Four people in Melbourne’s northern suburbs have tested positive to Covid-19 and anyone who attended a busy shopping centre has been told to isolate for 14 days, as health authorities plead with Victorians to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Victorian health authorities hope genomic sequencing will establish the source of the four new cases. South Australia and New South Wales have already imposed new travel restrictions on people with exposure to key sites in Melbourne.
Two of the cases were earlier on Monday reported as “likely positives”. They are a man who got a Covid test on Sunday after beginning to feel sick on Thursday 20 May and a relative – another man – who was tested at the same time and was asymptomatic.
Their close contacts – a woman and a child – were tested by health officials on Monday and returned positive results.
The four positive cases belong to the same family, spread across two households, in the Whittlesea local government area. Monday’s cases break Victoria’s three-month streak of no new community transmission cases.
Two tier one exposure sites have been identified, including Highpoint shopping centre – one of the largest shopping centres in Melbourne – from 5pm to 8pm on Thursday 20 May. Anyone who was at the shopping centre between those hours must get tested and isolate until further notice.
Anyone who attended Jump! Swim School in Bundoora from 8.55am to 10.15am on Friday 21 May also has to get tested and isolate for 14 days.
The Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, urged anyone who had any symptoms to get tested.
Foley also urged everyone eligible for the vaccine – which is currently everyone over the age of 50 and people under 50 with relevant comorbidities – to get vaccinated immediately.
“It is critical,” he said. “Vaccines are our passport out. We all need to step up and do what we can to keep ourselves safe, our family safe and our communities safe, particularly as we enter the high-risk period of winter. This is not a time to be complacent.”
Genomic testing is underway to determine whether the new cases are linked to the Wollert case – a man who tested positive in Melbourne on 10 May after completing 14-day hotel quarantine in South Australia.
Foley said a link was not ruled out, given the proximity of Wollert to the areas where the new cases live, but that the dates did not line up for any direct contact between the Wollert case and the new cases.
“So we cannot rule out if there is a missing link out there,” he said.
The minister said there was no current plan to impose a lockdown but as more information came to hand from contact tracers and genomic testing “the evidence will determine our response”.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the first man to test positive in the new cluster appeared to have a high viral load, and more positive cases were a possibility.
Sutton said the new cases were a reminder that Victorians should not become complacent, particularly during winter. Melbourne’s second wave took off during 2020’s winter.
“We will always be at risk until we have high vaccination coverage,” Sutton said.
“I know people have spoken about wanting to defer their vaccination because there is no community transmission because there are so few cases in Australia. But you never know what is around the corner.”
Queensland has urged anyone who has visited Melbourne in the past 14 days to get tested and isolate until they get a negative result. New South Wales has reminded travellers from Victoria to complete a declaration form confirming they have not been at any of the exposure sites. Anyone who has visited an exposure site and is in NSW is asked to call NSW Health.
The positive cases come after the publication of a new exposure site linked to the Wollert case.
On Saturday, Victorian health authorities said an electronic receipt on the man’s banking app showed that he attended the Woolworths supermarket at Epping on 8 May, the day that he developed symptoms – but Woolworths later identified the correct supermarket as the Woolworths at Epping North. Both supermarkets are in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
Anyone who attended Woolworths Epping North at the corner of Epping Road and Lyndarum Drive on 8 May between 5.40pm and 6.38pm must get tested and isolate until they get a negative result. As of Monday morning, 13 people who attended the supermarket have been identified and 10 have returned negative results.
The correct supermarket was identified after virus fragments were detected in the wastewater in the Epping and Wollert area on Friday.
The household contacts of the man identified as the Wollert case tested negative again overnight on Friday.
Foley stressed that the vaccine rollout, which he said was moving too slowly, was a federal government responsibility.
He said the Victorian mass vaccination centres were “nowhere near capacity”.
“We have stock ready to go and we are looking at the measures we can put in place to encourage more Victorians to get vaccinated earlier and quicker,” he said. “At the moment, there is plenty of capacity, plenty of people under 50, in 1B and 2A [priority groups] … so please, if you are out there and you are eligible, get vaccinated.”
Victorian health authorities said despite some media reports to the contrary there was no change to vaccine eligibility.
“Victoria’s focus is on priority population groups eligible under the commonwealth’s Covid-19 vaccination program,” a health department spokesperson said. “The department is regularly exploring options for new vaccination centre locations and has previously said that further locations will open.”
With the four new cases confirmed, South Australia will stop travellers who visited a number of locations in Melbourne’s north from travelling to SA.
NSW Health said in a statement on Monday afternoon that arrivals from Greater Melbourne would be required to complete a declaration form confirming they had not visited an exposure site.
Those in NSW who have been in Victoria since 10 May and attended one of the sites should contact authorities immediately, NSW Health said.
Prior to today, Victoria had gone 86 days without any cases of Covid-19 in the community. The Wollert case is not counted as the man contracted the virus in South Australia.
NSW recorded two cases of coronavirus in the community earlier this month.
To date, more than 370,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been delivered in Victoria.
Public health experts have warned that unless the rate of vaccination is increased, Australia could face a resurgence of Covid-19 cases in winter.
Full details of those exposure sites are listed on the health department’s website.
with Australian Associated Press