Following a critical 24 hours, Melbourne residents are expected to learn if a growing outbreak will trigger another lockdown or fresh Covid-19 restrictions.
Victoria’s acting premier James Merlino raised fears of a possible shutdown on Wednesday morning when reporting the Whittlesea cluster in Melbourne’s north had grown to 15 cases.
Merlino said the next 24 hours would be critical and would not rule out taking further action, ahead of a scheduled cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening.
While confident authorities have “run down multiple generations of transmission”, the chief health officer, Brett Sutton, was concerned about the amount of time positive cases have been out in the community.
He said any lockdown would be broad rather than confined to the city’s northern suburbs, with confirmed cases travelling to Bendigo and as far north as Cohuna on the New South Wales border.
“We’ve got significant spread of exposure sites at the moment so it’s not something that we would look to at a postcode level,” Sutton said.
There are now more than 70 exposure sites across Melbourne and regional Victoria, including the MCG and Marvel Stadium.
An infected person attended the Collingwood-Port Adelaide AFL game at the MCG on Sunday, while one was also at the North Melbourne-Essendon clash at Marvel Stadium later that same day.
A decision on crowd limits for this weekend’s AFL matches in Melbourne has been delayed, while the Rising festival has been cleared to go ahead for now.
It comes after a number of restrictions were introduced for greater Melbourne on Tuesday evening, including gathering limits of five people at homes and 30 in public and mandatory masks indoors.
Genomic sequencing shows the City of Whittlesea outbreak is linked to the case of a Wollert man, who contracted the virus in SA quarantine earlier this month.
An official SA report released on Wednesday found it likely he caught the virus through aerosol transmission due to the “close timing of doors opening and closing” from an adjacent room with an infected guest.
South Australia became the first state or territory to slam its border shut to greater Melbourne, while NSW and Queensland are urging residents to reconsider travel to the city and parts of regional Victoria.
Victoria last entered a five-day “circuit breaker” lockdown in February, when the virus escaped hotel quarantine and infected 13 people.
South Australia closed its border to travellers from greater Melbourne on Wednesday while the Northern Territory said it would shut its border to those travelling from hotspots from Thursday. NSW urged its residents to postpone non-urgent travel to the city.
Late on Wednesday, NSW Health revealed it was contacting people from a sporting club based in Tooleybuc, in the western Riverina region, who attended an event in Cohuna, Victoria, on Saturday.
“This event was attended by a confirmed case of Covid,” the health department said. “Anyone who attended is requested to immediately self-isolate and await further advice.”
Ballarat Health Services has also confirmed it was investigating a Covid test result after a returned traveller presented to the local hospital overnight.
Initial investigations suggest it may be a historic case and further testing was underway.
The individual and their close contacts, including staff and patients, were isolating “out of an abundance of caution”, BHS said in a statement.
Victoria’s health minister, Martin Foley, said record numbers of people were turning out for testing and had inquired about the vaccine.
“Yesterday we also saw a record number of calls to our vaccine hotline, and we want to see another record,” he said.
Sutton urged eligible Victorians to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“In terms of transmission risk, vaccination isn’t at the kind of levels that make a difference now to the speed of new generations of cases,” he said.
“We know many over 50s still have not had the vaccine and many will be booking now. Many turned up yesterday. There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, who can get vaccinated now and should get vaccinated now. The concerns about clots, I understand. This is the same vaccine – the AstraZeneca vaccine – that has been given to the UK, where they have now gone down from over 60,000 cases per day to 2,500 cases per day.
“It is getting over its pandemic through this vaccine. There is always a risk with medications and as far as the clots go with AstraZeneca, that is a small risk. AstraZeneca provides extremely good protection against hospitalisation and serious illness, so it is just worthwhile to get that vaccine.”