One regional Victorian town is waking to seven days at home while two other towns will bask in new freedoms over the weekend as the state yo-yos in and out of lockdowns.
Mildura Rural City Council residents were plunged into a one-week lockdown at midnight on Friday, giving locals just over six hours notice, at the same time as Greater Shepparton and Moorabool Shire exited their lockdowns.
It comes as the state’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton said Victoria’s coronavirus outbreak was nearing its peak after another record-breaking day of case numbers with 1838 infections and five deaths.
But Prof Sutton said rising vaccination levels were ensuring the rate of people being hospitalised or placed into intensive care was not growing as quickly as the daily case numbers.
Meanwhile NSW’s new premier Dominic Perrottet has boasted his state could have among the world’s highest vaccination rates as it approaches 90 per cent single dose coverage.
That milestone all but guarantees a 90 per cent full vaccination rate which would place NSW above the targets in the Doherty report and among the highest vaccinated areas on the planet.
The state on Wednesday achieved 70 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage of those aged over 16, clearing the way for restrictions to ease as planned on Monday.
But as soon as early Saturday, 90 per cent of the state’s eligible residents will have been jabbed with at least one dose.
Premier Dominic Perrottet on Friday said NSW was proudly leading the country when it came to vaccination and a return to COVID-normal.
“We can really be, in our state, in a situation where we have the highest vaccination rate in the world,” he told 2GB.
From Monday, a swathe of restrictions will lift for fully vaccinated people across the state, including shops and hospitality venues reopening.
But some food venues are reporting a race to hire staff in order to be ready.
Australians could achieve long-term protection by getting a third coronavirus jab rather than annual injections, according to Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) is expected to release advice about booster shots for the general population before the end of the month.
While there have been suggestions COVID vaccines could be needed each year, similar to the flu, Professor Kelly believes they may not be necessary.
“At this stage, it looks likely a third dose is all we know about,” he said.
“Remember that we’re only less than a year into this endeavour right across the world so, at the moment, it appears a third dose will be enough, but we’ll just need to see.”
Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, which are available in Australia, require two doses but some countries are offering a third jab to boost protection.
Professor Kelly said Pfizer and Moderna — both mRNA vaccines — would be preferred in a potential booster program but AstraZeneca may also be used in some cases.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia had secured 151 million doses to enable a booster program.
Up to 500,000 people with severely compromised immune systems will be able to access a third shot from Monday.
Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler wants to know when frontline healthcare workers and older Australians will be eligible for booster shots.
Australia has now vaccinated more than 60 per cent of its population aged 16 and above, while 81.5 per cent have receive at least one dose.
The health minister said the latest increase took Australia past the United States, Israel and the European Union on first-dose coverage.
Ashes tour approved
England’s cricket bosses have given the go ahead for the winter’s Ashes tour to Australia.
The England and Wales Cricket Board issued a statement on Friday which signals that the marquee five-Test series should begin as scheduled in Brisbane on December 8.
Yet the ECB has only given the green light for the tour to go ahead on the basis that “several critical conditions” have to be met by their Australian hosts.
The COVID-19 restrictions in place in Australia had prompted concerns from England players, yet a series of crisis meetings during the week appear to have appeased them and produced progress.
It is still unclear if England captain Joe Root, who last week refused to confirm he would tour, will be leading any Australia-bound squad.
His counterpart Tim Paine had said last week that the tourists would play with or without their inspirational skipper.
“Over recent weeks we have made excellent progress in moving forward on the England Men’s Ashes Tour,” read an ECB statement.
“To facilitate further progress and allow a squad to be selected, the ECB Board has met today and given its approval for the tour to go ahead.
“This decision is subject to several critical conditions being met before we travel.
“We look forward to the ongoing assistance from Cricket Australia in resolving these matters in the coming days.”
A major sticking point for England has been whether the squad’s family members could join them in Australia over the Christmas and New Year period.
Reports had suggested they could be given the use of a Gold Coast resort in Queensland to quarantine before the first Test while their families, arriving for Christmas, could be accommodated at a resort in the Yarra Valley before the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.