Victoria has set another record for daily Covid-19 case numbers, reporting 1,965 new locally acquired cases and five deaths, as the state removed its requirement for secondary close contacts to isolate.
A woman and four men were among the deaths. There are now 578 people in hospital with the virus, 117 people in intensive care and 83 on ventilators.
It comes as authorities raised concerns about growing case numbers in Mildura, on the New South Wales border. Twenty cases were reported in the city on Friday, triggering a lockdown that night.
The health department deputy secretary, Kate Matson, said authorities were “particularly concerned” about the case numbers there.
“We believe there may be additional cases out there that we have not found,” she said. “Cases are spread across a number of households and there are links over into NSW. The total number of active cases in Mildura is now 37, and that’s up from one case one week ago.
“The next seven days will be crucial for us to have a really stringent public health response.”
Matson also announced a change to isolation rules. Secondary contacts will no longer need to isolate, freeing 16,000 people from quarantine.
“There is a very important difference between someone who is known to have come into contact with a confirmed case, and then someone who has come into contact with that primary close contact,” she said. “The risk is different.
“So this just recognises the changing risk and the changing environment that we are in. We are no longer chasing Covid zero in Victoria, and we have 17,000 active cases in Victoria at this point in time.”
It comes as a anti-lockdown protesters were arrested at Glen Waverely in Melbourne on Saturday, with police clamping down on a planned protest.
The protest, called a “roadside demonstration” by organisers, was set for midday and was descended on by police, who quickly broke it up.
Health authorities also confirmed that a Covid-positive airline crew member travelled to three states while infectious. The Virgin cabin crew member worked on six flights between Victoria, NSW and South Australia while infectious.
“Passengers on those flights are being contacted by the relevant jurisdictions and we’ve been in close contact with both NSW and South Australia, and working closely with them to contract for relevant passengers,” Matson said.
The Victorian assistant treasurer, Danny Pearson, announced that the state government would provide $15m in tailored support for the Victorian arts and creative sector, with $10m targeting small to medium organisations, and $5m to go to individual artists.
NSW recorded 580 new locally acquired cases and 11 deaths on Saturday, amid ongoing investigations into a new strain of Delta that has been detected in Sydney.
The state’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said there was no evidence the new strain was more dangerous or transmissible than the Delta strain.
“We’ve detected a genome of the Delta strain which is different from that that was previously transmitting in our community,” she said.
“We’ve linked that back to a person who returned from overseas but the exact mechanism of how that strain emerged and got into the community in western Sydney is still under investigation so we will update you as those investigations continue.
“But I want to reassure you that there’s nothing about this Delta strain … that suggested it’s any more transmissible, going to cause illness or any other issues additional to the current Delta strain. So in essence, it is another Delta strain circulating in the community.”
The NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, warned that case numbers were expected to rise as the state gears up to emerge from lockdown on Monday.
“We know that as we open up case numbers will increase,” Perrottet told reporters. “But what has been key to keeping people safe is our high vaccination rate. We have the highest vaccination rate in the country. I know there’s a sense of excitement … I just ask people over the course of the weekend, follow the rules that are in place.”
Perrottet denied he has been sidelining health officials in his decision making, after revealing changes to the state’s roadmap earlier this week without Chant present.
“There’s always different advice given and different opinions,” he said. I” saw an opinion the other day on the 7.30 report that said the opposite from a leading doctor who said the changes we’ve made in bringing forward the roadmap are modest and will ensure we keep people safe as we open up.
“This is a balance and that’s the approach the NSW government has taken successfully over the course of the last 18 months. We listened to the health advice. We listened to the economic advice. We listened to the mental health advice as well.”
NSW crossed the 90% first-dose milestone for all eligible adults 16 years and older, with the state now sitting at 72.8% fully vaccinated.
The ACT also recorded 25 new locally acquired Covid cases, with chief minister Andrew Barr saying most of the cases were still under investigation.
The territory also now has 97.1% of its 12-plus population having had the first dose of a vaccine, one of the highest rates in the world.