After days of increases, Saturday’s case count of 190 was lower than the 208 recorded on Friday.
The next few days will be crucial in determining where the state’s outbreak is heading, said Professor Nancy Baxter, with a risk the situation could surpass the NSW outbreak if people didn’t respect public health restrictions, which mean people have to largely stay within five kilometres of their home.
The head of Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health said she was concerned some people had interpreted Wednesday’s news that the state was departing from a “COVID-zero” strategy as a sign they could be more relaxed in their behaviour.
Professor Baxter said it was especially crucial that Melburnians not travel to regional Victoria, as hospitals there didn’t have capacity to deal with major outbreaks.
There are plans to ease restrictions in the regions, and Professor Sutton said while the “ring of steel” would not be reinstated, Victoria Police would be monitoring routes from the city.
In NSW, where a Delta outbreak has been growing since June, there are now more than 1000 COVID patients in hospital, including 173 people in intensive care. Worrying stories are emerging from the stressed hospital system, where beds are being established in a makeshift ICU and nursing ratios watered down.
Tragically, the state continues to report deaths in unvaccinated older people, who had been eligible for a vaccination for months.
In Melbourne, the northern and western suburbs continue to report the highest number of cases. There were 96 reported in the northern suburbs on Saturday and 55 in the west, compared to 25 in the south-east and inner-south.
The head of Monash University’s epidemiological modelling unit James Trauer called for a greater focus on vaccinating younger essential workers, who were transmitting the virus.
Associate Professor Trauer said the situation in NSW was the clearest indication of where numbers were heading, but given Victoria had proven vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks, the state may need an even higher rate of vaccination to stem the outbreak.
“Melbourne, being a colder and more temperate big city, has always just had more trouble,” he said.
“I suspect that [the numbers will] go up substantially over the coming weeks and we’ll see quite a lot of hospitalisations, which is a bit scary.”
Victoria is significantly behind NSW when it comes to first doses of COVID vaccines. About 72.6 per cent of people in NSW have received at least one dose, compared 59.7 per cent in Victoria. Worryingly, rates are significantly lower in hotspot areas of Melbourne.
Professor Sutton said there was a huge amount of outreach work being done – from religious to sporting organisations – to reach groups in these communities. Friday was the second-largest day for vaccines on record, with 35,464 administered and an additional 47,000 bookings made.
Professor Sutton said there were still 25,000 AstraZeneca bookings available over the next seven days and urged the public to take them up.
He said there was “every possibility” Victoria is following “a slow and steady increase in the way that NSW has”, but the worst NSW daily caseloads could be avoided if people kept coming forward to vaccination.
“We’ve got the option of being one week behind Sydney or six weeks behind Sydney. That does depend on doing the right thing, it does depend on the vaccination coverage,” he said.
“I’m hoping, and I think it’s entirely possible, that we can plateau … we’ve got a real opportunity to get to a higher vaccination coverage level with a relatively lower [than NSW] caseload.”