Next ‘terrible scenario’ Victoria is facing
While coronavirus cases in Melbourne seem to be dropping since the city's agonising record of 725 last Thursday, the virus is expanding its reach with officials and experts worried about the next "terrible scenario" for Victoria.
On Wednesday, the number of active coronavirus cases fell in the state for the first time in two months, but there are concerns the virus is moving on from its prior clusters and finding new places to lay roots.
And despite the stage four lockdowns, leaders say COVID-19 is slipping its way into new suburbs through public transport with Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh pleading: "There needs to be more done to stop the disaster that's happening in Melbourne from spreading into the regions."
Cases in areas in regional Victoria have been on a rollercoaster since the pandemic began, but now the situation has been described as "stubbornly persistent", by physician and journalist Dr Norman Swan.
So much so, health experts are calling for tougher and stricter management of the movement of Melburnians travelling to regions outside the CBD.
"We know that's been a source of transmission for a number of outbreaks," Bendigo Health's chief executive, Peter Faulkner said.
There have been 957 cases identified in regional Victoria since the pandemic began.
Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo have all been listed as "problem" areas and while regional Victoria entered stage three lockdown last Wednesday, concerns have been raised over the "terrible scenario" that could see the virus take off in the country.
Last week, Bendigo was sitting at eight active cases. It now sits at 53. But the virus is moving around.
So far the virus has hit a primary school, St Joseph's, in Bendigo, with 16 active cases, a poultry farm in Bendigo with 20 active cases and another in Geelong with 44 cases. One worker at Golden Farms Poultry in Geelong died last week.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Colac Otway, a meatworks outbreak is down to 74 active cases in the past week and in Opal South Valley aged care home in Geelong, 38 people have tested positive while two residents have died. More schools and even two Hungry Jack's in Ballarat have also been hit.
"You could envisage a terrible scenario that they solve the problem in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire but regional Victoria takes off big time," Dr Swan said.
"And it doesn't take much to take off."
Residents in country areas are becoming increasingly concerned that authorities are not monitoring the movements of Melburnians on public transport, according to Mr Walsh, who made the comments after a rising number of infections were recorded in regional Victoria.
"They're just beside themselves with worry about their future, so going to stage four would be even worse," he said.
But Mr Walsh has been backed up by with Bendigo Health's Peter Faulkner who told the ABC: "There is a link with a number of outbreaks with the metropolitan area".
Figures from the Victorian Health Department show Greater Geelong had 179 active cases on Wednesday, with 53 in Bendigo and 22 in Ballarat compared to last week with 132 active cases in Greater Geelong, 29 in Bendigo and 13 in Ballarat.
The overall total coronavirus cases in regional Victoria on Wednesday was sitting at 512, a number Premier Andrews described as "quite low".
But, said Dr Swan on the Coronacast on Wednesday: "If you take the average, the trend is up."
"There is virus circulating in regional Victoria and that's underpinning some of the numbers that you're seeing out of Victoria."
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews also raised concerns about the increase in cases on Tuesday and issued a stern warning for people travelling between Bendigo and Melbourne to avoid doing so unless there was no alternative.
"I'd like to see as little movement as possible between regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, both ways," he said.
"I think that people, particularly those who are coming to Melbourne from regional Victoria, they know and understand how important it is to keep this out of regional Victoria and keep the numbers really low.
"If you can defer a trip into regional Victoria, do not make a trip into regional Victoria, that's the safest thing to do.
"The last thing you want is a Melburnian responsible for taking this virus into regional Victoria."
"Sometimes people will do their very best and they won't know (if they have COVID), but if you have symptoms you shouldn't be travelling anywhere except to get tested."
But Mr Walsh has taken a crack at officials, saying the movement of Melburnians is not watched closely enough.
"That is probably the single biggest issue about Melbourne people coming to the country that's raised with our country MPs, that they're coming on public transport with no checks at all," Mr Walsh said.
"You can get on a V/Line bus or a V/Line train out of Melbourne and no-one checks why you're travelling, whether you have the appropriate permits to travel," he said.
The state government rejected Mr Walsh's claims and said Victoria police is patrolling checkpoints around the state including train carriages, stations and terminals.
"Transit police regularly run high visibility patrols on metro and regional train lines to ensure the community is adhering to the Chief Health Officer's directions and to also prevent anti-social behaviour," a spokesperson told the ABC.
"This will continue to be a focus in the coming weeks on all regional train lines across Victoria."
Bendigo Health has set up a contact tracing hub for concerned residents.
Victoria recorded 410 new cases of coronavirus in the 24 hours to Wednesday, taking the state's total to more than 15,500.
Twenty-one more people have died from the virus - which is now the state's deadliest day - with the Victorian death toll rising to 267.
Originally published as Next 'terrible scenario' for Victoria