Victorian leaders have been accused of deliberately ‘terrifying’ the public in attempt to justify extending lockdown for another seven days.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Acting Premier James Merlino used strong and colourful language to describe coronavirus as he announced Victorians would not be released from their homes on Thursday night.
‘If we let this thing run its course, it will explode. We’ve got to run this to ground because if we don’t, people will die,’ he said.
Chief Health officer Brett Sutton (right) has described the virus as a ‘beast’ and has been criticised for scaring Victorians
His comments were echoed by chief health officer Brett Sutton who compared the virus to a ‘beast’ that needed to be stopped.
‘I have described it as an absolute beast because we have to run it down to the ground,’ he said.
But Opposition MPs said the government was trying scare people to avoid criticism for not getting on top of the outbreak and lifting the state’s fourth lockdown.
‘The Acting Premier’s deliberately provocative and hysterical language is attempting to terrify the public,’ said Liberal MP Tim Smith.
‘He should be trying to reassure the public. Victorians will now be locked down for 173 days in our 4th lockdown. Why does this only happen in Victoria?’
He added: ‘The language from the state government in the last 24 hours should have attempted to reassure the public. Unfortunately the state govt has deliberately done the opposite.’
His colleague James Newbury told Daily Mail Australia: ‘Victorians all know that state Labor is using inflammatory language to justify keeping us locked up.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Acting Premier James Merlino (pictured getting vaccinated last week) used strong and colourful language to describe coronavirus
‘We now see our State Government, and certain public servants, choosing dangerous political language to stoke the fire and scare people. They have been caught and it needs to stop.’
Victorian leaders are also under fire for claiming the Indian variant of the disease known as B.1.617.1, which is affecting Melbourne, is radically different and far worse than previous variants.
Professor Sutton said on Tuesday the strain was ‘moving faster than any other strain we’ve dealt with’ and testing commander Jeroen Weimar said it was spreading during ‘very fleeting contact’ between strangers in ‘settings and circumstances we have never seen before’.
But infectious disease expert Professor Peter Collignon said it’s too early to say that the strain is far more infectious.
He told radio 3AW than he hasn’t ‘seen any evidence that this is really behaving differently to other strains that we’ve had before.
‘The language being used, with I think a relative lack of evidence, is inducing a level of fear that is not warranted.
‘I think we’ve got to be careful with the preliminary data we’re acting on, not to over-interpret it, because so far there’s not uncontrolled spread in Melbourne.’
Professor Collignon said the outbreak was under control and the virus would probably disappear in a week or two.
Testing numbers continue to be high, with 51,033 in the last 24 hours as Victoria battles to contain the outbreak (pictured, a Melburnian on a quiet Swanston Street on Wednesday)
‘It’s all with cases we know, case finding has been good, it has been a predictable number you would expect,’ he said.
The latest cluster numbers 60 cases, less than half the number infected in Sydney’s Northern Beaches outbreak in December – and only one patient is in hospital.
There has not been a death from coronavirus in Victoria since November 30.
Meanwhile, there is some relief for regional Victorians who from Friday will enjoy an easing of restrictions with shops opened back up and limits relaxed, with the majority of cases centered in the capital.
Restaurants and cafes outside Melbourne have even been ordered to check customers’ IDs when they reopen to ensure no one from the city sneaks out into regional towns, and a uniform QR code system has also finally been put in place.
Despite the dreaded lockdown extension, the travel limit for Melbournians for exercise and shopping will extend from 5km to 10km, but compulsory wearing of masks both indoors and outdoors will remain in place.
The cluster, which has been linked to a highly infectious double mutant Indian strain, grew to 60 cases on Wednesday (pictured, a couple in an eerily quiet Melbourne on Tuesday)
Mr Merlino hinted some of the restrictions could even stay in place beyond the next week.
‘At the end of another seven days, we do expect to be in a position to carefully ease restrictions in Melbourne,’ he said.
‘But there will continue to be differences between the settings in Melbourne compared to regional Victoria.
‘if we let this thing run its course, it will explode. We’ve got to run this to ground because if we don’t, people will die.
‘And if that happens, it’s our most vulnerable – it’s our parents, it’s our grandparents, it’s Victorians with underlying conditions or compromised immunity, it is those Victorians who will pay the price.’
Until at least June 10, Melbourne residents will continue to have only five reasons to leave home: to shop for food and essential items, to provide or receive care, for exercise, work or study, or to get vaccinated.
The lockdown had been due to expire on Thursday at midnight, but will now last another week as the cluster – associated with the Indian double mutant strain – swelled to 60
Key changes for Victoria from 11.59pm Thursday
Changes for all Victoria:
– 5km radius is now 10km
– Year 11 and 12 back to school
– Outdoor work back (eg gardening, landscaping)
Changes for just regional Victoria:
– Stay-at-home order removed
– No travel limit
– Can only go to Melbourne for a permitted reasons (healthcare etc)
– Outdoor gatherings can be 10 people
– Food and hospitality open for food only, max 50 people inside
– Retail and beauty open
– 10 at weddings
– 50 at funerals
Regional Victorian residents can only travel to Melbourne for a permitted reason and must follow Melbourne restrictions once they get there.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed outside of the capital, while food and hospitality will be open for seated service only, with a cap of 50 people per venue.
Retail businesses can open and personal services such as beauty therapy and tattooing can resume for services where masks can remain on.
The relaxation is despite several cases visiting regional towns in the early stages of the outbreak.
Anglesea, a town on Victoria’s Surf Coast on the Great Ocean Road, has been put on alert after one Covid-positive case visited a golf club, an IGA and a bakery.
The person visited Anglesea Golf Club bistro on May 25 between 6pm and 7.30pm and this has been deemed a Tier 1 site – meaning all customers must get tested and isolate immediately.
The Tier 2 sites visited were Anglesea Transfer Station on May 25 between 9.20am and 9.35am, IGA on May 25 between 10.30am and 11.15am and on May 27 between 10.15am and 11am, and Oaks Bakery on May 27 between 10.30am and 11am.
About 6.5 million Victorians were ordered into lockdown at 11.59pm last Thursday after a rapidly-spreading Indian mutant strain outbreak in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
Today’s six new cases in Victoria:
One linked to Stratton Finance.
One linked to Brighton Beach Hotel.
One man who travelled to Jervis Bay.
Three are Jervis Bay tourist’s spouse and two children.
The outbreak started after a man from Wollert in Melbourne’s north arrived in Australia Covid-free before unknowingly catching the double mutant Indian strain in Adelaide quarantine.
He tested negative for the virus three times during his stay in South Australian hotel quarantine and returned to Melbourne on May 4, only to then return a positive result on May 11.
Warning that the virus is ‘transmitting faster than ever’, Victoria’s Department of Health said ‘four or five’ cases emerged from ‘brushing past’ strangers who unwittingly transmitted the virus.
Mr Weimar said there were four to five instances in the state’s latest 60-case outbreak of people contracting the virus from ‘fleeting contact’.
‘They do not know each other’s names and that is very different from what we have seen before,’ Mr Weimar told reporters on Tuesday.
The concerning spread of the Indian variant has also prompted authorities to encourage visitors to 14 shopping hubs across Melbourne over the past two weeks to come forward for testing.
‘We are now keen to start to drain the swamp to see what else is out there,’ Mr Weimar said.
‘Is there anybody else out there we haven’t caught? Is there anybody else not caught by exposure sites?’
There are more than 5,000 primary close contacts, with 74 per cent of those returning a negative test.
Regional Victorian residents can only travel to Melbourne for a permitted reason and must follow Melbourne restrictions once they get there (pictured, two women in the locked down city on Tuesday)