News Coronavirus Victoria shelves plans for eased rules as COVID crisis escalates

Victoria shelves plans for eased rules as COVID crisis escalates

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Victoria has another 1612 COVID cases as it begins to plan for reopening later in October. Photo: Getty
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Victoria has put plans to ease restrictions on hold as national COVID-19 outbreaks threaten to seep across the border and into the community.

Health Minister Martin Foley said the national situation was “extremely delicately poised”, with parts of NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory all plunged into lockdown.

In response to the unfolding crises, Victorian health authorities have opted not to go ahead with planned capacity limit increases to stadiums and theatres from 11.59pm on Thursday.

“We are seeing situations right across the country where 12 million of our fellow Australians are under a form of severe lockdown,” Mr Foley said on Wednesday.

“We are not increasing restrictions, as other states around the Australian mainland are. But what we are doing is holding them where they are to make sure that we keep Victorians safe.”

The state’s COVID commander Jeroen Weimar said Victoria was in jeopardy of importing coronavirus from interstate, having already encountered recent scares.

“What we’ve seen in the last seven or eight days is three separate incursions into Victoria from interstate transmissions – the Virgin flight, the [Northern Territory] miners and the Sandringham case,” he said.

“That’s changed, significantly, our assessment of interstate risks and that’s why we’ve taken the decision to hold the commitment that we made a week ago.”

It means the current round of restrictions set down for the school holidays will remain until July 8 before they are reviewed again next week.

Victoria officially shut its border to locked down parts of Queensland and Western Australia from 1am on Wednesday.

Their designation as red zones bans non-Victorian arrivals from those regions, while state residents can still return home but must self-isolate for 14 days.

Some 150 authorised officers at Melbourne airport are checking flights from everywhere apart from Hobart and Adelaide, the only Australian capitals not listed as orange or red zones.

So far, 7000 red zone permits have been given out. Health officials are following up with permit holders each day to ensure compliance and a third have returned a negative test to date.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s three-day run without a local COVID-19 case has ended after a primary close contact tested positive.

The Department of Health reported one locally acquired case on Wednesday, following almost 30,000 tests.

Mr Foley confirmed the case is a family member of a case linked to the Epping Private Hospital, where three infected Arcare Maidstone aged care residents were treated.

Another infection was recorded on Wednesday, a returned traveller in hotel quarantine.

There are now just nine active locally acquired cases left in the state and fewer than 300 close contacts in isolation. More than 20,000 Victorians have received a COVID-19 shot at state-run hubs in the past 24 hours.

Mr Foley said the health department had received confirmation of a change in Commonwealth policy to expand the vaccine rollout.

In a post-national cabinet announcement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged a new scheme indemnifying GPs to administer the AstraZeneca jab to Australians under 60.

It caught Victorian officials off guard, with Mr Foley saying the change had not been agreed to by state and territory leaders at national cabinet.

“This is an unfortunate reflection of the rushed conversation that the Prime Minister kicked off late on Monday night without talking to anyone,” he said.

“The last thing we need is confusion around vaccines. What we need is certainty and consistency and confidence in the vaccination program.”

Mr Foley plans to meet federal officials shortly to discuss delivery implications for GPs and state-run clinics.