Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says authorities are yet to decide what travel will be allowed once Melbourne moves to the third step in its roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions.
“I don’t know, I honestly don’t know,” Professor Sutton said, when asked if the 5-kilometre rule could still be in place after October 19, when restrictions were forecast to next ease.
He said the State Government would consider the level of transmission and how the travel restriction was working before making a decision.
When asked if the 5km travel restriction could simply be physically extended out to allow residents to travel a little further, Professor Sutton said that was also possible.
“I wouldn’t rule out anything,” he said.
“I don’t think we are going at all in a direction that would make it tougher, but going out to 10km is a consideration amongst all options.”
It’s a significant departure from the State Government’s roadmap out of restrictions for the city.
The roadmap which was published on September 13, lists travel across the state as an allowed activity under the third step.
If travel restrictions were to remain during step three of the roadmap, it would be the first time the State Government had delayed easing a restriction from its original plan.
Sutton says 5km rule has helped curb transmission
Professor Sutton said the 5km rule had limited socialising and potential transmission of the virus.
“The issue is that we have now got just a dozen local government areas really where cases are active,” he said.
He said movement across the city could reintroduce the virus into areas where there had not been transmission for some time.
“We are incrementally shrinking it down where we are not seeing that postcode-to-postcode movement of the virus,” he said.
Professor Sutton said it was difficult to say exactly how big an impact the 5km travel restriction had on cutting down coronavirus case numbers.
“It is really hard to tease apart the individual interventions that are part of a really substantial package that has transformed the transmission through this wave,” he said.
“To go from 725 cases to single figures has been a success but to take out each and every element and understand what its contribution has been, is a tricky process.”
Professor Sutton said the 5km rule was “in the mix” with what other countries had done to limit transmission of the virus.
Concern Melburnians won’t follow the rules if travel restriction eased
He said the Victorian Government had to also consider what lifting the 5km rule would mean for compliance.
“Whether it would be open slather, in that people go to households across metro Melbourne, in that space where masks are not worn, where people have close interaction where they are talking and laughing and those are transmission settings.”
But he said authorities were considering the needs of those in Melbourne, who owned regional properties and needed to make bushfire preparations.
“There will have to be bushfire prep in advance of the season, that is being worked on at the moment and the communications and allowances for that are being worked through,” he said.
Victoria’s Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien is highly critical of the 5km travel rule, saying it should be overturned.
“It seems to be one of those rules that has been put in place by the Premier that has not been supported by a lot of public health experts,” he said.
Health expert says government is not making decisions ‘based on data’
Deakin University’s Chair in Epidemiology Catherine Bennett said she “doesn’t get” why the State Government would consider extending the 5km travel rule.
“I am struggling to see the health argument now,” she said of the restriction.
She said “it was something else” and not epidemiology that appeared to be determining the State Government’s decision-making on travel restrictions for Melburnians.
“The Premier often says movement equals virus, and if that is the position you keep coming back to, then anything that restricts movement is seen to be valuable and valid,” she said.
“That is not actually how epidemiology works.
“The more we know about how the virus moves through a community, the more you understand what the response can be, particularly when the numbers are this low.”
She said recent workplace transmission showed why the 5km restriction was now of limited value.
Professor Bennett said Melbourne was in a really positive position and she couldn’t understand why health authorities were now discussing extending restrictions.
“Melbourne, apart from those three cases known to be linked to those complex cases and outbreaks, five cases today,” she said.
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“That is one in a million people, we have to get this in proportion.”
Professor Bennett said the original plan to allow intrastate travel at the next step of the roadmap was a safe plan.
“I think the original roadmap was overly safe, it was very conservative,” she said.
She said extending the 5km travel restriction risked losing some public support for COVID health measures.
“I think it would be losing a mountain of goodwill,” she said.