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Australia Melbourne's path out of COVID-19 restrictions was looking clear — then suddenly it wasn't

01:11  11 june  2021
01:11  11 june  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Melbourne recorded four new COVID - 19 cases on Thursday. And concerningly, the source of the infections is still under investigation. The four cases are all from one household in Reservoir, in Melbourne ' s north. This tweak to the restrictions was described as "a small thing" by Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng who said masks were effective at limiting the risk of COVID - 19 's spread. " It 's just a small thing we can do to help prevent infection as everything else starts to move again," he said.

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Melburnians are awaking to some welcome new freedoms today after a tough two-week "circuit-breaker" coronavirus lockdown.

And until yesterday, the city's path out of further restrictions had been looking promising.

But with the emergence of four new cases yesterday, suddenly things weren't so clear cut.

The new cases were unwelcome news on Melbourne's last day of lockdown and authorities swiftly walked back their positive attitude about Melbourne's restrictions easing again in a week.

Here's what we know.

It was looking OK for a moment

On Wednesday, the Acting Premier said Melbourne was ready to take its first small steps out of lockdown while resisting calls from business for a "snapback" to an open economy sooner.

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But Victoria' s COVID - 19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said that did not mean they were exempt from the rules. "Anyone who wants to relocate also has to be compliant with restrictions in other states," Mr Weimar said. He said that was the precise reason why stay at home orders were put in Professor Cheng said authorities were continuing their investigation into how the Delta strain jumped from a returned traveller from Sri Lanka into the community to start the West Melbourne outbreak. No link has been found yet, but he indicated authorities had largely ruled out the theory that the traveller

Covid - 19 testing centre in Melbourne on May 26, 2021. © AFP / William WEST. Follow RT on. In lieu of effective policy, public health officials have weaponised lockdowns in the fight against Covid - 19 , and many Aussies, used to foreign bugs and viruses, have complied, but their patience and trust have finally run out . Earlier this week, a packed school bus full of frightened children was pulled over by police, everyone was told to stay on board, and the familiar blue-and-white tape encircled the vehicle as officers decided how to tackle what must have appeared to onlookers to be a serious crime scene.

James Merlino also confirmed the plan to further ease restrictions again from 11:59pm on Thursday, June 17, and end Victoria's metro-regional divide.

"This is a good day. Everyone should be absolutely proud of what we've all achieved together," he said.

"Subject to the public health advice, the epidemiological conditions through the next week, we expect next Thursday night the regional-metro divisions will come down and we'll be able to travel more freely around the state again."

The now-familiar caveat remained: "We know that this isn't over yet and until we have widespread vaccination across Victoria and across our country, the virus will still be with us."

Wednesday's announcement confirming easing restrictions came after Victoria recorded one new locally acquired COVID-19 case, which was linked to Stratton Finance at Port Melbourne, on Tuesday. Authorities were reassured the person had been quarantining during their infectious period.

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Why many Melbourne COVID restrictions are staying despite lockdown ending. " It 's very, very disruptive in a border community, because then you've got to put in place processes, checkpoints, that affect Professor Bennett said if it turned out the couple had no exemption to travel, it raised concerns for Melbourne ' s COVID - 19 restrictions may have to stay 'a little longer' after 4 new cases reported.

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What changed?

Melbourne recorded four new COVID-19 cases on Thursday. And concerningly, the source of the infections is still under investigation.

The four cases are all from one household in Reservoir, in Melbourne's north.

New exposure sites were added in Thomastown, Bundoora and Reservoir.

As a result, Melbourne's move to what some had dubbed "lockdown lite" was changed, with a restriction requiring Melbournians to continue wearing masks outdoors added back in.

This tweak to the restrictions was described as "a small thing" by Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng who said masks were effective at limiting the risk of COVID-19's spread.

"It's just a small thing we can do to help prevent infection as everything else starts to move again," he said.

Authorities are now hunting for the source of these four new cases.

It was not yet known which variant — Kappa or Delta — the four people had, and there were no theories yet on how they could have become infected.

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Why many Melbourne COVID restrictions are staying despite lockdown ending. "We know that if antibody levels are very high, you've been exposed to the virus for at least 10 days. "The course of COVID - 19 is around two weeks — 10 to 14 days — so if you have high antibodies you're likely to be at the latest stages of infection." Professor McMillan said people who are infected would still typically feel symptoms around day five but could be infectious from day three — and be at their most infections from days seven to 10.

However, Professor Cheng noted their relative proximity to the City of Whittlesea and its outbreak.

Authorities had already tested several of their close contacts, who had so far returned negative results.

But he said the major concern with the Reservoir household was the "upstream" risk of the case that had infected them, rather than them potentially passing the infection on to someone else.

Now what are authorities saying?

The tone at yesterday's media conference was notably less buoyant than on Wednesday.

Professor Cheng said public health authorities were continuing to monitor the situation "day by day".

They now say the current restrictions could extend beyond a week.

But Professor Cheng said that would depend on the trajectory of the outbreak.

"Depending on how things go in the next week … it is very much a day-by-day proposition," he said.

"We many need to hold at the current settings for a little longer.

"So while it's the judgement of the public health team that we are in a position to ease restrictions, these [four] new cases are really the strongest reminder that we are by no means out of the woods yet.

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"Once we get down to small numbers, what happens next is very dependent on who those last cases are, what they do and how infectious they are."

What will determine the outcome?

A key factor will be whether contact tracers can find the link for these four cases.

Public health authorities will also be watching whether more new cases emerge in people who are not already isolating, and whether or not they can be connected to the outbreak and are not mystery cases.

University of New South Wales epidemiologist, Mary-Louise McLaws said yesterday's four new unlinked cases were "concerning".

But she said authorities were taking a careful approach to lifting restrictions.

"They've done a very good job to date," Professor McLaws said.

"They put their restrictions in very rapidly … I think they're lifting some restrictions very carefully with great consideration.

"You would have expected them to have no cases, but they're not lifting the restrictions for travel, which is very sensible … they're keeping masks on, they're keeping numbers in gatherings in weddings and funerals to a minimum with masks on, so they're doing a lot of sensible things."

Professor McLaws, who is also a World Health Organization adviser, said sewage testing would also be important.

Wastewater detection is considered an early warning system, and last night Victorian health authorities announced new positive COVID-19 viral fragment detections in wastewater samples taken in the Pascoe Vale, Scoresby and Vermont areas.

"These new detections are of interest as there are currently no confirmed COVID-19 cases in those areas," the department said.

The wastewater detections may be due to someone who has had COVID-19 who is no longer infectious but is continuing to shed the virus.

However, the detections could instead be due to an active but undiagnosed infectious case or cases.

"If they haven't seen any [cases] in the wastewater catchment areas, that'll be of concern and then they'll ask people to come out for testing," Professor McLaws said.

She praised Victorians for being "tolerant", well-behaved" and "very cooperative" during the lockdown.

"I think as soon as there seems to be any other problem, they'll [Melburnians] go back to restrictions — not happily but they'll go back cooperatively," she said.

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