return to a manageable number of daily cases would take months. Without further action, risks include the further spread of infections into regional Victoria and to other jurisdictions; ongoing complex outbreaks with an unacceptable level of illness and death; and an unsustainable duration of Victorian stage 3 restrictions leading to lengthy social and economic disruption. The continued situation in Victoria has national implications.
The AHPPC support Victoria’s announcement that restrictions will be intensified and broadened geographically. This means implementing more extensive restrictions in areas with community transmission and some further restrictions in regional Victoria. All work that can be performed remotely must be done so. Permitted workplaces should enhance their COVID-safe operations. Testing, case investigation, contact notification and supports to facilitate isolation and quarantine should continue to be strengthened. Of particular importance, people who are confirmed cases must remain in isolation until advised otherwise by health authorities.
Ultimately, it is the Victorian people who are key to preventing transmission. While compliance checks and enforcement are necessary, widespread adherence requires clear messaging and community engagement. By further limiting activities, movement and interactions of people; enhancing personal hygiene (including hand hygiene and wearing masks); staying home if unwell; seeking testing and isolating until results are available; and following public health directions, case numbers should decline substantially over coming weeks.
Community engagement efforts with culturally and linguistically diverse groups and other at-risk populations must continue to be a priority. This requires ongoing partnership with community members, understanding their needs and enabling them to support each other to protect themselves.