The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, says the state will consider potential stay-at-home orders and suburban lockdowns to contain several coronavirus clusters in Melbourne, after another 49 cases of coronavirus were detected on Saturday – the highest daily number since April.
The overall total has increased by 41, with eight cases reclassified after further testing found these indeterminate results to be negative.
On Sunday afternoon, the federal deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd told reporters that while Victoria’s spike was “of genuine concern” it was not a second wave.
“This is not a second wave,” he said. “What we’re seeing in Victoria is exactly what was planned when we have outbreaks occurring across the country.” He praised the Victorian government’s response so far, saying it was “very vigorous and appropriate”.
“What we’re seeing happening in Victoria is exactly what was planned when we have outbreaks occurring across the country,” he said.
That contrasts with Western Australia which had one new case and New South Wales with three – all people coming from overseas. Queensland and South Australia had no new cases.
Victoria is conducting a testing blitz in an attempt to prevent further spread of the virus. About 40,000 people have been tested since Friday.
“Much like a bushfire, putting this out is challenging,” Andrews said. “Containing it, though, is something that we can do, and [widespread testing and contact tracing] is the most effective thing to do.
“The challenge here is [that] we have to test in those hotspots, but at the same time, we can’t take our eye off any other part of the state. We have to keep those testing numbers up to a satisfactory level so that in trying to track and trace one problem, we aren’t necessarily unaware of any other problem that we might have.”
On a potential return to lockdowns or other restrictions, Andrews said: “No one wants to go back to that unless we absolutely have to.”
The state’s chief health officer said the number of community transmissions among the 49 new cases was not yet known but added that of the 41 new cases announced on Saturday, the “great majority of those ended up being linked to known outbreaks and clusters. I imagine it will be the same for today”.
The total number of coronavirus cases in Victoria is 2,028.
Four new cases have been linked to existing outbreaks and 26 new cases identified through routine testing. Authorities are investigating 19 other cases.
Andrews said that the spread of the virus among hotel quarantine workers may have come from people sharing a cigarette lighter and carpooling arrangements.
“[They were] keeping their distance but sharing a lighter between each other,” he said.
“An innocent thing that can lead to transmitting the virus.
“There also seems to be carpooling arrangements between staff, which meant they were in closer contact than we would like.”
Answering questions about whether the latest outbreaks were related to migrant families, Andrews warned against singling out any community groups.
“We have outbreaks from people who have returned from Aspen. If you want to make cultural judgments about that, sort of socio-economically, and how much money those lots might have, fine,” he said.
“We have had outbreaks in very large weddings, outbreaks connected to hospitality venues and various activities over the journey. We have outbreaks at a family level. That is the nature of outbreaks. They are concentrated and we have them everywhere.
He added: “This virus doesn’t discriminate based on where you were born or whether you pray or not, and to whom you pray. It is with all of us and it is with all of us for a long time, and that is why we all have to work together to beat it.”
He also said dinner parties and family gatherings from “Portsea to Broadmeadows” had been responsible for coronavirus transmission.
It comes as experts warn against blaming culturally diverse communities for spreading or believing misinformation, following comments by the state’s chief health officer that appeared to hold conspiracy theories partially responsible for the latest virus spike.
The state’s fight against Covid-19 intensified on Sunday after it was revealed an emergency department nurse tested positive to the virus on Saturday.
Details of the Royal Melbourne hospital nurse’s case were yet to be revealed on Sunday morning, including what her level of exposure was to fellow staff, patients or visitors.
A statement from the hospital said all known contacts had been informed and were receiving support, and the hospital was carrying out additional cleaning and contact tracing.
Overnight, Victoria updated its public health directives in an attempt to address concern that some people in mandatory hotel quarantine, after returning from overseas, had refused coronavirus tests and subsequently been allowed into the community.
The Victorian order now mirrors those in New South Wales – returned travellers will now need to be tested twice before being allowed to leave quarantine, or they will have to spend a further 10 days in quarantine.
Andrews said about 85% of people in hotel quarantine had been tested and he expected those rates to increase after the introduction of the less-invasive saliva testing was introduced on Sunday.
“I think what’s driven the reticence of some parents to have their often very small children tested is that it is not a pleasant procedure,” Andrews said.
“But with the saliva test coming on board … I think we’ll be able to get the numbers right up to 100%.”
He said people could also be fined for refusing a test, but that such a measure would be ineffective on its own, given that “people of means” might simply pay to avoid a test.
On further restrictions that might target suburbs where there had been a cluster of cases, Andrews said: “If we have to further limit movement in some of those suburbs – so for instance, a stay at home order … if that is deemed the appropriate public health response, then that is what we’ll do.”
“I’m not announcing that today, but there’s been some talk in the media today about those sort of suburban lockdowns. I’m hoping it doesn’t get to that,” he said, but added it was a reminder for people in those communities to get tested.
He said strong testing numbers “will make it less likely that we need to move to those sorts of restrictions being reimposed in given communities”.
“That is not our preference. We’ll do it if we need to.”
Andrews said the state’s testing strategy had been endorsed by the outgoing national chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy.
“He sees this as a textbook response and one that other states will be well served by.
“So we’re very pleased to have the support of other states and territories. We’re very pleased to have the support of the commonwealth chief medical officer, and I’m very pleased to have the support of the prime minister as we deliver this strategy, one that was always going to involve outbreaks and always going to involve additional cases.”
The South Australian premier, Steven Marshall, said there was a real concern about the hotspots in Melbourne.
“It is still a nasty disease,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
“I don’t think we’re going to be really back to normal until a vaccine is found. We are going to have to to live with this disease right across the world.”
There have been 7,641 confirmed Covid-19 cases across the country, and 104 people have died.
Additional reporting by Australian Associated Press