Victoria has recorded 76 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours and 11 more deaths, a day before Premier Daniel Andrews is set to reveal the state’s roadmap out of lockdown.
The new deaths included six who died in the past 24 hours and five that occurred over recent days.
All of the victims were aged between 60 years old and in their 90s, with 10 of the new fatalities linked to aged care facilities.
Australia’s coronavirus death toll is now 748, including 661 people in Victoria.
The new figures, released on Saturday morning, come a day after Victorian health authorities added 59 fatalities to the state’s virus death toll, including 50 people in aged care who died between July and August.
Of 1,956 active cases in the state, 286 are healthcare workers, Mr Andrews said on Saturday.
The Premier will on Sunday announce plans for the lifting of Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne, and Stage 3 in regional Victoria, warning that it must be done in a “slow, steady, and safe” manner.
“We just have to find a way to be as steadfast as this virus, it is stubborn. The tail of the second wave is a stubborn thing,” he said on Saturday.
“If you opened at these levels … it would be five minutes of sunshine and then a third wave that arguably will be even more devastating than the second.”
Mr Andrews said he hoped the strategy being devised by health authorities would push Victoria into a “COVID normal” phase, allowing the state to open up by Christmas and 2021.
“Not to be open for just a few weeks, but be open for as long as it takes to see this [pandemic] off until a vaccine arrives,” he said.
Victorian Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton said Saturday’s case numbers showed “an ongoing slow and steady decline”, describing it as “some light at the end of a very long tunnel”.
“It’s too slow for all of us, it’s too slow for me, but it is going in the right direction,” he said. “We are on the winning stretch now, there’s no question.
“This is the last gasp of the virus.”
Professor Sutton said Sunday’s recovery roadmap would have a focus on aged care homes and workplace safety.
“It’s both the response within those settings, so making sure that it doesn’t spread amongst [aged care] residents, it doesn’t spread amongst staff, and it doesn’t go between staff and residents,” he said.
“But it’s also about keeping on top of the numbers in the community, because the aged care outbreaks follow community transmission.”
Meanwhile, viral fragments of COVID-19 have been found in wastewater samples at Apollo Bay in the state’s southwest.
Professor Sutton said while COVID-positive samples have been expected at sewage testing sites because of the overall prevalence of the virus in the state, the Apollo Bay result is of interest because there has been no reported cases in the town in recent weeks.
Testing in the area is being stepped up, but authorities say there is no impact on the local water supply and it remains safe to drink.
Victoria Police arrested at 15 protesters in Melbourne during an anti-lockdown protest on Saturday, while a further 150 people were issued infringement notices.
New South Wales reported five new coronavirus cases on Saturday, four which are linked to the Sydney CBD cluster, while Queensland said one new infection had been detected in a close contact of a known case.
Metropolitan Melbourne residents are subject to Stage 4 restrictions and must comply with a curfew between the hours of 8pm and 5am. During the curfew, people in Melbourne can only leave their house for work, and essential health, care or safety reasons.
Between 5am and 8pm, people in Melbourne can leave the home for exercise, to shop for necessary goods and services, for work, for health care, or to care for a sick or elderly relative. All Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at https://sbs.com.au/coronavirus.