Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has urged Victorians to remain alert for coronavirus symptoms after the virus was unexpectedly detected at sewage sites around Melbourne.
He has also called for people to ignore the anti-vaccination movement, saying that the vaccination program is “our way out of this” pandemic.
As Australia prepares to roll out the first round of vaccinations on Monday, anti-vaccination protesters gathered in capital cities and regional towns across the nation.
Organisers claim they are “against mandatory COVID vaccinations” but health experts have already rejected calls for mandatory jabs.
In South Yarra’s Fawkner Park, several hundred people gathered just before midday on Saturday. They were watched by more than 100 police, who kept their distance on the edges of the group.
No new COVID-19 cases across state
Victoria has recorded no new locally acquired cases of coronavirus and no new cases in hotel quarantine just days after emerging from a snap lockdown.
There were 17,701 tests processed on Friday and there are now 25 active coronavirus cases across the state, Health Minister Martin Foley said.
“The numbers are positive, the numbers are indicating that we are getting on top of this,” Mr Foley said. “But it is not over yet.”
Restrictions in place across Victoria – including indoor mask-wearing and caps on gatherings – will be reviewed at the end of next week, Professor Sutton said.
He said the viral fragments at new sewage sites could be the result of a recovered case still shedding the virus, or it may be a sign of something more concerning.
“When we get detection in sewage it might mean that it is a recovered case, but it can also mean that we have missed someone because they are positive because they haven’t yet been tested,” Professor Sutton said.
These are the locations that the virus has been detected in wastewater:
- Wantirna South, Boronia and parts of Bayswater, Ferntree Gully, Knoxfield and Tremont (February 13 to 15)
- St Kilda East, Caulfield North, Caulfield, Balaclava and Elsternwick (February 13 to 16)
- Carrum Downs, Langwarrin and Skye (February 13 to 17)
Ignore ‘fervent’ anti-vaxxers, says Sutton
Professor Sutton said that having virtually no community transmission in Australia offered a false sense of security. However, he said without a vaccination rollout, the alternative would be to have a formal hotel quarantine system in place forever.
“I think people will, over time, see that the vaccine is working and that it is protecting individuals and that we are not seeing issues of quality and safety and there will be an increase in confidence,” he said.
Professor Sutton also revealed a new study in Israel had shown ‘early signs’ of vaccines significantly reducing transmission.
He urged all hesitant Australians with questions about vaccines to seek out trusted health information and advised people to ignore the concerns of ‘fervent’ anti-vaxxers.
“Fervent anti-vaxxers are in a really small minority … I am going to ignore them, frankly, and I would encourage you to do the same.”
“It is legitimate to ask questions and I would encourage all those individuals who have seen information that they are unsure about the legitimacy of that information to go to trusted individuals, go to your GP … go to trusted information sources.”
Holiday Inn cluster
There are now 3000 primary close contacts from the Holiday Inn cluster, Mr Foley said. The cluster, he said, “was far from being over” and warned more cases could emerge.
“Another day of no locally acquired cases does give our public health team increasing confidence that the Holiday Inn cluster is increasingly under control. Far from being over, vigilance needs to be maintained,” he said.
Fifty-nine contacts are from immediate households, 1361 are from listed exposure sites, including Terminal 4 at Melbourne Airport, and the remainder are from hotel quarantine.
“We are making significant progress in clearing those primary close contacts at Melbourne Airport,” Mr Foley said.
On Friday, the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn coronavirus cluster grew to 22 cases, and one person was admitted to intensive care. That person remains in a stable condition, Mr Foley said on Saturday.
The Department of Health has not revealed the patient’s age, gender or how the person was linked to the Holiday Inn outbreak.
The three new locally acquired cases of coronavirus reported on Friday – a child and two parents – were traced back to the family’s stay at the quarantine hotel at Melbourne Airport.
One of the adults and the child had quarantined at the hotel in early February after returning from overseas.
The pair were housed on the third floor of the Holiday Inn, the same level as a man is his 30s who used a nebuliser.
Health authorities believe he is the index case of the outbreak.
With Hanna Mills Turbet and Daniella Miletic