Hope for further significant easing of coronavirus restrictions in Victoria on Sunday are in doubt as an outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs grows.
Victoria recorded seven new cases on Saturday, six linked to known outbreaks, prompting the government to order all staff and students from two schools in north-east Melbourne to immediately get tested for Covid-19.
Four of the new cases were diagnosed in suburban Preston including a student from East Preston Islamic College (EPIC).
Students at both EPIC and the nearby Croxton School attended classes while infectious, requiring all staff, students and family members from both campuses to get tested and self-isolate, even if they are not experiencing symptoms.
This has led to thousands of tests being processed over the coming days, with the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, suggesting that no major decisions of restrictions would be made until those results were known.
Melburnians have been eagerly awaiting Sunday with Andrews set to make the call on if hospitality and retail businesses can open their doors early next week.
But the premier said the long-awaited easing of restrictions announcement on Sunday should not be “banked on”.
“I just want to caution people from banking that tomorrow I’ll be making a whole series of detailed announcements about opening up,” he told reporters on Saturday.
“It will be a very late night and a very early morning, so we can get as many results on the table so that we can have the most complete picture available to us.
“It would be wrong to call people to test and then make decisions without having looked at those test results.”
Andrews suggested that health authorities would not lock down or ring-fence affected suburbs as had been done in the past, but rather might delay the easing of restrictions for the whole city.
Victoria did not record any deaths on Saturday and active cases throughout the state dipped below 100 for the first time since 19 June.
The EPIC outbreak began when a family supposed to be isolating mistakenly sent a child back to school.
But Andrews disputed media reports that the family, and others in the area for whom English is a second language, were not given the translation support they needed.
“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.
Victoria’s head of testing and community engagement, Jeroen Weimar, said community, faith and school leaders had been helping get the message out – personally calling hundreds of members of their communities to ensure they were being tested and isolating.
More than 20,000 warnings have also been sent via text and email to taxi and Uber drivers who might have visited the area, asking they present for testing.
Weimar said the infected student at Croxton, a special education school in Northcote, was not yet linked to the wider northern suburbs outbreaks.
“They are part of a family of four … all positive,” he said. “That family of four are not connected to the households that we’ve been dealing with in the northern metro outbreak. We’re still trying to establish the exact link if any.”
The average number of daily cases in the fortnight up to Friday was five for metropolitan Melbourne and 0.2 in regional Victoria. This notionally brings the city to the threshold required to progress to the next step of the recovery roadmap.
Andrews’s comments came a day after 16 people were arrested and 96 fines issued during an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne, which at times erupted into violent scuffles between police and demonstrators.
New South Wales recorded five new cases on Saturday but all were from returned travellers in hotel quarantine. It was the second day in a row with no new locally acquired cases.
In Queensland, health officials are working to determine the strain of Covid-19 infecting the crew of a cargo ship anchored off the Sunshine Coast.
The MV Sofrana Surville was blocked from docking in Brisbane after New Zealand warned it could be carrying a new strain of the virus.
Initial testing found two of the Sofrana’s 19 crew members were infected and they were transferred to a mainland hospital on Friday.