An army of up to 800 federal workers are on their way to Victoria to help in the fight against the coronavirus after the state recorded its highest case numbers since March.
Victoria recorded 75 new virus cases on Monday, the fourth highest number since the pandemic began and a five-fold increase in the past seven days (the number of new cases last Monday was 16).
The virus comes as other states grapple with opening their borders to Victorian travellers.
On Tuesday morning, South Australia scrapped a plan to lift all its remaining border restrictions next month amid the Victorian spike.
Premier Steven Marshall said the July 20 date to lift quarantine measures for Victoria, NSW and the ACT has been abandoned on the latest health advice.
He says the state may move separately on NSW and the ACT but can’t make any move in relation to Victoria in the current circumstances.
“Our number one priority is the health, welfare and safety of all South Australians. At this stage we cannot lift that border (with Victoria) on the 20th July as we were hoping to do,” the premier told reporters on Tuesday.
The ABC reported 70 Australian Defence Force personnel touched down in Melbourne overnight as premier Daniel Andrews continued to weigh up reintroducing restrictions including stay-at-home orders.
Professor Hamish McCallum from Griffith University’s School of Environment and Science said the state is experiencing a second wave of the virus.
“The question is whether it is a ripple, or the start of a tsunami,” he said.
“In addition to the increased testing, I think there is a case to lockdown the hotspot suburbs.”
The mayor of Melbourne’s Stonnington city council, Steve Stefanopoulos, said suburban lockdowns were impractical and won’t work, but the AMA’s vice president Dr Chris Zappala said they shouldn’t be ruled it out as a viable option, the ABC reported.
Meanwhile, the 10-day testing blitz continues in 10 suburbs: Albanvale, Broadmeadows, Brunswick West, Hallam, Fawkner, Keilor Downs, Maidstone, Pakenham, Reservoir and Sunshine West. They have all seen high levels of community transmission in recent weeks.
The next few days loom as critical as further measures to contain the virus are considered.
“It will get worse before it gets better,” Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said.
On Monday afternoon, prime minister Scott Morrison said he was set to discuss the growing crisis with Mr Andrews and was ready to help, leaving “no stone unturned and no resource left unapplied”.
“The Premier and I are very adamant that we do what is necessary to contain this outbreak,” he said.
“Victoria will lead that approach and they will be the final arbiter of what steps they take.
On Tuesday, the state requested help from the Australian government in the form of 800 workers.
One hundred team leaders will support co-ordination of the community door knocking happening in hotspot suburbs, 500 staff will form part of those community engagement and door knocking teams, and another 200 clinical staff are being sent to fixed testing sites.
The commonwealth clinical staff will allow for state clinical staff to join mobile testing in hotspots and surrounding suburbs.
“This is a public health bushfire – just as we help out other states in summer, help is coming from across the nation now – and we are grateful for that,” a Victorian government spokeswoman said in a statement.
The coronavirus outbreak “will get worse before it gets better”, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warned after the 75 new cases were revealed on Monday.
He expects to see “at least” just as many positive cases in the coming days as test results pour in.
More than 50,000 COVID-19 tests have been taken in the suburbs and Professor Sutton wants to see the results before deciding on any further measures to contain the virus.
Putting the suburbs into a second lockdown remains an option.
The last time more than 70 new cases were recorded in Victoria was on March 31, when the state was in its strictest lockdown stage.