A “suburban testing blitz” launching in Victoria today will aim to conduct 100,000 coronavirus tests over the next 10 days.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says he’s confident the strategy will help contain the virus, but how will it work?
Why is Victoria testing so many people?
Victoria has just recorded 33 new coronavirus infections — it’s the largest single-day increase in weeks and the ninth consecutive day there’s been a double-digit increase.
But what has had authorities worried over the past week is the recent increase in cases of “community transmission”, where the source of the infection is unknown.
Mr Andrews says authorities expect the blitz will detect more cases, and hopefully stop the virus spreading further.
“This suburban testing blitz is all about finding all of those people that have this virus, then having them quarantined in their home with appropriate support,” he says.
The Premier said “hundreds and hundreds of hours of planning” across multiple agencies have gone into developing the response.
Which suburbs are being targeted?
Teams of healthcare professionals will be going door-to-door in the Melbourne suburbs with the highest numbers of recent community transmission cases.
- Keilor Downs
- Sunshine West
- Brunswick West
Mr Andrews said he wanted to test about 50 per cent of people in those suburbs over the next 10 days.
Priority will be given to symptomatic cases, but people without symptoms who live in those areas are also encouraged to get tested.
“We’re bringing the public health and coronavirus response to your doorstep in these worst-affected suburbs,” he said.
How will Victoria test so many people in 10 days?
Mr Andrews says there are “lots of new ways” testing will be done.
There will be about 1,000 people doorknocking homes with information about COVID-19 and testing, and 800 people conducting tests.
Ambulances and mobile testing vans will be parked at the end of people’s streets, so that if they’re asked to get tested, “they’ll only have to travel 50 metres or 100 metres in order to complete the test”.
The door-to-door testing teams will initially use nasopharyngeal testing (a swab of the nose and mouth) but from next week they will start to utilise a new saliva sample test which has been developed by Melbourne’s Doherty Institute.
“You need much less PPE. You can administer the test yourself. It’s a more pleasant experience than the current test,” Mr Andrews said.
Teams will trial a few different collection methods, including bringing them door-to-door or distributing them ahead of time and allowing residents to text to arrange a pick-up.
Authorities are also increasing the number of testing centres to 135, creating 10 new drive-through testing sites, and will also set up some “mass testing sites” around the suburbs — including one at the Melbourne Showgrounds.
When it comes to actually getting lab results for all the extra tests, New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and South Australia have agreed to help Victoria process the extra swabs.
The Australian Defence Force will help fly the tests to those states’ capital cities for processing, as well as conduct tests and shuttle people from the airport to hotel quarantine.
Will the testing blitz actually make a difference?
Authorities hope it will.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the step-up in testing was a “critical component” of responding to the virus because authorities don’t know exactly who may have it.
“We are throwing everything at it,” Professor Sutton said.
“Regardless of where you are in Victoria, you need to try and minimise the interactions that you have with people you don’t normally see.”
Mr Andrews said he was “confident” the strategy would help contain community transmission in Victoria.
But the Premier urged everyone to be cooperative and get tested.
“I think that we will see more cases, and that’s exactly why we’re doing this testing,” Mr Andrews said.
“To get to the bottom of how much virus is out there, to take direct action with those families, with those people that have tested positive, to keep them in their homes, and to make sure that they’re not spreading the virus to anybody else.”