Despite hopes Victoria’s tough new restrictions will stem the spread of COVID-19, health experts have warned the death toll could continue to rise even after the virus is contained in the state.
- AMA Victoria president Julian Rait says he hopes the restrictions have been imposed with enough time to prevent the hospital system being overwhelmed
- He says the situation in aged care remains “a very serious concern”
- Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett says Victorians need to be prepared to see more deaths even when the daily numbers are falling
Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday announced a toughening of restrictions across the state, including a curfew across Melbourne and a return to stay-at-home orders in regional Victoria.
The restrictions are driven in part by the rise of “mystery” community transmission cases, where the source of the infection is unknown, prompting fears more virus is in the community than has been reported.
Mr Andrews will later today reveal more detail on how industry will be affected, with many businesses expected to close for the duration of the six-week shutdown.
President of the Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) Victorian branch, Julian Rait, said the new restrictions would “very likely succeed in reducing the number of cases and hopefully bring the pandemic under control in Victoria”.
“While we all regret that there will be hardship and inconvenience for many, and obviously quite significant interruption to the economy, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the decision,” he said.
The AMA had been calling for a tougher set of restrictions for weeks as the state continued to have record-high infections and deaths.
However, Dr Rait said if there was “much better compliance by the community”, it was not too late to contain the virus within Victoria.
With the incubation period for the virus being between about five and seven days, and the lag between symptoms developing and a positive test result, it is expected the full impact of the new rules will take weeks to be known.
During that time, it is anticipated hundreds of new cases of COVID-19 will continue to be announced each day — many of whom will become seriously ill.
Dr Rait said the situation in aged care was “still a very serious concern”.
Seven new deaths were recorded on Sunday: three women in their 70s, two women in their 80s, one man in his 90s and one woman in her 90s.
Six of the seven deaths were linked to aged care settings, and there are now more than 1,000 infections related to outbreaks in nursing homes.
“And I think the other very serious concern we have is just the numbers of such cases who are going to get unwell and then flow into our hospital system,” Dr Rait said.
“If you look at the … people in the pipeline, about a thousand people from aged care, that’s an awful lot of sick people.
Likely to be ‘counting the cost’ for weeks after restrictions start
Catherine Bennett, chair in epidemiology at Deakin University, said many of the cases being reported now would have been infected weeks ago, and some before face coverings became mandatory in Melbourne.
She said the large clusters which had emerged in recent weeks would likely still continue to grow as contact tracing work was done to find more infections.
She said she expected a week of face coverings being mandatory in Melbourne to “start to really translate over the next couple of weeks”, while Sunday’s announcement would take “extra time”.
“But the sad thing is that people in hospital can be there for a long time,” she said.
On Sunday, there were 385 people in Victorian hospitals with coronavirus, including 38 receiving intensive care.
“People are in ICU on average for 17 days, people who pass away may die quite quickly, or might put up a fight for a long period of time,” Dr Bennett said.
“So there’s an additional two-week lead time to deaths.
“So even when we’re feeling we’re on track, and we can see those daily numbers coming down and have big clusters contained, we’re still likely to unfortunately be counting the cost of this in terms of deaths for a few more weeks after that.”
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said people aged between 15 and 40 made up roughly 53 per cent of cases.
He said the younger proportion of infected people had stopped intensive care units from being completely overwhelmed.
“But the huge numbers that we’re seeing, week in, week out, will still show up in our health system,” he said on Sunday.