• Loddon Herald

Premier makes 'plan' announcement

Premier Daniel Andrews has announced Victoria's plan out of current COVID restrictions.

He said:

These past 20 months have been incredibly hard on all Victorians. We have missed our loved ones and doing the things we love, all the while buying time for people to get vaccinated.

Opening up too soon – before people had the chance to get the jab – would mean our hospital system simply could not cope and catastrophic numbers of Victorians would become seriously unwell.

However, as more and more Victorians get that protection, we move to the next phase of the pandemic and we have the opportunity to open up. The path to being open again will be difficult – but essential to moving forward as a state.

Victoria’s new Roadmap to Deliver the National Plan released today sets us on a hopeful path to opening while also preserving our health system and ensuring Victorians can still get the healthcare they need, when they need it most.

The Roadmap has been developed based on expert modelling from the Burnet Institute and is set against COVID-19 thresholds including hospitalisation rates, and the vaccination targets already set out in the National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response.

The modelling has helped our public health teams get a picture of what our hospitalisation rates could look like while cases are still rising and develop trigger points to indicate if the system is becoming overstretched – allowing time to implement further health measures and protect it from becoming overwhelmed.

While we’re no longer aiming for COVID zero, it’s imperative we don’t jeopardise our health system as we open up – too many Victorians rely on it every day.

The COVID-19 thresholds detailed in the Roadmap will be important measures to maintain as we move through the different stages in order to safeguard the health system. There will be a “guard rail” system in place, which will allow our public health team to adjust restrictions if hospital admissions become too high.

The Burnet modelling also shows that the key to opening up and reducing risk in Victoria will be making sure workers across the state are vaccinated.

To help ensure this, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer will assess vaccination requirements for all authorised workers in Victoria. These requirements and potential deadlines will be assessed progressively as the Chief Health Officer considers each sector. There are already vaccine requirements for aged care, construction, and freight workforces.

Following the recommendation from AHPPC to National Cabinet, we can confirm that healthcare workers will be the next workforce to have vaccination become a requirement to work. Healthcare workers will need to have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by 15 October or provide evidence that they have an appointment to be vaccinated before 1 November to continue working.

The next workforce group prioritised for assessment will be school staff and childcare staff. We will also have more to say soon about Victoria Police and disability worker vaccinations requirements.

As we reach 70 per cent and 80 per cent double dose vaccination targets, the Roadmap lists certain venues for opening – but only on the condition that all eligible attendees to the venue are vaccinated.

While we remain constrained by Pfizer vaccine supply from the Commonwealth, the Moderna vaccine will start being delivered through pharmacies this week, more GPs will have access to Pfizer and we’ll continue to do everything we can to prioritise vaccination those who need it – and make access to vaccinations as easy as possible for all Victorians.

As we’ve flagged before, there will come a time when Victorians who choose not to get vaccinated will be left behind – that time has now been firmly set in the Roadmap.

When Victoria reaches 70 per cent double dose vaccination, changes will include an increase in numbers for public gatherings outdoors, funerals, weddings and religious gatherings – with larger caps for people who are fully vaccinated.

Creative studios, amusement parks, entertainment venues and hospitality will also reopen with patron cap and density limits but only to people who are fully vaccinated.

There is very little precedence in Australia for fully vaccinated events, which is why the Government will conduct trials to support businesses as much as possible in the lead up to transitioning to a ‘vaccinated economy’ in this state, and ensure we have the right systems in place.

Both one-off events and specific venues will be considered – with businesses permitted to operate with higher patron caps if all staff and patrons provide evidence of full vaccination. Areas in regional Victoria with highest vaccination rates and no COVID-19 cases will be the first to be considered for these trials.

Proof of vaccination options will also be part of the trials. The Service Victoria app will be integrated with a Medicare Certificate that shows proof of vaccination and other proof of vaccination options may also trialled to determine what works best for both businesses and patrons.

Another key part of the Roadmap when we hit 70 per cent double dose vaccination, getting more activities outside is a key part of keeping us safe and slowing case numbers. We want to see retail shopping in laneways and fitness classes in our parks.

Based on the overwhelming success of last Summer’s Outdoor Dining program, we will be looking to provide additional funding to councils and businesses to get even more activities outside and more details will be released about this soon.

For the final phase of the Roadmap, we will wait for more details to be developed as part of the National Plan as we move beyond 80 per cent double dose vaccination rates and we will update Victorians on that final phase in coming weeks.

We know how important getting to the end of the year and being able to celebrate Christmas will be for so many. That’s why we are working towards having 30 visitors to the home by late December – and with travel across both interstate and international borders open again, many families will be able to reunite.

So, if you are yet to book your vaccination, now is the time.

In our state clinics there are 4,796 AstraZeneca appointments and 9,076 Pfizer appointments available over the next week. Victorians can also book through their trusted GP or local pharmacist. More than ever, the best vaccine is the vaccine that’s available today.

For more information on Victoria’s Roadmap to Deliver the National Plan visit coronavirus.vic.gov.au.

Mr Andrews also said:

Thanks to the incredible efforts of our community, Victoria will hit our 70 per cent first dose vaccination target tomorrow – becoming the second state in Australia to do so.

With this milestone, new freedoms can take effect – but emerging risks must be addressed and we need to keep the momentum going to hit 70 per cent and 80 per cent double dose targets as soon as possible.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer has recommended some modest easing to restrictions from 11.59pm Friday, 17 September in lockdown areas of metropolitan Melbourne and Ballarat – expanding outdoor social interaction, exercise, the distance you can travel from home and more.

The most significant change is that there will now be one other reason to leave home: outdoor social interaction.

This means one person may meet another person not from their household for a picnic, a walk, or another outdoor activity. Additionally, up to five adults (plus dependents) from two households will be able to gather outdoors if all adults present have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The time permitted for exercise – and now outdoor social interaction – will increase from two hours a day to four hours. The distance you can leave home for shopping for necessary goods and services, exercise and outdoor social interaction will increase from five kilometres to 10 kilometres.

As part of further changes to exercise, two people will now be able to train outdoors with a personal trainer. Skate parks and outdoor communal exercise equipment will reopen.

Child-minding for school-aged children will be permitted if only one parent is an authorised worker.

Up to five people will be able to attend an entertainment venue or physical recreation facility to broadcast a performance, class, or concert.

Real estate inspections will resume by appointment only. To ensure they’re COVIDSafe, only people from the same household can attend the inspection appointment and the real estate agent must stay outdoors during the inspection.

While these changes can go ahead, public health officials have become increasingly concerned about COVID-19 transmission and exposure in construction settings, with evidence that it emerging as a ‘vector’ of the virus into regional areas. Changes will be made to limit further spread in this industry, allowing people to keep working safely.

In order to continue working, construction workers state-wide will need to show evidence to their employer that they have had a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by 11:59pm Thursday, 23 September.

Limited medical exemptions and proof-of-booking exceptions will apply, in line with previous requirements for residential aged care workers.

In light of the cases seeding from Melbourne into regional Victoria, construction workers will now not be able to cross the metropolitan-regional boundary for work. Tea rooms will need to close and food or drink will not be able to be consumed indoors at work. Worker shift bubbles must be in practice and all sites will require a COVIDSafe Marshal on site.

From 11.59pm tomorrow night, there will also be some changes to COVIDSafe settings in regional Victoria – excluding the City of Ballarat which entered lockdown yesterday.

In regional Victoria, gyms and outdoor and indoor pools (excluding spas, saunas and steam rooms) will reopen with limits and hydrotherapy and swimming lessons can occur. Tour buses can operate up to 10 people.

Victorians can book their vaccination appointment at a state-run centre by visiting portal.cvms.vic.gov.au or by phoning the Coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398.

Construction workers can also access priority booking (phone only) and can walk up without a booking for Pfizer during key times at the old Ford Factory in Campbellfield, the former Bunnings in Melton West, Eagle Stadium in Werribee and the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.

If you’re yet to be vaccinated, please book your appointment today – either in state-run centres, or at your GP or local pharmacy. The best vaccine is the vaccine you can get today. If have any questions or concerns you can talk to a GP, pharmacist or to a senior and experienced immuniser at our state-run sites.

While we’re able to make these changes now, we still can’t afford to let this virus run free – our hospital system would be overrun, our frontline staff would be placed under extreme pressure, and quite frankly, people will die. We need to keep slowing the spread of the virus until enough of us are fully vaccinated.

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