Victorian health authorities have defended a decision to close children’s playgrounds, revealing that more than 20% of the positive cases in Melbourne’s sixth lockdown are children under the age of 10.
Fifty children under the age of 10 were among the 227 active coronavirus cases in Victoria. The state reported 24 new local cases on Tuesday.
The chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the risk of transmission between children was one of the reasons he decided to close playgrounds and skateparks.
“We are investigating a potential transmission in a playground,” Sutton said. “It is not definitive, and maybe we will not be able to make it definitive, but it looks like there has been transmission in a playground.
“We have also seen transmission between students who were not in classes together, who did not have any other face-to-face interaction other than sharing a walk home, didn’t play together, don’t live together, didn’t have classes together.
“That is more definitive. The risk is there. We want to minimise every single opportunity in order to get ahead of this.”
Sutton on Monday reintroduced a range of tough measures that mimicked the stage four conditions imposed during Melbourne’s second wave in 2020, which included closing playgrounds, permits for authorised workers, and an overnight curfew.
The permits for authorised workers come into effect at 11.59pm on Tuesday.
Authorities had also urged people who live and work in St Kilda and surrounding suburbs to get tested after two more mystery cases were reported among St Kilda residents – bringing the number of mystery cases linked to the suburb to five.
The mystery cases included a person who attended a Caulfield North engagement party last week, a person in Albert Park who works in St Kilda, a person in Dandenong who works in St Kilda, and two other St Kilda residents.
Three more people who attended the engagement party had since tested positive, bringing the total number to six. A person who works as a carer for one of the attendees had also tested positive.
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The 24 cases announced on Tuesday included two more linked to the Lygon Street public housing tower, nine linked to Glenroy West primary school, and three linked to Al-Taqwa College. The 3,000 people who had been isolating for almost two weeks after the Al-Taqwa college exposure were due to come out of quarantine in the next few days.
The deputy secretary of the health department, Kate Matson, said the area of biggest concern currently was the bayside suburbs, where it appeared the virus had been circulating undetected.
“These cases got the virus from somewhere, the virus is circulating in those geographic areas of Melbourne,” Matson told reporters on Tuesday.
“If you look at the exposure site map on our website, you can see 50-odd exposure sites running from South Melbourne, down the bay, down to Brighton.
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“These cases aren’t linked by age, they’re not linked by faith. They aren’t all in the same book club. They are not all in the same footy club. The only thing they share is geographic proximity.
“They might live or work in the city of Glen Eira or the city of Port Phillip. They have different types of jobs, some are employed, some are in office jobs, some are in blue-collar employment. There is nothing linking these cases other than geography, which is why we do ask that testing rates increase in that area.”
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he was disappointed that antisemitic comments had been directed at members of the Melbourne Jewish community in response to the engagement party, which was attended by 69 members of the Orthodox community in Caulfield, Balaclava and surrounds.
“Antisemitism is unacceptable and evil and we have a zero tolerance to that in our state,” Andrews said.
“Them breaking the rules was not a reflection on the Jewish community, more broadly. It was not an act of faith or culture, it was not something that anyone should use to reflect upon a broader group of people in our Victorian community.
“We have a proud Jewish community, a significant Jewish community, and it is simply unacceptable and evil for anyone to be trading in some of the antisemitic behaviour and comments we have seen recently.”
Andrews criticised the party at length on Monday but said that no one incident was behind the decision to extend the lockdown and tighten restrictions.
Despite that caveat, some commentary on social media has singled out the engagement party as the reason the lockdown in Melbourne was extended for two weeks until 2 September.
Andrews also dismissed a suggestion that the Victorian government should take over the rollout of vaccines to private aged care providers, which are regulated by the federal government.
“I’m not going to assume responsibility for a sector that I don’t fund, that I don’t regulate, and where some of whom indicated last year that they weren’t prepared to listen to, well, anybody, let alone a government they have no relationship with,” the premier said.