Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

If you live in Victoria, it is likely that you have received these texts or messages from friends and relatives in intergovernmental areas.

Maybe on a day like Thursday, when cases this week rose to over 1,400, prompting them to address concerns.

“Oh no, it’s a shame. Crossing fingers for you, hope it gets better soon”, or words in that direction.

Maybe they have asked you why it is that New South Wales has so few cases while Victoria’s are still so high?

But when you step down, both states have actually followed a fairly similar path since their lockdowns eased.

The main difference?

When Sydney left its lockdown on October 11, the state reported 496 new infections.

When Melbourne left its lockdown ten days later, Victoria reported 2,189 new cases.

Since then, the seven-day average for new infections in both states has dropped before stabilizing to a plateau.

Matt Hopcraft, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne and an expert in dental public health, has been following the numbers closely for several months.

“Obviously we’ve had a reduction in the number of cases here in Victoria from where we were at the top, and New South Wales saw the same thing,” he said.

“I think the basic thing we see is that we are reopening in a much higher number of cases.

“When they reopened, they were on a lower number of cases.”

Victoria’s current caseload puts it at the lower end of the Burnet Institute’s modeling, which supported the state’s path out of lockdown.

Dr. Hopcraft said the effective reproduction rate appeared to have stabilized at around one in both states, resulting in the NSW plateau with a seven-day average of just over 220 cases, and Victoria’s around 1,100.

Widespread outbreaks made Victoria’s confinement difficult

Deakin University’s president of epidemiology, Catherine Bennett, agreed that the volume of cases when the two states reopened was a big part of the equation.

“But more than that, it’s more prevalent in Victoria,” she said.

“New South Wales… had a series of eruptions they had to deal with, you know, Albury, up on the central coast and so on.

“We do not have a particular outbreak that we need to focus on and limit in Victoria, it has actually been quite widespread and it has been a bit more of a challenge.”

She said the proliferation of cases across Victoria, as the state aimed to reopen, also meant that vaccination efforts needed to be broadly focused to help protect dispersed communities facing outbreaks.

An intergovernmental comparison of hospital admissions is a little more complicated as the two states use different measurements.

But again, the trends are not unequal: Victoria hospital admissions have started to dive below 300 towards the end of this week, while New South Wales hospital admissions fell to 140 on Friday.

“I do not think it’s a question of what’s going wrong in Victoria, I think things are going right,” Dr Hopcraft said.

He said that although the number of cases was not as low as people might wish and there was still pressure on the health care system, a will from the Victorians to continue wearing the mask and restrictions still in place was a good sign .

Professor Bennett said the stability of Victoria’s figures was “astonishing” given how light touch restrictions had become.

“You’ll probably see that the balance now between not needing restrictions to keep your case numbers, they are not picking up speed because you have a high vaccination rate,” she said.

Omicron is a wildcard, but the summer could help push things down a little more

Both Dr. Hopcraft and Professor Bennett noted that it remains to be seen how the new Omicron variant would affect things.

But Professor Bennett was largely optimistic that this summer’s combination of a break on unvaccinated children mingling in classrooms and several outdoor events could even see cases “float down a bit” and hold in Victoria.

“When we start rolling out the booster program, especially for the elderly people who are a little more prone to the serious illness of infection, then we should be in a good position,” she said.

Professor Bennett said how much the state could run cases down during the Christmas holidays would depend on each individual person.

“Know that you can choose to wear masks, whether you are asked to or not, or you can keep your Christmas either outdoors or with all the windows open,” she said.

“If you’re just a little bit attentive this year, all of these things will just make that little difference … which will then affect what we see across the country.”

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