News Coronavirus COVID: Trouble for maskless MPs while states make plans for schools and surgeries

COVID: Trouble for maskless MPs while states make plans for schools and surgeries

MPs are supposed to wear masks – but photographs show masks are sometimes ditched.
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Coalition MPs including the Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy are at the centre of a police probe into whether mask rules were broken inside Parliament House.

Elsewhere, the focus is on how to handle COVID safety in schools as another state sends its children back to campus on Wednesday.

And Western Australians have been told some elective surgeries must be paused because hospitals have to prepare for a likely increase in coronavirus patients.

Here’s a quick wrap of the coronavirus news you need to know on Wednesday morning.

Victorian Liberals photographed without masks

Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and Nationals leader Peter Walsh could be in trouble with police after photographs emerged of them maskless while meeting former AFL coach Kevin Sheedy who was there as a motivational speaker.

The Age newspaper reports Mr Guy and Mr Walsh were among a number of Coalition MPs photographed without masks inside Victoria’s Parliament House where masks must be warn except when eating, drinking or performing public speaking duties.

“Well done on getting rid of those silly masks,” one of Mr Guy’s Facebook fans wrote.

Another social media follower commented that it looked like the “Liberal Party and the top end of town has its own rules”.

Another wrote: “So, here you are at work not wearing a mask. Why do I have to wear a mask at work then? Why are kids wearing masks at school?”

Last year, Mr Guy criticised Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews after he twice failed to wear a mask while walking across a car park to talk to journalists gathered for a press conference.

Matthew Guy met Essendon legend Kevin Sheedy. Photo: Facebook/Matthew Guy

Mr Andrews was fined $400 for those breaches.

“I hope the Premier, like every other Victorian who is caught without a mask, faces the full force of the law,” Mr Guy said in October last year.

It might be Mr Guy’s time to face the full force of the law.

Tasmanian schools prepare for outbreaks

Public school students in Tasmania are returning to the classroom, with health authorities warning of a spike in coronavirus cases.

On Wednesday, the state becomes the final jurisdiction to welcome public school students back for term one.

The Australian Education Union has raised concerns over staffing levels should teachers be forced into isolation because of the virus.

Tasmanian branch president David Genford said several hundred teachers had yet to provide evidence of their vaccination status as part of a education department mandate.

Acting Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff said 96 per cent of education department staff had registered their vaccination status, a “very high” proportion in line with community vaccination rates.

“The department will continue to work with those who are yet to provide proof of their vaccination,” Mr Rockliff said.

He said the state can call on 1700 relief teachers as back-up to full-time staff.

Tasmania has advised children to take a rapid antigen test if they are symptomatic, with the state not undertaking surveillance testing like NSW and Victoria.

NSW may ditch school tests

Rapid antigen testing in New South Wales schools is “unlikely” to continue past the fourth week of term, despite filling an important role in the return of children to classrooms.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Tuesday it was “unlikely” rapid antigen tests will continue beyond the end of February, with the government “assessing what we’re going to do from week four [of term] onwards”.

On Friday it was announced the education department was distributing 17.5 million more tests to maintain testing protocols until then.

It came after more than 3000 people – about 2400 students and more than 600 school workers – tested positive to coronavirus in the first week of term.

Teachers Federation NSW president Angelo Gavrielatos said the union would be “seeking further discussions with senior officials … in order to see how things may progress beyond that four week period”.

“There’s no doubt that the rapid antigen testing is identifying people who would otherwise be in schools infected,” he told AAP on Friday.

Some 43.2 per cent of primary school aged children have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

The outbreak in NSW has subsided from its heights in mid-January, with cases increasing on Tuesday, but remaining in the thousands.

There were 9690 cases and 18 deaths reported on Tuesday.

Hospitalisations continued to fall to 2068, with 132 people in intensive care and 61 of them on ventilators.

Mr Perrottet vowed to forge ahead and keep “the economy moving” on Tuesday, saying he wants “all industries back as quickly as possible” as the state rebounds from the recent outbreak that infected more than a million people in a matter of weeks.

“We need business open and lockdown is not the right approach,” Mr Perrottet says.

He said the best thing people could do is get vaccinated, including a booster shot for those eligible.

Some 44 per cent of NSW has now received a third dose, which includes people getting boosters as well as immunocompromised people receiving a third dose as a top up.

Pause on WA elective surgeries

WA has recorded 65 new COVID-19 cases as hospitals pause some elective surgeries in anticipation of a steep rise in infections.

Thirteen of the cases announced on Tuesday were locally acquired, with the majority linked to an influx of interstate arrivals over the weekend.

Premier Mark McGowan conceded it was likely there were still infections going undetected in the community, despite improved test numbers.

From February 28, a pause on booking non-urgent category two and three elective surgery procedures will come into effect.

The freeze, which will last between six and eight weeks, is designed to help hospitals manage an expected surge in COVID patients.

“It’s in preparation for the growth in cases to ensure that our hospital system is ready for that,” Mr McGowan told reporters.

Mark McGowan
More people have been allowed to enter WA since February 5, but they must still have 14 days of quarantine. Photo: AAP

“Our vaccination rate and our increasing third dose will significantly reduce the health impacts on the West Australian public. But people will still get sick, so we need to provide capacity in the hospitals for those people.”

The latest WA Health report showed 29,475 people were already waiting for elective surgery.

Opposition health spokeswoman Libby Mettam said the government had been too slow to prepare the hospital system.

“The people of WA deserve better from a government that claims to be keeping them safe,” she said.

WA’s booster rate is nearing 46 per cent and is on course to be well above 80 per cent by early-March if the current take-up is sustained.

In written advice to the premier last month, Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said the government would need to weigh up overall booster coverage against the waning of protection among more vulnerable people from around the end of March.

Dr Robertson added that hospital bed occupancy was typically at its best between February and April.

He also warned of the potential impact on the health system if WA’s Omicron outbreak were to peak during the winter flu season.

Another key consideration is health worker shortages which Dr Robertson said were unlikely to be resolved until borders reopened.

-with AAP