Victorian authorities say people are becoming infected with covid after just “brushing past” strangers with the virus.
Testing Commander Jeroen Weimar said at least four of the state’s 54 locally transmitted cases have come from “fleeting” contact between Victorians.
“What we’re seeing now is people are brushing past each other in a small shop, they are going to a display home, they are looking at photos in a Telstra shop,” he said.
“This is relatively speaking, relatively fleeting. They do not know each other’s names, and that is very different from what we have been before.
“This is stranger to stranger transmission.”
He said the ease with which the virus is spreading may be a feature of the Indian variant.
“We are used with previous variants, we are more used to transmission roccurring in the home, in the workplace, where people know each other already, not all of those big social settings,” he said. “These are quite different.”
“We have seen transmission in these places with very fleeting contact. We have transmission in places like the Telstra store in South Melbourne, JMD Grocers, the display home we talked about a few days ago, I’d add Craigieburn Central shopping centre.
“They are all examples of transmission with very limited contact. With previous variants, we are more used to transmission occurring in the home, in the workplace, where people know each other already, not at all of those big social settings. These are quite different.”
If anyone has been to any of the following sites in the past two weeks, they should come forward and get tested:
• Craigieburn Central
• Bay Street shops in Port Melbourne
• Clarendon Street in the South Melbourne
• Pacific Epping, also known as the Epping Plaza
• The Epping North shopping centre
• Broadway Reservoir
Will lockdown be extended?
With nine new cases of coronavirus confirmed on Tuesday, Victoria’s “incredibly serious” outbreak has the entire state concerned.
Six of those were cases we already knew about yesterday, meaning there are 63 active cases in Victoria, including 54 in the current outbreak.
However, there are growing fears the emergence of so-called “mystery cases” could mean Victoria’s lockdown will extend well past the Thursday deadline.
This comes after at least one of Monday’s cases has been dubbed a “mystery case”. That case came from the Arcare Maidstone aged care facility in Melbourne’s north.
Acting Premier James Merlino refused to rule out extending the lockdown, due to end on Friday.
He said that decision would depend not just on case number but the “type of cases”, including whether they were in a high-risk setting and linked to other known infections.
“There is no doubt the situation is incredibly serious,” Mr Merlino said. “The next few days remain critical … this outbreak may well get worse before it gets better.”
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said the lockdown was being reviewed on a “day by day” basis but that the latest cases, particularly in aged care, were concerning.
“We are neck and neck with this virus, and it is an absolute beast,” Prof Sutton said. “It has been a rapidly moving virus and the transmission that has occurred in those high-risk settings has been very substantial.
“We could get reassuring news … but we’ve had some stuff come to us in the last 48 hours that’s very concerning.”
Mystery case being investigated
Contact tracers are still trying to figure out how a staff member at Arcare, a woman in her 50s, picked up the virus.
The case was revealed by Victoria’s Covid-19 testing response commander Jeroen Weimer on Sunday.
RELATED: Why Melbourne’s lockdown will last ‘a lot longer’
“We are testing everybody else within that facility today, we should have some results on that soon, and that will tell us an awful lot about what exposure has been,” he said.
This one case was “the first mystery case that we’ve seen in this particular outbreak,” he continued.
“That of course is a significant concern for us, and we’ve got everybody focused on trying to identify where that’s come from and any other exposure that she may have had.”
The woman worked at the facility on Wednesday and Thursday last week, authorities say.
It’s believed that she was infectious during this period, before she developed symptoms on Friday, when she immediately got tested.
“We are so, so grateful to her for doing the right thing,” Mr Weimar said.
She had received a first, but not a second, dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
The mystery case is fuelling speculation Victoria’s lockdown could be extended further.
Epidemiologist Professor Mary Louise McLaws told the ABC on Monday she didn’t believe the state would be free by Friday as planned.
“We have a very high, very rapid increase over a short period of time,” she told the broadcaster.
“I know this lockdown costs a billion a week and that would make the authorities very anxious about extending it but … it has to go certainly for 14 days.”
RELATED: ‘Can’t believe it’: Aged care worker stunned
Meanwhile, Health Minister Greg Hunt said 85 per cent of residents in private aged care facilities and 100 per cent in Victorian residential facilities have been vaccinated.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick says that the vaccination rates at the Maidstone facility are an indication of Canberra’s “go-slow culture” on aged care.
“The hindsight of almost 2000 Victorian aged care residents contracting Covid-19, 655 resident deaths and more than 1600 aged care workers infected was not enough to motivate the Morrison government into urgent action,” she told ABC Radio.
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