Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has scorned Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt over his suggestion of a COVID-19 vaccination program in schools to boost rates and get masks off sooner in all classrooms.
From Saturday, compulsory mask-wearing for Victorian high school students will be dumped but retained for pupils in years 3 to 6 due in part to the lower vaccination rate in children aged five to 11.
Since the national paediatric vaccine rollout began on January 10, 54.5 per cent of Victorians in that age group have had at least one dose
That compares with a double-jab rate of 93.9 per cent for Victorians aged 12 and above.
Mr Hunt said it would be hard for parents to understand why Victoria had opted to take a “different path” on school mask rules than NSW and Queensland, and offered a solution to boost vaccine take-up among primary school children.
“The fastest way out is to have a school-based vaccination program,” he said on Wednesday.
“If this is about vaccination rates, which, as I say, are some of the highest in the world, then the best way to turbocharge those school-based vaccination rates is with a school-based program.”
Mr Andrews scoffed at Mr Hunt’s advice, noting his government had already run pop-up vaccination hubs in schools.
“Frankly, Victorians don’t take orders from Greg Hunt, the bloke who forgot to place an order for vaccines,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“We are out there doing the Commonwealth government’s work for them. The least they could do is not be lecturing us on how to get that job done.”
Victoria recorded another 16 COVID-related deaths and 6715 new cases on Thursday.
Health Minister Martin Foley said about 2000 cases a day were emerging from schools in the state, but left the door ajar for the primary school mask mandate to be dumped before the end of term one.
“These things are reviewed all the time,” he said.
Meanwhile, Police Minister Lisa Neville announced repeated offenders who refuse to wear a mask on public transport will face a new fine of more than $3000, on top of the existing $100 penalty for one-off breaches.
“If you continue that pattern of behaviour — putting others at risk — you will be subject to that high fine,” she said.