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Victoria records six new COVID-19 cases as fears of lockdown grow

Victoria’s health department has reported 11 new local COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, including six announced on Tuesday.

Five cases were originally reported overnight, with one new case identified this morning.

Acting Premier James Merlino said the Department of Health had just identified the 15th case and that it would be included in tomorrow’s numbers.

Mr Merlino said contact tracers were working hard to identify people connected to the outbreak.

“Our public health teams are working very fast to test, trace and isolate this outbreak,” he said.

Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino speaks during a press conference.
Camera IconVictorian Acting Premier James Merlino speaks during a press conference. Credit: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

He admitted health authorities were “very concerned” about the number of growing exposure sites, but that all 15 cases were linked which was a “very good thing”.

The government is now understood to be in frantic talks about a snap lockdown after earlier ruling it out.

Mr Merlino said the next 24 hours were crucial.

“I cannot rule out taking some further action, but we will update people as soon as we know. It’s fair to say the next 24 hours will be fairly critical,” he said.

The new cases come as one of the infected people from the growing coronavirus cluster in Melbourne’s north attended an AFL match on the weekend, prompting a government health warning.

While the outbreak started in the northern suburbs, country Bendigo, Port Melbourne, Prahran and South Yarra now feature among 48 exposure sites listed on the state health department’s website – well up on Tuesday’s 10.

The infected fan was at the Collingwood-Port Adelaide game at the MCG on Sunday, sitting in zone 4, level 1 of the Great Southern Stand at the Punt Road end.

Spectators who sat in the same area are being contacted by Victoria’s health department using data from tickets and QR codes. They will have to get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result.

Camera IconCredit: methode

Others who sat in the surrounding area are being told to go for testing if they develop symptoms.

“Further reviews of CCTV footage will be undertaken to determine if the advice to test and isolate will be broadened beyond these areas,” the department said in a tweet on Wednesday morning.

Authorities sought to reassure people who attended the gaming, saying the AFL and MCC had “prepared for this situation in multiple simulations”.

While COVID-19 restrictions were ramped up in Melbourne on Tuesday, more could be on the way as authorities struggle to rein in the outbreak, which started at Whittlesea in the city’s north.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton said he was concerned about commuters who travelled via train with an infectious case earlier this month.
Camera IconChief health officer Brett Sutton said he was concerned about commuters who travelled via train with an infectious case earlier this month. Credit: David Geraghty/NCA NewsWire

The 48 exposure sites include tier one locations in Coburg and Fitzroy, as well as Port Melbourne and bars in Prahran and South Yarra.

Professor Sutton warned of further cases, with 84 of 168 primary close contacts testing negative so far.

“We have to chase down every single close contact … but it’s certainly not out of control,” he told ABC radio.

Currently in response to the unfolding outbreak, home gatherings are now limited to five visitors a day and public gatherings restricted to 30 people until at least June 4.

Masks are mandatory indoors for people 12 and over, but can be taken off for eating, drinking and exercise.

Schools and workplaces remain open, as are shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs and existing density limits apply.

The restrictions apply to Greater Melbourne, or people travelling into regional Victoria.

“This is about giving our contact tracers the time that they need to track this matter down and get on top of it,” Mr Merlino said.

Commuters wearing masks walk past a sign near a tram tram reading 'You must wear a face mask while traveling' in Melbourne.
Camera IconCommuters wearing masks walk past a sign near a tram tram reading ‘You must wear a face mask while traveling’ in Melbourne. Credit: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

A public health advisory panel will soon decide if further restrictions are needed for large events including AFL games and the RISING festival, which is due to begin on Wednesday.

The Western Bulldogs have already had their weekly preparations interrupted, with the AFL club’s players and staff forced into isolation after an employee attended an exposure site.

Pending negative test results being received overnight on Tuesday, the Bulldogs expected players and staff to return to training on Wednesday.

Genomic sequencing shows the outbreak is linked to the case of a Wollert man, who contracted the virus in South Australian quarantine earlier this month.

The man, in his 60s, could be the possible “source case” for the City of Whittlesea outbreak, although a definitive link is yet to be established.

Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have significantly tightened their borders to Victoria while stopping short of slamming them shut for most travellers.

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