Victorians eligible to get a Covid-19 vaccine have been told “waiting is a not an option” as a fifth case of community transmission of the virus was identified, prompting restrictions to be reintroduced for greater Melbourne.
Acting premier James Merlino announced on Tuesday that from 6pm, private gatherings in the home would be limited to five people, public gatherings would be limited to 30, and face masks would need to be worn indoors for everyone aged 12 years and older.
“This is a stark reminder that waiting and thinking, ‘I will wait until the end of the year to get the Pfizer jab’ … waiting is not an option,” he said. “If people want to avoid the situation we are in right now, there is something that everyone can do. If you are eligible, get vaccinated.”
The restrictions on greater Melbourne are due to remain in place until 4 June.
A man in his 60s in Melbourne’s northern suburbs was the fifth person to be diagnosed in the latest cluster, with the state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton concerned he may have been infectious since 17 May, before the four cases announced on Monday. He had a meeting with one of the four cases, a man in his 30s, which is where Sutton said he believes the virus was transmitted between the two.
Three family members of the man in his 30s spread across two households in the Whittlesea local government area, tested positive on Monday.
Genomic sequencing has shown the cases are closely linked to the Wollert cluster from earlier this month, which originated from a breach in South Australia hotel quarantine. It is the B.1.617 variant originally identified in India.
“It is as infectious as any other variance that has been reported historically, so it is by no means one we want to be complacent about,” Sutton said. “It has got 15 mutations, two of which are of concern that relate to transmissibility, so we should not be complacent … It is at least as infectious as the so-called UK or Kent variant.”
Highpoint Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s west, Woolworths Epping North, and Bundoora Jump! swim school have been identified as tier one exposure sites, which means people who have visited those sites at the times of concern must get tested immediately and quarantine for 14 days from exposure.
The health minister, Martin Foley, said as of Monday night, 35 primary close contacts linked to the Bundoora swim school were being tested as a matter of urgency.
“There are four other households and household close contacts of the cases from yesterday,” Foley said. “They have come in and have all tested negative. As people come forward and our teams go through the list, primary close contact numbers will grow.”
Foley urged people to get tested and with an anticipated rush on testing sites, 26 testing locations will operate to extended hours on Tuesday.
“We are finalising the number of other pop-up sites that will be communicated across the website as they open … My advice to anyone is clearly to get tested if you have any concerns and showing even the mildest of symptoms,” he said.
Merlino flagged changes to vaccination program eligibility would be announced in coming days as he urged people not to delay. He added broadening the program would come down to supply from the federal government.
“We are looking at going beyond or expanding the eligibility criteria in terms of people looking to get vaccinated. We will be making some announcements in coming days in that space,” he said.
“As the minister for health indicated, we have received some additional supplies and we are encouraging people if you are eligible to get vaccinated.
“Obviously we want to see the supply being confirmed so we have got confidence. And that is part of the examination of what more we can do in terms of who is eligible for the vaccination and how they can be broadened out. That comes down to what confidence we have in supply.”
Merlino’s comments come as medical experts have expressed concern in recent weeks about hesitancy towards the AstraZeneca vaccine in particular.