Epidemiologist warns Covid will spread ‘like wildfire’ in Victoria if rules are relaxed now

Melissa IariaNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

An epidemiologist has poured cold water on calls by business groups and others to overhaul Victoria’s isolation rules, saying any change would cause the virus to spread “like wildfire”.

Nancy Baxter also says the reason the state’s outbreak is being controlled is because of the stay-at-home requirement, despite the focus on vaccination.

There were 1420 new Covid-19 cases in Victoria on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total number of active cases to 14,410.

It comes a day after the state broke a national daily case record of 1763.

Dr Baxter said while vaccinations made the outbreak easier to manage, it was being controlled because of the requirement to stay home.

“The reason that we’re controlling this outbreak right now isn’t vaccination, it’s because we’re not circulating and mingling,” the head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health told 3AW radio.

“That’s why we’re really keeping this under control.”

Camera IconStay-at-home rules are controlling Victoria’s outbreak, an expert says. Photo: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia

Recently in NSW, it was announced that fully vaccinated people who are close contacts of a positive case will only have to self-isolate for seven days, down from 14.

They would then be encouraged to stay home as much as possible for the next seven days.

Business figures have similarly sought changes to the Victorian system, with the 14-isolation rule for primary close contacts cut and vaccination rates considered.

However, if restrictions in Victoria were eased, with just over half the population fully vaccinated, the virus would run rampant.

“At 50 per cent double vaccinated, if we started relaxing restrictions, it would go like wildfire,” Dr Baxter said.

“I mean, there’s still millions of people in Australia and many, many people in Victoria, who are not vaccinated and Covid will find them.”

Camera IconBusinesses want a relaxing of isolation requirements. NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia

Dr Baxter said the number of primary close contacts was going up because cases were increasing, sparked by people breaking Covid restrictions.

The focus should be on reducing Covid numbers so the hospitals are able cope when the state opens up.

“Cases are going to go up when we open up and we have more mixing,” she said.

“The lower we can keep the numbers, the safer we can keep our hospitals, so when we do open up, we have the space to put the patients that are going to increase, because because of openings.”

Dr Baxter said before the AFL grand final long weekend she hoped Victoria would beat predictions by getting vaccinated as quickly as possible and bring numbers down.

Camera IconMore than 50 per cent of Victorians are fully vaccinated. NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia

But a failure by Victorians to abide by rules helped drive the outbreak.

“All of us know people who are not following the rules and most of the time they get away with it,” she said.

“But the more people in our community that have COVID, the more the chances that they’re not going to get away with it and they’re going to fuel the outbreak.

“I do think the narrative is a bit precious that somehow the government is to blame for the increase in people in isolation, when actually it’s because we’re not following the rules and the cases are spreading, and so there’s more people in isolation.”

Dr Baxter hoped the high Covid tally was linked to the long weekend “blip” and would return to a normal rate of growth.

“If we don’t do what we need to do now, in three or four weeks we’re going to really regret it,” she said.

“I’m hoping we can get this under control, but complaining about isolation really isn’t going to be the way we do it.”

Originally published as Epidemiologist warns Covid will spread ‘like wildfire’ in Victoria if rules are relaxed now

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