Announcing the stepped-up measures, Premier Daniel Andrews warned there would be an unspecified “stage 3” soon, but would not say what further restrictions that escalation would place on Victorians’ lifestyles and personal freedoms.
Mr Andrews has publicly maintained the unity of the national cabinet, but some members of his own cabinet are frustrated that the gathering of federal and state governments has acted as a brake on Victoria’s intentions.
One cabinet minister, Adem Somyurek, tweeted on Tuesday night after the stage 2 restrictions were announced by the Prime Minister that he wanted an immediate lockdown to suppress the spread of the disease through the state.
Mr Somyurek has since deleted his online post.
NSW and Victoria pushed the Commonwealth hard on Sunday for a new suite of restrictions which the Morrison government was unwilling to accept before the national cabinet agreed to the compromise ‘stage 2’ shutdown.
Both the NSW and Victorian premiers have foreshadowed that states will now take unilateral action if they believe it is necessary to save lives.
Hospitals have been instructed to wind back all non-urgent surgery as they brace for an influx of patients seeking treatment for coronavirus.
Premier Daniel Andrews warned on Wednesday that the state may enact tougher containment measures independently of the other states.
“I’m being upfront with people. There will be a stage three,” Mr Andrews said.
But he would not speculate on what measures would come in the next stage of restrictions.
“What’s going on in the Northern Territory is not the same as what’s going on in the northern suburbs of Melbourne,” Mr Andrews said.
“We will have to move and put in place different measures, more measures.”
Mr Andrews said it was unlikely that individual regional centres in Victoria would be placed in lockdown, although he did not rule it out.
“I don’t think we’ll see a situation where metropolitan Melbourne has one set of policies or one setting and a regional city an hour-and-a-half or two hours away has a different set of rules,” he said. “That would confuse people.”
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the government had instructed hospitals to begin “winding back” elective surgeries to prepare for an escalation in coronavirus cases.
“We don’t put these measures in lightly. We understand that many Victorians will be inconvenienced by the delay in elective surgery. We will be hoping to be able to resume a blitz as soon as the peak of the pandemic is over.”
So far 12 people are receiving hospital treatment in Victoria for COVID-19.
Mikakos confirmed two people were being treated in intensive care – one of them aged in their 30s.
“I make this point which is to stress that COVID-19 is not an elderly person’s disease,” she said.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was crucial that Victorians followed the social distancing instructions or lives would be lost.
“I cannot say it clearly enough,” Dr Sutton said. “These are really life and death circumstances.”
Even though there has not been a rush on emergency rooms or any deaths in Victoria due to coronavirus, Dr Sutton said there was “no room for complacency”.
“Italy went from a few deaths to thousands of deaths within a two- to three-week period.”
Ms Mikakos said a million masks had arrived on Monday and another million were due next week.
Almost 25,600 tests for the virus had been carried out in the state by Tuesday.
The Department of Health and Human Services has also adopted a text message system to check on people who have been ordered into quarantine.
The contact tracing team has been expanded within the department. There are 1700 “close contacts” isolating in Victoria. They currently use the coronavirus hotline to get in touch with the department.
Those people will get a message asking to answer a series of questions. If they don’t respond, or their answers require a follow up, the health department will knock on their doors to ensure they are “doing the right thing”.
“It is incumbent upon all of us to take this pandemic very, very seriously,” she said.
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age