Ballarat health officials are concerned a planned protest against mandatory vaccination and Victoria's pandemic laws this weekend could become a COVID super-spreader event.
The Eureka Freedom Rally on Sunday is expected to attract thousands of protesters, many from Melbourne, where similar rallies have resulted in spread of the virus.
"Protests in Melbourne have demonstrated the ability of the virus to rapidly spread in crowds that are not masked or vaccinated," said Dr Robert Grenfell from the Grampians Public Health Unit.
"Across all of Victoria we are seeing cases come out of those protests that occurred previously on the steps of Parliament House. It is a concern to us because this event itself could in fact act as a super-spreader event in our region."
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GPHU operations director Robyn Wilson said the protest was "something on our radar" with 5000 to 10,000 protesters anticipated to attend.
"I anticipate not everyone there will be vaccinated so it's something to be aware of," Ms Wilson said.
Anti vaccination mandate gatherings have previously met with a lukewarm response in the regions including one uneventful gathering in October at Lake Wendouree of about 40 people. Why the mish-mash of causes promoting the rally have chosen Ballarat has not been explained, nor the appropriation of the Eureka flag. (The Eureka anniversary is Friday.)
Regional cities have led the state's vaccination uptake with all major centres long ago passing their 95 percent milestones. Ballarat has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, having reached 95 per cent shortly after November 22 and likely to now be above 98 per cent of the population aged 15+.
Following a Melbourne "freedom" protest in November, 19 people tested positive for coronavirus with one unvaccinated protester admitted to hospital.
Public health officials believe nine were infectious at the protests and seven were likely infected at the protests.
Dr Grenfell said while being fully vaccinated did not necessarily stop you contracting COVID or transmitting it to other people, it did reduce the likelihood and reduce the chance of becoming seriously ill.
"The outbreaks we have seen recently in the region, the most famous being the country music festival at Hamilton, have occurred when people come together, they start to have fun, start to socialise, they are in close areas and close contained spaces so the risk of contracting COVID increases," he said.
"It all comes back to the issue of density, of people and whether they are wearing masks or not and also vaccination status."
Ms Wilson confirmed there had only been one positive COVID case resulting from the Ballarat Cup, with the infection almost certainly imported to the region by a visitor.
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