It was a week of firsts.
Soldiers patrolling the streets, the introduction of stage 4 restrictions and Melbourne — the city known across the world for its vibrant nightlife — put under an extraordinary 8pm curfew.
Yet, there was another first — a very much unwanted first.
On Wednesday, the number of positive COVID-19 cases hit a record 725 in Victoria, with a record number of deaths.
The numbers — those dreaded numbers — just kept going up.
The next day, “secret modelling” attributed to the Victorian Government was splashed on the front of the national broadsheet newspaper suggesting the worst was ahead. Much worse.
It predicted COVID-19 cases rising to 1,100 by the end of next week, with cases likely to stay above 1,000 for eight days.
The modelling was quickly dismissed by Victorian officials — and a range of epidemiologists — who suggested stage three and four restrictions in place throughout the state should lead to a decrease in cases in about seven to 10 days.
While the numbers themselves — 471 on Thursday and 450 on Friday — suggested those dire predictions were, perhaps, way off.
But it raised the question: will we see actually see a turning point in Victoria next week?
Virus ‘stubbornly persistent’
According to UNSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws, there is a “stable pattern” in the numbers — and it is slowing.
Professor McLaws, an advisor to the World Health Organisation, said there was little point in looking at the daily case count for something to “celebrate”.
She said she instead looked at a 14-day pattern to detect a “smoothing out” of the virus’s behaviour in Victoria.
“It is being stubbornly persistent,” she said. “But I believe that the rate of growth has slowed several times since the introduction of masks in public.
“I have been using several rates to get a feel for the data, because you can’t use daily numbers.”
She said the modelling, in general, often focused on “worst-case scenarios”.
“The inability with modelling is that it doesn’t take into account the community behaviour, social distancing and masks, for example,” she said.
“It can look doom and gloom. I think it’s probably best to look somewhere in-between.”
This was backed by University of Sydney clinical epidemiologist Fiona Stanaway who told the ABC modelling was “hard to interpret”.
“Modelling [is] based on assumptions, not based on fact,” Dr Stanaway said.
“What you need to do is look at the hard data coming in.”
Monday, the magic day?
Speaking on the Coronacast podcast on Thursday, the ABC’s Dr Norman Swan said he was “taking a punt” on a “pretty dramatic” reduction in numbers in Victoria, starting from Monday.
He said, however, deaths would continue, with a “lag” of deaths coming from this week’s high rate of infections.
He said the introduction of masks, social distancing, and restrictions of movement would have an impact on the raw numbers.
“It will work,” he said. “It should turn the needle.”
Dr Stanaway declined to predict a day when the “needle” would turn, but said the cases reported this week were legacy infections from before the tighter restrictions — particularly in the workplace — were brought in.
“There’s no guarantees,” she said. “In the UK, back in March, it took three weeks to drop.
“But you’d hope to see a turn in the next seven to 14 days.
“The tighter measures and the changes in the workplace will hopefully see those big numbers of mystery cases die down.”
Professor McLaws said the draconian measures such as the curfew were harsh but necessary.
“Unfortunately you can’t allow 6.35 million Victorians to interpret the rules,” she said.
“The curfew certainly aimed at stopping the 20 to 34-year-olds moving around.
“Staying at home orders stop people trying to break the rules.”
She said the measures would work, but patience was required.
“[Victorians] just need to hold their mettle,” she said.
“You will see the benefit, it will happen.
“Give it a week or two weeks. I mean, you won’t see life going back to what it was like on July 1, for example. That won’t happen for at least six weeks.
“But there is light at the end at the end of the tunnel.”