IF BALLARAT wants to avoid stage four lockdown then people need to do far more than is asked of them right now, ABC's coronavirus expert Norman Swan warns.
The Coronacast host and physician told The Courier mask wearing and social distancing were important and effective ways to reduce potential for the virus to spread. But, if Ballarat and regional Victoria wanted to avoid the harsher lockdowns Melbourne were under, people had to further limit time away from home for two to three weeks - effectively living similar to stage four laws.
Dr Swan told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday the rise in cases in regional Victoria - driven by outbreaks in Geelong, Bendigo and Colac - put forward a case for health authorities to consider the need for stage four lockdowns in rural and regional Victoria to stop people mixing.
He told The Courier it was a difficult decision and in some parts of regional Victoria, mask wearing might be enough. If results did not start to show soon, Dr Swan said then we need to look to tighten up.
"People say there's not the population density in regional Victoria, but you do in regional cities like Ballarat and Bendigo," Dr Swan said. "The other problem Victoria's got is that it's a small state, area-wise, and there's a lot of interchange between places.
"There are those factors to take into account. How long do you wait when everyday could mean another week at the other end? Every day counts."
Ballarat's COVID-19 case numbers continue to steadily rise with four new cases confirmed in the city, taking the active infections to 20 on Tuesday.
Neighbouring shire Moorabool has 11 active cases while Golden Plains (11) and Pyrenees (two) remain steady.
Bendigo cases have more than doubled in the past week with 56 active infections on Tuesday while Geelong's tally has climbed more than 60 active cases in the past week. Both cities have known outbreak spots.
Dr Swan said authorities could potentially "ring fence" Bendigo, Geelong and Colac similarly to how Melbourne and Mitchell Shire was cut off under stage three restrictions last month. Only, that method did not prove strong enough.
The problem is we want to be kind to people and give people benefit of the doubt but the virus doesn't.Dr Norman Swan
"It's quite likely Melbourne and Mitchell Shire come under control with very low numbers and if stage three doesn't work that you've got a paradox where Melbourne is looking good and the virus loses control in regional Victoria. You could end up with a really wicked problem where it flips the issue," Dr Swan said.
"The problem is we want to be kind to people and give people benefit of the doubt but the virus doesn't.
"All the virus wants to do is survive and multiply and find chinks in our armour."
Dr Swan said if the decision was his to make, he would not make a call to put regional Victoria under stage four restrictions just yet - but he would not be far off doing so either.
Independent epidemiologist Richard Clark said, put simply, Victoria as a whole needed to get on top of the virus' spread faster.
Dr Clark, who played a role in public decision making in May, said he would defer any opinion on restrictions to health authorities.
But, he likened the Victorian coronavirus crisis to fighting a bushfire with so many people moving relatively freely in, out and about regional Victoria.
It's a little bit like an ember getting caught in the wind. It can only take one person, one cinder, in contact with other people, for it to take off.Epidemiologist Dr Robert Clark
"That's the difficulty we faced with bushfires and conditions last summer. Although we didn't have control then, we do now. What's needed is to keep the cinders from spreading."
NB: Clarification: An earlier version of this story included a misquote from Dr Clark. He had said " ... to keep the cinders from spreading." in relation to controlling coronavirus.
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