Victoria can't keep up with 'massive' tracing task

Hannah Wootton and Patrick Durkin


The country town of Colac has launched its own community-run contact tracing program amid complaints that Victorian authorities have been "woefully slow" in working to contain a COVID-19 outbreak at a lamb abattoir.


Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews defended the government's efforts to keep up with the mammoth contact tracing task as the state's active cases reached almost 3000 and cases under investigation soared past 1500.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Deputy Premier James Merlino provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in Victoria.


The state reported 275 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and one further death after a woman in her 80s died of the virus in an aged care home, taking Victoria's death toll to 39.

Of the new cases, 247 remain under investigation, bringing the total number under investigation in the state to 1583, meaning authorities are still working to identify the sources of those infections.


Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has said each new case requires an average of seven to nine calls to trace close contacts, meaning the state's 2913 active cases could require more than 26,000 calls which can take up to an hour each.


The Premier defended the health department's efforts from growing criticism on Monday, but acknowledged that more resources were needed to respond to the "massive task" of working through the growing backlog of active cases requiring tracing or investigation.

"It is a big, big task. They are doing their very best. That is all you can ask of people," he said. "The team is getting bigger and it needs to because the task has never been bigger."

Mr Andrews urged those who tested positive and their close contacts to show "common sense" and stay at home until authorities contacted them.

"My advice, my message to those who test positive – if you get confirmation that you have tested positive, then you shouldn't need someone to call you to know that you have to stay home.

"And your close contacts, they need to stay at home as well. People in your family. You will be contacted as soon as is possible."

He said that difficulties contacting people added to the size of the tracing task. "Not necessarily everybody answers the phone when you call them. Not necessarily everybody is where they might be expected to be when you are trying to track and trace them," he said.

"If it was simple and just pressing a button, then of course that would be much easier, but it isn't."

'Tipping point' long passed When the state had 772 active cases in early July, Mr Andrews described the 7000 close contacts to be traced as a "tipping point". That number has now increased threefold.

Colac in south-west Victoria is running its own contact tracing program, after what local Liberal MP Richard Riordan described as a "woefully slow" response from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to an outbreak at the Australian Lamb abattoir in the town.

There have been 12 cases linked to the abattoir since a contractor working at the facility tested positive on Friday, including one at Trinity College Colac.

"We would still not know what we have in this town if it were up to DHHS," Mr Riordan said. "There's clearly a lack of resources and a lack of communication. We've had no information as to when or where the first person caught it, or how it come to town".

"The only reason there's information now is because the community, abattoir and hospital got together and did their own contact tracing. We're 72 hours into known cases and nothing has been done by DHHS."

He said the level of contact tracing the government needed to do was "going to be a nightmare" and was "getting worse by the day" as new cases continued to grow. Backlog hard to control

The Member for Polwarth said the rest of the country was handling its contact tracing "at a much higher and more efficient rate" than Victoria.

"New South Wales had that big outbreak at the Crossroads Hotel and they managed to really limit that. Whereas we have one case here and there's no plan or idea of what's happening," he said.

There have been 48 cases linked to the original infection at the Crossroads pub in Sydney's south-west.

Melburnian Michelle Lewis told 3AW radio she had waited five days for the return of a positive test result, before following up with DHHS after another four days to ask why contact tracing had not occurred.

She said despite taking the details of her close contacts, none of them had yet been contacted.

According to Australian Medical Association Victoria president Julian Rait, to control the virus' spread, all cases and close contacts had to be identified and quarantined within three days.

This meant that the backlog of contact tracing faced by the DHHS was unlikely to come under control.

Curve not yet flattened Mr Andrews also said on Monday that while new case numbers appeared to be declining, it was too soon to say whether Victoria's virus curve was flattening.

"I am cautious about this [saying the curve is flattening]. We had a very big day Friday and we had a substantial drop-off, even though we had done more tests," Mr Andrews said on Monday.

"This shows you that it is a wicked enemy, it is unstable and until we bring some stability to this, we won't be able to talk about a trend."

He said that, while "a day in this pandemic feels like a month", the state was still in the early stages of its outbreak response so case numbers may not yet reflect the success of its lockdown.

While hotspot suburbs have been in stage four restrictions for longer than the virus' 14-day incubation period, the broader Melbourne and Mitchell Shire lockdown will not hit a fortnight until Wednesday.


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