Victoria has recorded 779 new local Covid-19 cases as the state’s coronavirus outbreak continues to spiral out of control.
There was two Covid-related deaths on Sunday, the Victorian health department has confirmed.
There were 34,280 vaccine doses administered across the state on Saturday with the new cases of the virus detected from 46,322 Covid tests.
It comes after Victorians were told to expect mask mandates and limits on home gatherings to be a part of daily life even after 80 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated, a health expert has warned.
Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said on Saturday it would be a ‘challenge’ to keep case numbers down when the 80 per cent double dose target was met.
Victoria recorded 847 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, with the next set of restrictions to be eased a week later than planned after the state missed its vaccination deadline. Pictured are protesters marching at the ‘Millions March for Freedom’ rally on St Kilda Beach on Saturday
Face masks and restrictions on household numbers are predicted to stay in Victoria even at an 80 per cent full vaccination rate (pictured, two women walking in St Kilda in Melbourne)
Mr Foley has also conceded the state is unlikely to hit 80 per cent first dose coverage of the eligible population by Sunday as initially forecast, with the figure currently sitting at 76.9 per cent.
About 47 per cent of Victorians are fully vaccinated, according to the state government, compared to NSW where 57.8 per cent of over-16s are fully vaccinated.
Residents will instead have to wait until next week for a minor relaxation in lockdown rules that includes ending the ban on low-risk sports such as golf and tennis.
Unvaccinated Victorians have been encouraged to get the jab with 600,000 doses a week due to be available at primary care clinics from October.
Vaccination hubs are also set to be stocked with 265,000 doses a week by the end of October, prompting health officials to consider cutting the spacing of Pfizer jabs from six weeks to three weeks.
The move would boost efforts to reach the eagerly-anticipated 80 per cent double dose rate impeded by three days of illegal protests last week.
Health officials have warned against any illegal events on AFL Grand Final Day on Sunday, due to fears the public gatherings could cause a surge in case numbers.
Covid Commander Jeroen Weimar confirmed that several hundred of the record high 847 cases had come from ‘social interactions between households’.
Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett warned strict restrictions may be needed even at 80 per cent to prevent surging rates of transmission.
‘The key is getting case numbers down before we ease restrictions and that’s going to take some work,’ she told the The Age.
‘We know the virus will be in the community, the question is how much we can live with it?’
She said mask mandates indoors may still be enforced even at that threshold, while caps on gatherings in the home could be enforced and relaxed intermittently to stem outbreaks.
Victorian health minister Martin Foley said Victoria’s roadmap to freedom isn’t a ‘set and forget’ plan
Mr Foley hinted his government may take that approach, noting that Victoria’s roadmap to freedom isn’t a ‘set and forget’ plan.
‘It [the roadmap] was always made on the basis we would continue to review where cases were at,’ he said.
According the the roadmap, when the 80 per cent single dose milestone is reached Melburnians who are fully vaccinated can gather in groups of up to five and the city’s travel limit will be expanded from 10km to 15km.
But Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the initial roadmap target was ‘ambitious’ and he would consider a day-by-day ‘countdown’ for future 70 and 80 per cent double dose goals based on updated data.
‘We would expect that, certainly by mid to late next week, we’ll hit that [single dose target],’ Mr Foley said on Friday.
Vaccination numbers were initially tipped to be at 80 per cent in Victoria by September 26 – but the state has fallen short of that projected target (pictured, testing in Ballarat, in regional Victoria this week)
‘These projections bounce around based on all sorts of measures. Let’s all redouble our efforts over this weekend.’
There are more than 600 current exposure sites across Victoria, including in regional towns Wodonga, Warrnambool, Bendigo and Shepparton.
Jeroen Weimar, Victoria’s Covid-19 testing chief, said while contact tracers in regional Victoria are monitoring rings of containment, contact tracers in city areas are focused on ‘the highest-risk settings.’
‘We are getting to the heart of the matter more quickly, focusing on those high-risk primary close contacts and focusing on those high-risk exposure sites,’ he said.
With a predicted increase in case numbers looming, 321 people are currently in hospitals across Victoria after testing positive to Covid-19.
Health authorities said the majority of recent cases were being passed on in homes and social settings, with the majority of the social interactions illegal during lockdown.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the initial roadmap target was ‘ambitious’ and he would consider a day-by-day ‘countdown’ for future 70 and 80 per cent double dose goals based on updated data