Eleven new cases and two deaths in Victoria as numbers fall

 

Melburnians could be freed from lockdown by early to mid-October if COVID-19 cases continue to plummet.

As epidemiologists predict Victoria's 14-day average will dip below five cases a day within a fortnight, it is believed the government could reopen the city ahead of schedule.

That would allow up to 10 Melburnians to gather outdoors to watch the AFL Grand Final on October 24.

Under the current road map, Melbourne's lockdown will not be lifted until after October 26, on the proviso that Victoria hits the case target.

But on Sunday, Daniel Andrews left the door open to easing restrictions sooner, saying, "I've never ruled that out".

"We will always be guided by those three things: the evidence and the science, the data and what is deemed safe," the Premier said.

Beachgoers enjoying the weekend’s warm weather at Frankston Beach. Picture: Tim Carrafa
Beachgoers enjoying the weekend’s warm weather at Frankston Beach. Picture: Tim Carrafa

"We are on schedule. We may even be a bit ahead of schedule, but we've got to keep going."

The Herald Sun believes the government would abandon the October 26 date if the cases target is met and it is deemed safe to do so.

It would allow public gatherings to be increased to 10 people, shops to reopen, ­restaurants to offer outdoor dining and the end of the ­curfew.

The government's modelling expert, Professor Tony Blakely of Melbourne University, said the state was tracking well ahead of schedule.

On Sunday, Victoria recorded just 14 new cases - a three-month low - with the 14-day average dropping to just 38.4.

Basic modelling carried out by Prof Blakely, provided to the Herald Sun, shows daily cases could fall to 10 and the two-week average to 20 by September 28.

Police officers on patrol in Melbourne CBD during stage four lockdowns. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Geraghty
Police officers on patrol in Melbourne CBD during stage four lockdowns. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Geraghty

"We are on a good track if the recent past predicts the near future," he said, while warning a moderate cluster in Melbourne could change the predictions. "If we are aiming for tight suppression, which I am led to believe we are, and it is consistent with opening up borders and a hot spot strategy, then there is a case for considering opening up to step three earlier than October 26."

However, Prof Blakely said the government needed to factor in three weeks between a minor easing of restrictions on September 28 and the next step out of lockdown.

Melbourne University head of population and global health Nancy Baxter said the rapid fall in cases gave her ­confidence Victoria could dip below the five-case average within a fortnight.

"It's going to be at least a week and a bit from now, because even if we got down to almost zero, we have the tail, the numbers from the past 14 days, adding into our averages," Prof Baxter said. "If we're doing really well, I'd say we might even be a couple of weeks early."

Deakin University head of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said Victoria's testing and tracing had improved dramatically in the second wave, giving her reason to believe the state government could bring some easing measures forward.

"If it did keep travelling then we would be below five (case average over 14 days) by the end of the month," Prof Bennett said.

"Hopefully, that means the government now has more confidence to reset some of those markers (thresholds) - if even if not the numbers, then the dates."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison believed thousands of Victorian jobs could "bounce back" by Christmas if the state government handled the "next step right".

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged Victoria to open up as soon as possible.

 

 

WHAT WE MISS MOST ABOUT LIFE BEFORE LOCKDOWN

 

Victorians believe it is safe to play golf and tennis, shop at Bunnings and visit the zoo, ­according to a new report that ­reveals they are missing socialising with friends the most.

The latest Bastion Insights report shows 63 per cent of Victorians said golf should ­immediately be given the green light, while more than 60 per cent supported a return to shopping at Bunnings, visiting a hairdresser and playing tennis.

More than half said zoos, indoor dining at cafes and pubs, and real estate inspections could also go ahead with appropriate social distancing measures.

"Being stuck at home, people just want to be able to get on with DIY projects, and plant their vegie gardens," Bastion Insights chief executive Dianne Gardiner said.

"You just can't shop for these things online, and if Bunnings can open in a COVID-safe way like supermarkets, our research shows Victorians would support this."

Kew East mother of two Jess Kyriacou is among those who support opening up faster if it is safe to do so.

She said she was looking forward to family bushwalks and going to the beach.

"With the 5km limit there are so many things you take for granted that you can't do," she said.

Melburnians gather at Elwood beach as cases drop. Picture: Nicki Connolly
Melburnians gather at Elwood beach as cases drop. Picture: Nicki Connolly

"I think we'll have a new ­appreciation of those normal things."

She said her two sons Alex and Matthew had been "going wild" in lockdown.

"My 3½-year-old is climbing the walls being so cooped up. Especially when the playgrounds were closed, that was particularly hard, he was missing that social side of things," she said.

Asked the three things they missed most during lockdown, Victorians named socialising with friends, travelling, spending time with family and dining out. One in five said going out for coffee, while 16 per cent said going to the gym.

The Bastion Insights survey also found that the COVID-19 second wave had rattled Victorians, but their confidence in was beginning to bounce back.

Confidence that the state could control future outbreaks was also up - from 29 per cent on August 3 to 41 per cent on September 14.

But Victorians are the least satisfied with their state government's response to the pandemic, with just 44 per cent - down from 54 per cent six weeks ago - saying it was good or excellent.

The Western Australian government was given the highest approval, 79 per cent.

People exercise in Westerfolds Park, Eltham. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
People exercise in Westerfolds Park, Eltham. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

The report also revealed that 34 per cent of surveyed Victorians had less faith in our political leaders since the pandemic hit, but 16 per cent had more.

About a third had less faith in both the federal and Victorian governments - but 30 per cent had more faith in those on Spring Street, compared with just 19 per cent who had a more positive view of those in Canberra.

Victorian's loss of trust in their state leaders is far greater than in any other state.

The level of concern about the future has stabilised in Victoria, sitting at 46 per cent, compared with 60 per cent in August, the report says.

But while the physical and mental health concerns of Victorians had eased slightly, their economic fears had increased, and half were now very concerned about the economy.

And while many Victorians had been forced to save money during lockdown - more than those in any other state - "the gap between the haves and have-nots" was widening nationally, and those earning more than $156,000 a year are saving much more than others.

The Bastion report is based on a national survey of 970 people between September 10 and 14 this year.

 

COULD FLU VACCINE BE A POTENTIAL COVID-19 CURE?

A vaccine design previously developed to create immunity for influenza and cancer patients could be used to protect elderly coronavirus patients.

The original proof of concept design - or plan - has shown long-term immunity in mouse models, which researchers believe could also be tailored to help fight the coronavirus.

They're now working to adapt their research and use it to create a vaccine specific for elderly COVID-19 sufferers.

The design, a collaboration between Monash University and the University of Singapore, works by hijacking a cell called the dendritic cell, which "fast-tracks" the body's own virus-fighting immune response.

This targets what is known as the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2 - a protein found on the outside layer of the virus and essential for taking over cells within the body. Monash's Mireille Lahoud said "it's like you're addressing an envelope and ensuring the right immune response".

"The focus of our research is understanding the immune system and how the proteins of the cells in the immune system can be used to initiate or ­reduce a response," Associate Professor Lahoud said

"We want to block (the virus) getting in."

To do this, Prof Lahoud and colleague Irina Caminschi designed a protein - Clec9A - which latches onto the dendritic cells. This essentially acts as an alert, picking up the spike protein and delivering it to T and B cells, which are key in starting an immune response.

A recent study using this vaccine design in mice with COVID-19 found it initiated a "strong" immunity response for both young and old.

"Given the enormous impact that COVID-19 has had on aged care facilities globally, there is an urgent need for a vaccine that can work in older people, who often have weakened immunity and do not ­respond as effectively to vaccines," Prof Lahoud said.

The vaccine design, which has been proven in preclinical studies to work for cancer and influenza, has been more than 10 years in the making.

It comes as Melbourne's Doherty Institute continues research in two vaccines that target the tips of the spikes on virus cells.

The institute and the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences will test vaccines that block the receptor binding domain (RBD) of proteins surrounding virus cells.

The RBD enable the virus to attach and enter cells, so blocking the attachment will enable the vaccine to block infection.

Human trials could start on 60 healthy people in about six months, with the vaccine tested prior on mice, hamsters and primates.

 

Originally published as The big hint Melbourne's lockdown could end early


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