Friday, April 23

Australia’s toughest lockdown pays off with no Covid-19 cases for 28 days

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The state at the center of Australia’s worst coronavirus outbreak has gone 28 days with no new cases of the virus, an enviable record as the US and many European countries grapple with surging infections or renewed lockdowns.

One of the world’s strictest and longest stay-at-home orders enabled Victoria to crush community transmission after a daily peak of about 700 cases in early August. The success means Australia will be among a handful of western nations that can look forward to Christmas with limited restrictions on family gatherings and what authorities are calling a Covid-normal summer.

The 28-day run is “an extraordinary achievement psychologically as well as practically, in terms of opening up the economy,” said Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor of medicine at the Australian National University in Canberra. But there’s no room for complacency, he warned, and Australia faces on an ongoing risk of the virus entering the community from returned overseas travellers — despite a mandatory system of hotel quarantine.

“The reality is, no matter how careful people are, there can always be that accidental breach or a breach where you can’t even identify the source,” Senanayake said.

More than 30,000 Australians, many living in Europe and the US where the virus is rampant, are waiting to return home.

Bungled security at quarantine hotels in Victoria, which reportedly included guards sleeping with guests, saw the virus escape into the community — leading to the three-month lockdown in Melbourne. Meanwhile, in neighboring South Australia, authorities are investigating how two security guards, a cleaner and two returned travellers contracted the virus while in hotel quarantine — seeding a cluster of infections in the state that’s grown to at least 31.

While 28 days with no mystery cases of Covid-19 is the working definition for eliminating community transmission, the Victoria government remains wary.

“Now is not the time to be complacent,” Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said in a statement. “Recent wastewater testing demonstrates there may still be virus in the community and a real risk remains with arriving interstate travelers or the emergence of new local cases. Our fight against Covid-19 is not over.”