Experts expect 14-day average to drop below reopening range next week

Experts expect 14-day average to drop below reopening range next week

September 17, 2020

New coronavirus infections are slowing to such an extent in Melbourne that the city’s 14-day average for new cases is predicted to be in the 20s in about 10 days.

The crucial 14-day average for metropolitan Melbourne dropped to 44.4 on Thursday, Department of Health and Human Services data shows, within the 30-50 range for the city to meet its next reopening target later this month.

If this target is met on September 28, gatherings of up to five people would be permitted, prep-grade twos and VCE students would return to school at the start of term four and some professions would be allowed to go back to work.

Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett said Melbourne’s 14-day average was likely to be “comfortably” within the 30-50 range window by that date.

“It would be nice if we could break through the bottom of that range and be in the high 20s by then. That’s actually possible,” she said.

University of Melbourne professor of epidemiology Tony Blakely agreed: “I’m still predicting a bit less than 20 cases per day by September 28 if we continue the current fall in the 14-day average,” he said.

There were 28 new COVID-19 cases confirmed statewide on Thursday, the first time since June 24 that the daily tally has been below 30.

Professor Bennett said the daily numbers could still bounce a bit, but the 14-day average was steadily decreasing.

She said the state’s effective reproductive number (R number) was averaging about 0.7, which meant those with coronavirus were typically not infecting others, and daily case numbers should continue to decline.

Professor Blakely said the data was looking “very encouraging”, but warned it would be harder to drive the numbers down to zero because of infections in essential workers or groups where it was harder to stem the spread of the virus.

“We might get down into the 10-20 range or lower, and bob along until we get a vaccine. We might even get lower like NSW. If we are really really lucky, we might eliminate community transmission,” he said.

If Melbourne meets its step two target on September 28, the step three target will be for the entire state’s 14-day average to be driven below five and for further community transmission to be almost non-existent by October 26.

The number of active cases in Victoria dropped below 1000 for the first time since July 10 earlier this week, and the number of people in hospital because of coronavirus has dropped into double-digit figures for the first time since July 14.

As of Thursday, three-quarters of Melbourne’s postcodes did not have any known active COVID-19 cases, analysis of Health Department data shows.

Last Thursday there were 181 postcodes statewide with at least one active coronavirus case, but this week there are 141.

Of these 181 postcodes, 132 recorded a net decrease in active cases compared with seven days ago. In 28 postcodes there was no change in active case numbers and in 21 postcodes there was an increase in active cases over the past week.

There were also 12 postcodes that did not have any known active cases last week, but which had at least one known COVID-19 infection as of Thursday.

The postcode that recorded the biggest increase in active cases over the past week was Hallam, in Melbourne’s south-east. It has 23 active cases, 13 more than this time last week.

On Monday, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said Hallam residents appeared to have caught the virus at high-risk workplaces, rather than by breaching Melbourne's lockdown restrictions.

Hallam is one of only three postcodes statewide to have a current infection rate of more than two active cases per 1000 residents, the others being 3052 (Parkville) and 3025 (Altona East, Altona Gate and Altona North).

The high case rate in Parkville and the Altona area is probably in part due to outbreaks at nearby aged care facilities.

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