Vic cluster grows but ‘not out of control’

A COVID-19 cluster in Melbourne’s north has grown to nine cases as city residents return to mandatory indoor masks and beefed up gathering restrictions.

Victoria’s health department confirmed on Tuesday afternoon it had been notified of a further four cases.

All are family contacts of a man in his 60s, who became the fifth person in Melbourne’s northern suburbs to test positive.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said authorities were working to contain the outbreak, with 84 of 164 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 Melbourne.

The emerging outbreak prompted Acting Premier James Merlino to announce home gatherings will be limited to five visitors per day and public gatherings restricted to 30 people from 6pm on Tuesday.

Masks will again become mandatory indoors for people aged 12 and over, though they can be taken off for eating, drinking and exercise.

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

The new restrictions apply only to Greater Melbourne, or people travelling into regional Victoria, and will be in place until at least June 4.

But visitor restrictions will also be introduced at hospitals and aged care facilities across the state.

“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 told reporters. 

He said a public health advisory panel would weigh up if further restrictions would be required for large events including football matches.

It comes as an entire Melbourne AFL club has been plunged into isolation after an employee visited Highpoint Shopping Centre during the exposure times.

The Western Bulldogs expect their players and staff to return to training on Wednesday, pending negative test results being received overnight.

A “tier one” exposure warning for Highpoint, the state’s third-largest shopping centre, has been reduced to five stores in the complex. 

People who visited the stores within specific time periods on May 20 must get tested and isolate for 14 days.

Broadmeadows Hospital has not been listed as an exposure site despite one of the new cases visiting on Friday.

Earlier, Mr Merlino said the man in his 60s had symptoms prior to the four cases identified on Monday, suggesting he could be the possible “source case” for the City of Whittlesea outbreak.

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.

Wollert falls within the City of Whittlesea, and the man shopped at the same Woolworths in Epping North as one of the new cases, albeit on a different day.

Professor Sutton, however, said authorities were yet to establish a “definitive link” between the Wollert man and the nine cases.

“There may still be another intermediary,” he said.

He added the COVID-19 variant in the Whittlesea outbreak is B1617, which was first identified in India in October last year.

Meanwhile, the operating hours of some 26 testing sites will be expanded, including the Melbourne Showgrounds, which reached capacity after being open for five minutes this morning.

Authorities also urged “millions” of eligible Victorians to get vaccinated and “avoid restrictions”.

Mr Merlino flagged he would make an announcement about expanding the vaccine eligibility criteria in Victoria in the “coming days”.

Domestic borders remain open despite every state and territory issuing updated travel advice for incoming and recent Victorian arrivals.

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