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Victorian Premier makes first ‘pandemic declaration’

daniel andrews pandemic laws
Daniel Andrews says the pandemic declaration will come into effect at 11.59 pm on December 15. Photo: AAP
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Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has made his first pandemic declaration since new public health laws came into effect.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Andrews confirmed the pandemic declaration will come into effect at 11.59pm on December 15, when the current state of emergency expires.

Mr Andrews said he consulted with chief health officer Brett Sutton and Health Minister Martin Foley prior to making the declaration, with the former noting the widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in the state and thousands of active cases who require care.

The CHO also advised protective measures were necessary to ensure the Victorian health system is not overwhelmed.

A statement of reasons for the pandemic declaration and the advice of Professor Sutton and Mr Foley will be tabled in parliament, while a copy will also be published in the Government Gazette.

The declaration is a result of pandemic-specific legislation passing Victorian parliament last week.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill allows the premier to declare a pandemic and the health minister to enforce orders such as lockdowns, mask-wearing, vaccination mandates, and quarantine.

The laws were required as Victoria’s state of emergency could no longer be extended.

But they quickly became a lightning rod for anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination groups, who occupied the steps of state parliament for weeks in protest.

Mr Andrews said the framework had more oversight than a state of emergency, with an independent joint investigatory committee and the ability for the parliament to disallow pandemic orders.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past two years of this global pandemic – now, we’re applying these lessons to manage pandemics in the future, support our public health system, keep Victorians safe and keep our vaccinated economy open,” he said.

It came as Victoria confirmed 1206 COVID-19 infections, with all except three locally acquired, and two deaths on Friday.

It’s the fifth day in a row daily infections have been above 1000, bringing the total number of active cases to 11,224.

Among the infections are two additional cases of the Omicron variant.

There are now three Omicron cases in Victoria, after a returned traveller was identified in hotel quarantine earlier this week.

Both of the latest cases are travellers from overseas, who touched down aboard a flight from Dubai to Melbourne on November 30.

Genomic sequencing is underway to determine whether a third COVID-positive person on the flight is carrying the new variant, which was observed in South Africa and has since spread to more than 50 countries.

All other passengers have been contacted and asked to get tested, as contact tracers attempt to prevent the variant leaking into the community.

In addition, three previously suspected Omicron cases – none of whom had a history of interstate or overseas travel – have either been confirmed or are likely to be infected with the Delta variant, the health department says.

Premier Daniel Andrews has reiterated the state is not chasing an “Omicron zero strategy”, describing it as unachievable.

Some 313 Victorians are battling the virus in hospital, 104 of whom are in intensive care and 25 on a ventilator. The seven-day hospitalisation average remains steady at 306.

Testers processed 66,784 results on Thursday, while 3925 people were vaccinated in state-run hubs.

Victoria’s double-dose vaccination rate for those 12 and up sits at 91.9 per cent, as the state prepares to begin rolling out Pfizer doses to five- to 11-year-olds from January 10 after final approval from Australia’s immunisation advisory body.

-AAP