A month-long localised lockdown of Melbourne’s coronavirus hot spots is reportedly being urgently considered as the state’s testing blitz comes to an end.
According to reports by the Herald Sun, health authorities and ministers are finalising details of a geographical lockdown limiting the movements of residents living in the 10 worst-affected suburbs in the city’s north, west and south east.
Calls are growing for a localised lockdown – focusing on the hot spots in Melbourne – rather than statewide restrictions coming back, with a decision from the Victorian Government expected this afternoon.
Victoria confirmed 64 new cases of coronavirus today, following 75 cases on Monday – its fourth highest daily total since the outbreak began earlier this year.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to reimpose lockdowns but did not rule it out for the state’s worst-affected areas.
“That is not our preference but we’ll do it if we need to,” Mr Andrews said.
The Premier said last week that authorities were waiting on the full results of the three-day coronavirus testing blitz in 10 suburban hot spots to come through before deciding on any further measures to contain the virus.
The state government also requested the help of 800 more defence force members, who arrived in Victoria late last night to help with the virus response.
UNSW epidemiology professor Mary-Louise McLaws today floated the idea of “ring fencing” in Melbourne, a measure that would stop people in the city’s worst-affected suburbs from spreading the virus further by keeping them in their hot spot region.
That could mean people would be prevented from leaving designated zones without special exemptions.
Speaking to the ABC, Prof McLaws said the “ring fencing” strategy had already worked well in China, including in Beijing when a coronavirus outbreak spread from a seafood market.
“They (China) put in place the ring fencing of cities, but have then instigated ring fencing in hot spots within cities, and the success of that emboldens my idea that this could be the way to go,” Prof McLaws said.
“Instead of a full lockdown of, say, a state or a full city, it’s ring fencing or shutting down hot spot areas.
“But it needs to be checked with people at the borders so that those of us who think that the rules don’t apply to us don’t leave or don’t enter for safety reasons. But it really does work. It’s not pleasant but it does work.”
The epidemiological expert, who also advises the World Health Organisation, called on the Victorian government to act “very rapidly” because of the virus’ 14-day incubation period.
Despite the push for localised lockdowns, Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said yesterday it might not be as easy as people hoped.
“We know what the consequences are of a lockdown in terms of fatigue in people’s behaviours and we don’t want to drive people out of suburban areas into new unaffected areas,” he told reporters.
“So there is a balancing act in terms of making the call on a lockdown. We know that it is a real challenge for businesses, it is a real challenge for people in their homes but it is absolutely an option and we flagged the possibility of using it and we will use it if it is required.”
Mr Sutton admitted it “was a possibility” that lockdown-fatigued Victorians could simply move out of their hot spot suburb and go somewhere else.
“It would be part of the new rule, to stay at home, that people would stay in their place of residence,” he said.
“But it would be a significantly difficult exercise to manage a stay-at-home order that is just about particular postcodes, particular suburbs or local government areas. So we have to think about all of those challenges in doing so.”
Public health officials have been doorknocking homes in Melbourne’s coronavirus hot spots and have encouraged anyone in the following suburbs to be tested: Keilor Downs, Broadmeadows, Maidstone, Albanvale, Sunshine West, Hallam, Brunswick West, Fawkner, Reservoir and Pakenham.