Large gatherings at Australian sporting venues like the MCG and overseas travel are unlikely to take place for at least the rest of the year, according to Victoria’s chief health officer.
Dr Brett Sutton is leading the official advice for Victoria, which has enacted some of the harshest restrictions in Australia in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus through the community.
In an interview with The Age, Dr Sutton warned that when restrictions are eventually rolled back it wouldn’t be a return to business as usual immediately, with a gradual easing planned instead.
The first restrictions to be lifted will likely be those on freedom of movement, but it’s unlikely we’ll be going back to pubs and cafes any time soon.
If some of the louder critics of the Victorian government’s approach get their way they might be allowed to play golf again though.
The state’s restrictions will be reviewed on May 11.
Dr Sutton said there was unlikely to be a lift in some of the stricter restrictions until a COVID-19 vaccine was developed.
“That might be [restrictions on] gatherings, MCG-type gatherings and maybe we can hold it back if we can get everything else right in terms of testing and hand hygiene and cough etiquette,” Dr Sutton told the newspaper, adding international travel will probably be the last facet of the pre-coronavirus world to return.
The NRL and AFL are both looking at ways they can resume their respective competitions, even without fans in the stands, so sport could be coming back long before any of us are allowed to attend it live.
Dr Sutton said large gatherings were too risky until either there was a vaccine or governments abandoned their current approaches of “flattening the curve” of infections to avoid overwhelming health systems, in favour of a “herd immunity” strategy that would involve standing by and letting the virus move through the community, potentially killing many more.
That approach has been suggested around the world, most notably in the U.K. where it was briefly considered and then abandoned, shortly before the Prime Minister Boris Johnson came down with the virus himself and wound up in the intensive care unit.
The “flattening the curve” approach remains the most popular and palatable for most places around the world.
The measures imposed in Victoria do at least appear to be working to some degree, as infection rates have fallen, though continue to fluctuate.
The state only recorded one new case in the 24 hours to Friday morning, continuing a trend of falling diagnoses.
But while encouraging, it’s not the end of the fight.
“We might be talking about COVID-19 into 2021,” Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos said on Saturday morning, echoing Prof Sutton’s warning that large gatherings and overseas travel might not resume this year.
The state confirmed 17 new cases on Saturday morning, nine of which had been in patients who had returned from overseas, seven from the same cruise ship.
The sharp increase over the week’s lower totals is a case of unfortunate timing for Prof Sutton, coming the same day one of his state’s biggest newspapers printed an interview where he said he was “quietly satisfied” reading the lower daily numbers of new infections, and he’d be surprised if more than 10 were recorded on a single day.