Victoria expands coronavirus testing

Any Victorian with a fever, shortness of breath, cough or sore throat can now be tested for coronavirus as the rate of new infections slows.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos confirmed 10 people had tested positive for COVID-19 overnight, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 1291.

It follows just 13 new cases of the virus on Sunday and three on Saturday.

“The numbers are positive. I guess I’m feeling relatively optimistic in the past week in terms of the slowing down of the growth in new cases,” Ms Mikakos said on Tuesday.

Authorities are now making a concerted effort to tackle transmission in the community by significantly increasing coronavirus testing from Tuesday.

Anyone who has had a fever or breathing symptoms will now be able to get tested for the virus at 40 clinics across the state or by their GP, in what Ms Mikakos described as the “most generous, the widest testing criteria that exists in the nation”. 

Testing was previously only for people who had recently returned from travel or who had come into contact with a confirmed case. 

“We need to focus now on community transmission and by opening up the testing criteria, we think we’ll be able to gauge the level of infection,” Ms Mikakos said.

“This will also help us to determine how we respond in terms of the restrictions going forward.” 

The minister also announced 120 paramedics will be recruited ahead of time so more ambulances can be on the road during the pandemic. 

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he hoped the broader testing criteria will capture any undetected cases in the community and “drive cases down to zero”. 

“There is the potential to walk back the most significant restrictions if we can drive numbers right down,” he said.  

Ms Mikakos, however, warned against complacency or easing restrictions too soon. 

She said one person in the community with coronavirus could potentially infect 400 others within a month. 

“If we have 200 people walking around the community that could be 80,000 people in one month, so I ask the community for their understanding and co-operation,” Ms Mikakos said. 

“We are of course planning about what the timing and what the lifting of restrictions might look like but now’s not the time to be doing that.”

The state of emergency was extended at the weekend to May 11, which allows the government to keep up social distancing measures.

Under Victoria’s stage three restrictions, residents can leave their homes to go shopping for food and essential supplies, medical care or caregiving, work or education if necessary and exercise.

People can be fined $1652 if they leave home for non-essential reasons and businesses face a $9913 fine if caught doing the wrong thing.

Four people having a barbecue at a bathing box on Brighton Beach, 10 people partying in a backyard in Strathdale and 10 people gathered at a Montrose home were among those fined on Sunday. 

Some 99 fines were issued by police in the past 24 hours, along with 507 spot checks. 

Almost 21,000 spot checks have been carried out since March 21.

Fourteen people with coronavirus have died in Victoria, while more than 1100 have recovered.

About 40 people with the virus are in hospital, with 15 in intensive care. 

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