THERE is no clear end game but should Ballarat want to reach zero active COVID-19 cases, we need to re-think how we are living, a leading epidemiologist says.
We are close to eradicating the virus from this city.
There were no new known infections on Tuesday, with City of Ballarat's coronavirus toll standing at six active cases and 61 in total for the pandemic.
Regional Victoria has officially reached the half-way point of a stage three lockdown after cases in Ballarat reached a peak of 28 active cases last Monday.
Deakin University epidemiology lead Catherine Bennett said hitting zero cases in Ballarat was possible, despite numbers seemingly and stubbornly not vanishing.
Should we hit zero, it was also possible to keep it that way, even when lockdowns might be lifted.
Professor Bennett said the key was to keep alert for new cases, not just the active cases linked to known outbreaks in Ballarat, but potential new cases coming into the community.
Active cases take about two weeks to clear, for people to be free of symptoms and likely contagion. It would be the ones Ballarat did not know about that Professor Bennett said made it harder for health professionals to react and contain.
"We need to be keeping the call out for people to be tested for any symptoms because we know the virus has been in the community recently. It's almost more important to be doing the right things in a way," Professor Bennett said.
"Once Melbourne has low enough numbers, and regional Victoria is almost there, it's always going to have to be watch and alert. Testing is our eyes to see where the virus is."
Once Melbourne has low enough numbers, and regional Victoria is almost there, it's always going to have to be watch and alert. Testing is our eyes to see where the virus is.Catherine Bennett, Deakin University epidemiology lead
Professor Bennett said we all must learn to live with the virus. One restrictions were lifted and if Ballarat reaches zero cases, Professor Bennett said there was always the small chance the virus could take off again.
Professor Bennett said the last outbreak in Ballarat was a good example of health authorities quickly moving to contain the spread and with no-one seriously sick.
Ballarat Health Services confirmed on Tuesday there was no longer any COVID-19 patients in the Base Hospital and the health service was treating two people from the region in home isolation.
"That's how we can live with the virus, what we can do if we're ready," Professor Bennett said. "We need to shut it down quickly and stop the wildfire spreading."
That's how we can live with the virus, what we can do if we're ready...shut it down quickly and stop the wildfire spreadingCatherine Bennett, Deakin University epidemiology lead
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos thanked and congratulated Ballarat residents' efforts to stay safe and get case numbers down in this city.
Minister Mikakos, speaking to The Courier on Tuesday, said to only have one extra active case in Ballarat in the past two days was great work and reflective of the huge sacrifices people were making to keep themselves, their loved ones and this community safe.
But things could not go entirely back to normal should restrictions be eased mid next month.
"The pandemic will not be over in three weeks' time - we'd love if it was - and we need to be pragmatic about this, we need to look at the new COVID normal," Minister Mikakos said. "We will need minimal rules keeping us all safe and making sure there is no fourth or fifth wave, we need to be making sure the gains we make are not lost."
Minister Mikakos made clear the state government's move to extend the state of emergency for another year was not about extending stage three restrictions in regional Victoria or stage four in Melbourne.
She said the extension would provide the legal framework for public health rules to keep Victorians safe, on advice of the state's health experts. This could be masks and physical distancing measures to COVID-safe workplace laws and quarantine for overseas travellers.
The Minister likened this to Western Australia where there remained 18 directives in place, only in Victoria such a law was capped.
"Unfortunately there is only the remote possibility of a vaccine in the next few months and we need ways to keep people safe," Minister Mikakos said.
Professor Bennett suggested the new normal, post lockdown, could include anyone with cold or flu like symptoms to be isolating and home and being tested to help health experts keep control of the virus in Ballarat. She said anyone with a bad cold should not be going to work anyway.
About the region, Golden Plains achieved zero active cases on Monday while Pyrenees and Hepburn shires have remained coronavirus-free after initial cases going into lockdown were contained.
Moorabool Shire's active infections popped back up to 13 cases, having been as low as four on Tuesday last week.
Anyone with symptoms is urged to isolate and get tested. Book a test at Lucas (call 4311 1571), Little Bridge Street (1800 054 172) or the Sebastopol pop-up clinic (5320 8889).
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