As restrictions in Victoria begin to loosen, the state battles with a record-high number of COVID-19 cases.
Over the past few days, the state has recorded more single daily cases than the same days in New South Wales.
But what does that mean for Victoria? And is this a good or bad sign?
Here’s a look at the numbers and what they could mean.
On Monday this week, New South Wales recorded 787 cases, compared to Victoria’s 845.
The following day, New South Wales had 863 new cases and Victoria had four more, with 867 cases.
Both states have key restriction changes coming into effect once 70 and 80 per cent of people are double-dosed.
However, the approach New South Wales is taking allows greater freedoms at 70 per cent, such as home visits, the opening of indoor retail and hundreds of people at outdoor events.
But why are Victoria’s numbers crossing over with New South Wales?
Why have things shifted in Victoria?
University of Melbourne’s school of population and global health professorial fellow in epidemiology, Tony Blakely, said the answer was not as straightforward as people would like.
In the past few weeks, numbers have increased in Victoria largely because of household-to-household contact.
Simply put, it is because people are not abiding by the rules.
In explaining why people were understandably eager to get back to doing everyday, normal things, Professor Blakely put it down to “everybody’s over it, and [that is] pretty hard to criticise”.
“What’s happening is people are no longer keeping to their household bubble, and you’re seeing the virus spread, that explains why those numbers keep going up,” he said.
However, he said, the good news was that it also meant that it would not take much to change the situation.
Professor Blakely said numbers could also go back down again, if the rules were more strictly followed.
But there were also other factors to consider when comparing the numbers, he noted.
One is the rising vaccination rate in New South Wales, which had dampened transmission there.
Across that state, 85.5 per cent of those aged over 16 years had received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 60.1 per cent were fully vaccinated.
In Victoria, only 78.7 per cent of those aged over 16 years had received their first doses and just over 48 per cent had both doses of a vaccine.
While Victoria was behind NSW in vaccine coverage, Professor Blakely said he was confident numbers in the state would go down eventually. But, he said, exactly when that could happen was harder to predict.
“I think it’s almost impossible to predict exactly how long the case numbers will go up and when they will turn, but I’m pretty confident they won’t get to the 3,000s [in Victoria], but I’ve learned to be very cautious,” he said.
Is it just about a race to get fully vaccinated?
Comparing state-by-state cases and vaccination numbers is too simplistic and does not give a broader sense of where and how numbers are traveling, according to Nancy Baxter, Head of School of Population and Global Health at Melbourne University.
“People are really focused on these vaccine numbers because that’s all they’re hearing. But this is an outbreak and outbreaks grow, and then contract, and right now, Victoria is growing.
“The outbreak is growing. And, in New South Wales, the outbreak is contracting, it’s getting smaller,” she said.
“Victoria is going up the hill and right now and New South Wales is going down the hill. But, at some point, we’ll be at the same level on the hill,” she said.
Professor Baxter said looking at where the outbreak was being fuelled and what percentages of vaccinations were in LGAs of concern — such as in Melbourne’s city of Hume — was also an important factor to consider when looking at the broader picture.
What could this mean for Victoria?
One of the first stages of Victoria’s roadmap out of lockdown is already underway, with the state edging closer to its 80 per cent double-dose goal.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the state was expected to reach the 80 per cent single-dose goal on Tuesday, calling it “an important milestone”.
But what happens next, and will we start to see some numbers in Victoria decrease?
Professor Baxter said there were challenges with opening up before cases have come down and it was not something that was being done in other parts of the world.
“Generally, places have waited till their outbreak has subsided and the pressure on healthcare system has gotten better, and then they open up,” she said.
She said cases could start to contract in Victoria if long-term changes were implemented as well as high vaccination rates achieved, and other additional measures taken.
Some of those included making sure ventilation was well maintained, mask-wearing indoors, and making sure people were isolating when needed to and not going to work while sick.
Professor Blakely agreed with the changes needed to see those results.
He said there was a “need to innovate” to make sure next year is smoother than this year.
“We know it’s going to be a bumpy road between now and Christmas, it’s going to be a roller coaster,” he said.
“We will roller-coaster our way through the bumps but the roller coaster is something we can control because we’ve got excellent roadmaps,” he said.
Professor Blakely said Victoria needed other changes, including allowing vaccinations for children aged older than five years and continuously having some level of measures in place “to stop the virus screaming away from us”.
“Those measures will make life a lot better next year,” he said.
‘It takes a while for vaccines to kick-in’
Speaking to ABC News Breakfast, Mr Andrews defended the differences between New South Wales and Victoria’s approaches to ending lockdowns and easing restrictions.
Mr Andrews said both states were “working toward the same goal”.
“That is, to manage the number of people who will finish up in our hospital system, to care for them appropriately, but to not have our nurses given an unfair fight,” he said.
The infection curve in New South Wales began to flatten once about 50 per cent of its adult population had been vaccinated.
Professor Baxter said vaccination rates were only just increasing in the jurisdictions that had the highest proportion of cases.
“It does take a while for vaccines to start to kick in,” she said.
“So, even if the vaccination rate overall might be higher than New South Wales a month ago. You know, in certain pockets, we still have a lot of catch-up to do.”
Associate Professor James Trauer — whose research looks into biostatistics, data analytics and modelling — said even as case numbers might become a less-important factor, for the time being, they could still be useful to see where Victoria could be at in the coming weeks.
“We know that the vaccines have a substantial effect on onward transmission, and so they do significantly mitigate the epidemic curve, particularly as we get to higher coverage in younger age groups,” Professor Trauer said.
Vaccines also have a particularly major effect on severe outcomes, he said.
“With Delta, we have seen that herd immunity is essentially impossible and, even with significant lockdowns, it is virtually impossible to eliminate all transmission,” Professor Trauer said.
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