Victoria is struggling to maintain a consistent COVID-19 strategy.
During a press conference this afternoon, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton indicated that Victoria may be aiming for elimination, not suppression.
Sutton explained that there are “no fixed thresholds” for the easing of restrictions, leaving Victorians in the dark about what will trigger an end to the current lockdown, which has been extended by seven days. The state government has indicated that the lockdown may be extended again if case figures are unsatisfactory.
Sutton appeared to signal that a prerequisite to the restoration of liberties will be zero community transmission of the virus. “We can’t have one or two cases out there and open back up to the kind of settings we had before,” he said.
This assertion indicates, albeit with little clarity, that Victoria may now be aiming for elimination of COVID-19 in the state. Such an objective would mark a significant change from the previous suppression strategy, which focuses on curbing community transmission only to the extent that the health system is not overwhelmed and the virus is kept under control.
National Cabinet committed to a suppression strategy at the start of the pandemic, and reaffirmed its commitment in July 2020, despite a comment from Brett Sutton that an elimination strategy would be “worthy of consideration.”
In January this year, Premier Daniel Andrews unambiguously rejected the concept of permanent elimination. “We are not looking to wipe [COVID-19] out. We have to live with it,” he said.
It’s difficult to believe, however, that this philosophy is still the basis for Victoria’s strategy.