Victoria’s second wave of the Omicron variant is predicted to peak in weeks and will have a “long tail”, as the government prepares to extend COVID-19 pandemic orders.
As the state confirmed another eight deaths and 12,007 more virus cases on Tuesday, its highest infection total since February 3, Health Minister Martin Foley noted modelling indicated the current wave of the Omicron sub-variant was forecast to peak sometime in April.
He said the data, shared at the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, showed a “long tail” in May, attributing the slow decline to a number of factors.
“As we see higher levels of infectivity grow across the community, as movements happen around the community, as there’s more indoor activity, as the weather gets colder, you expect that to start to be reflected in the chains of transmission,” Mr Foley said.
The state’s pandemic declaration, which allows the government to enforce ongoing restrictions as well as mask and vaccine mandates, is due to expire on April 12
Mr Foley said he expected the orders would be extended once he received updated health advice.
He would not be drawn on whether it would be Victorians’ last winter living under a pandemic declaration, although he said he was keen to avoid a situation akin to Britain, after it ditched all COVID restrictions including the need to self-isolate.
“The UK is seeing record levels of cases and huge demand on their hospitals [and[ the NHS (National Health Service),” Mr Foley said.
“We don’t want to be in that position. We want to make sure that we stay open and we stay safe with the absolute minimum number of arrangements in place.”
National cabinet last month agreed it would remove the requirement for close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases to isolate, contingent on health advice from the AHPPC.
But the expert health body recommended the seven-day isolation rule for close contacts remain until the peak of the current Omicron wave passed.
Premier Daniel Andrews said he was “a bit surprised” by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s suggestion on Monday that states and territories would ultimately decide when to relax the rule.
“He’s asked a question [to the AHPPC] on behalf of all of us … he doesn’t like the answer and that was apparently my fault. I don’t think so,” he said.
“If there’s a quarrel between the Prime Minister and the chief medical officer, well, I respectfully suggest that he sort that out. I’m in the business of following advice.”
There are 339 people in Victorian hospitals battling the virus – up from 305 on Monday. They include 17 in intensive care.