Victorian and NSW contact tracing “looks pretty similar” according to chief health officer Brett Sutton, but there’s one area where NSW is far superior, experts say.

As Victorian contact tracing officials touched down in Sydney on Friday to visit a team described as “gold standard” by the Prime Minister, epidemiology professors said it was the decentralised approach to tracing in NSW that made it top of the class.

Deakin University chair in epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett told NCA NewsWire the devolved system across 15 districts in NSW allowed local health services to engage the community in a partnership and establish contacts sooner.

Melbourne University School of Population and Global Health Professor John Mathews added that NSW had also been much more transparent about what data was being collected.

“Victoria haven’t published anything about the distribution of symptoms in those who have been tested or in the contact tracing space whereas NSW have reported that,” he told NCA NewsWire.

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Prof Mathews said the State Government had been “embarrassed into receiving more information”, and part of the reason was the system was inefficient in the beginning.

“Victoria got caught making the wrong decisions early, it’s paid the price and they’ve worked very hard to catch up,” he said.

“But they still haven’t told the public what information they’re collecting and what information they’re not collecting.”

It’s been revealed some Victorian contact tracers have had to work off pen and paper and fax machines while the Department of Health and Human Services recently made technology upgrades.

Victoria has already made steps to decentralise contact tracing and is working to incorporate regional teams and hubs in metropolitan Melbourne into the system.

Prof Bennett said it was a welcome move but NSW had already had those systems in place for several years.

“You’ve got to have everything well connected, and that’s what NSW can teach us,” she said.

“It’s actually a system that works in any setting, and it can help you prevent the numbers taking off if you do get that local engagement.”

But Prof Bennett said Victoria’s contact tracing team had form, with Barwon Health containing a “rapidly escalating cluster” in Colac with localised tracing.

She said the Cedar Meats outbreak at the tail end of the first wave, which impacted more than 100 people, was brought under control by contact tracers as restrictions started to ease.

She said that experience and the improvements made to Victoria’s contact tracing over the past month would “absolutely” help keep numbers in check during future outbreaks

“We know we can do it, and we know that was down to contact tracing because we didn’t have a lot of restrictions in place at that point,” Prof Bennett said.

She said contact tracing was a combination of quantity and quality of the conversations.

“It’s more complicated in Sydney (at the moment) because people have more contacts, they’ve been to more places, they’re going to work,” she said.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the Victorian tracers were always in constant contact with interstate counterparts but were travelling to Sydney to “triple check” everything was in order.

Earlier this week Prof Sutton defended the state’s contact tracing system against attacks from the Federal Government but said he wished the system was “as robust then as it is now”.

He said the Victorian and NSW contact tracing systems “look(ed) pretty similar”, and he couldn’t say if the second wave would have been stopped with a NSW system.


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