Catherine Bennett, a Deakin University epidemiologist and almost a household name in Victorian households these days, has weighed into the debate over whether or not the Kappa strain of COVID-19 circulating in Melbourne’s latest outbreak is more difficult to control than previous strains of the virus.
Speaking to radio host Hamish Macdonald on RN Breakfast, Professor Bennett said the start of any outbreak would always be challenging, but there were familiar patterns emerging in this outbreak as more data became available.
“I think when you’re in the thick of it, particularly if you’re looking at outbreaks that have started weeks ago when you first discover it, there is a tendency to think that the virus is moving faster than you’re anticipating,” Professor Bennett said.
“It can be quite overwhelming so we’ve, we’ve heard a little bit of that over the last few days and I think that was a bit checked yesterday by the Chief Health Officer.“
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, who has described the virus strain at large in Melbourne as an “absolute beast” that was spreading “in settings and circumstances we’ve never seen before”, toned down his language on Wednesday, as acting Premier James Merlino detailed the state’s next stage of COVID-19 restrictions.
Professor Bennett said the outbreak was controllable, and Melburnians should have hope, despite the extension of restrictions.
“This fortunately isn’t the worst of the lineages that have come out of the Indian wave where we’ve seen these mutations emerge.
“And, the fact that we’ve got 60, 61 cases now in a whole month where for the first weeks it was running unchecked tells us that it is controllable and I think that’s the message: that this is a difficult virus to chase down, but equally it is doable, and, and I think that that’s what we should get from this.”
She also praised the contact-tracing efforts, and pointed out that this strain may appear different to previous ones when in fact we have simply had a better chance to observe the virus and collect more accurate epidemiological data because authorities were dealing with only a few cases a day.
“The big difference is that this is the most extraordinary contact-tracing effort so we’ve got this incredible mapping of this virus, both where it is in the community and how it’s moving. We haven’t had anything like this with an outbreak of this scale before, and the opportunity then to see exactly how that virus moves through the community.
“So I think one of the things is it’s difficult to compare back to, say, the second wave in Victoria, because we had nowhere near that that understanding.”