The Australian state of Victoria has recorded its lowest rise in Covid-19 infections for a month, raising hopes it is gaining control of an outbreak.
The state capital, Melbourne, has been in lockdown for over a month, but even stricter measures including a night-time curfew were imposed on 3 August.
The state still has 7,274 active cases and remains Australia’s worst concern.
But despite reporting its deadliest day on Monday, Victoria has seen new infections decline in recent days.
Tuesday’s increase of 222 was the lowest daily total since 18 July. There were 17 more deaths, taking Australia’s tally to 438 since the pandemic began.
“I would hope that we’re in the hundreds [of new cases] – not in the 200s – next week,” said Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
“But again it all depends on everyone doing the right thing, which includes stepping up for testing.”
Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), recorded three new cases on Tuesday, its fewest in 47 days.
Inquiry probes origin of outbreak
At the end of March, Australia’s federal government said everyone returning to the country from abroad would need to enter mandatory quarantine programmes, which would be run by individual states.
Almost all current cases in Victoria can be linked to returned travellers quarantined in the state, an inquiry has heard this week.
“It is likely that a high proportion – approximately 99% of current cases of Covid-19 in Victoria – have arisen from Rydges or Stamford,” said state epidemiologist Charles Alpren, referring to two specific hotels.
Genomic sequencing data had made experts “incredibly confident about the accuracy of that clustering”, added Prof Ben Howden, director of the Melbourne-based infectious diseases centre Doherty Institute.
Dr Alpren said evidence showed nine in 10 current cases could be traced to one family of four specifically.
The inquiry also heard guards at quarantine hotels were given “inappropriate” training advice.
Australian media report that guards were told masks and other protection would not be necessary, as long as they adhered to 1.5m social distancing.
Barrister Tony Neal QC said the inquiry would aim to determine how the programme was structured and who was ultimately responsible for running it, as well as what improvements could be made for future quarantine programmes.
The quarantine programme “fell short of its goal” of preventing the spread of Covid-19, and for some people in quarantine it was “not clear who was in overall command of the operation”, Mr Neal said.
On Tuesday, NSW said it was also investigating how a security guard contracted the virus at a hotel in Sydney.