News Coronavirus Lockdowns, mandates still on cards for Victoria
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Lockdowns, mandates still on cards for Victoria

Victoria COVID-19
The inquiry found complicated pandemic orders resulted in a high incidence of non-compliance. Photo: AAP
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Victoria’s new Health Minister has refused to rule out a return to working from home and mask-wearing as a third wave of COVID looms.

The Victorian government renewed pandemic laws for another three months to October on Tuesday, continuing its power to reintroduce mandates.

Mary-Anne Thomas, who was sworn in as the state’s fourth health minister in four years less than a fortnight ago, said while the declaration allowed her to make those decisions, she was yet to do so.

“The public health team are looking at modelling and they’re consulting with their colleagues and various ideas are floated, but no ideas have been taken,” she told Melbourne radio 3AW on Thursday.

Rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations across Australia have sparked fears of a fresh wave of the virus.

Victoria confirmed another 10,562 cases on Thursday, and 12 more fatalities. It has 592 virus patients in its hospitals, including 30 in intensive care.

Cases are also spiking in other states, with NSW reporting 13,343 on Thursday, and 22 deaths. It has 1822 patients in hospital with the virus, including 62 in ICU.

Queensland has already flagged a possible renewed suspension of elective surgery as its third wave drives spiking infections. Cases have jumped 18 per cent in Queensland’s latest wave, with 39,800 active cases in the state on Thursday.

They included another 5980 infections reported on Thursday.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said two new dominant subvariants were more contagious and more than 2000 health staff were off work due to the virus.

“There is no doubt that this will continue to put pressure on our health system,” she said.

“We’re doing everything can we can to streamline our pathways to our [emergency departments], to open up beds.

“Individual hospitals and hospital and health services will make decisions around elective surgery and whether they need to suspend the lower-category surgeries to free up beds, so that they can accommodate these numbers.”

Health Minister Mark Butler has warned Australia is in the early stages of a fresh wave of COVID-19.

“Case numbers are rising, hospitalisations are up by several hundred just in the fortnight, and most state governments and the federal government are projecting that that’s going to continue for some time yet,” he said in Adelaide.

Mr Butler said no decision was expected until at least Friday on expanding access to fourth vaccine doses, or second boosters, to the broader population.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation met on Wednesday to discuss the possibility of wider eligibility for extra shots, amid the latest surge in infections.

Currently, the fourth dose is only available to those over 65, people in aged or disability care and the immunocompromised. Immunisation experts could recommend that be expanded to anyone over the age of 50, and allow anyone over 30 to have another booster if they wish.

Victorian health authorities say the BA.4/BA.5 subvariants have become the state’s dominant strains, making up 50.3 per cent of cases in the fortnight to June 20.

They expect a further rise in infections, and hospitalisations and fatalities, in coming weeks.

“The wearing of masks and measures to make indoor air safer will have a significant impact in reducing transmission of the BA.4/5 sub-variant,” they said on Wednesday.

“Masks continue to be strongly recommended in shared indoor settings, if you can’t physically distance or you are with those more vulnerable to COVID-19. Improve ventilation by opening doors and windows, using fans or purifiers, and gathering outside where possible.”

But even the hint of another lockdown in Victoria has prompted a backlash from the state opposition.

Businesses, shoppers, workers and communities need certainty, not the prospect of future mandates, Liberal MP David Southwick said.

“It’s clear [Premier] Daniel Andrews’ ongoing emergency powers are damaging Victoria’s reputation and holding back our recovery,” he said.

There couldn’t be certainty under endless emergency declarations, Mr Southwick said.

-with AAP