Victoria has hatched a plan to treat COVID-19 patients in two transformed quarantine hotels to help take the pressure off hospitals amid the state’s surging Omicron coronavirus wave.
The state had another 18 COVID-related deaths and 34,836 more infections on Friday, made up of 15,440 from rapid tests and 19,396 from PCR tests.
With 239,396 active cases across the state, the number of patients with COVID-19 in hospital has climbed to a record high.
Victorian hospitals are treating 976 people with COVID – up 23 from Thursday. They include 112 in intensive care, 30 of whom need a ventilator to breathe.
To cope with the surge, Acting Health Minister James Merlino has announced two quarantine hotels will be converted into “medi-hotels”.
The Pullman on Swanston and Mantra at Epping in Melbourne’s north will provide “hospital overflow accommodation”, freeing up beds.
“Like hospital in the home, this will alleviate some pressure on hospitals,” Mr Merlino said on Friday.
“They’ll remain under the care of the hospital and will still be considered as an inpatient even while they’re in the medi-hotel.”
Emma Cassar, the commander of Victoria’s dedicated quarantine agency, said up to 300 patients would start arriving at the hotels from Monday.
It came as questions linger about rapid test supply to allow more workers to be freed from isolation.
The list of workers exempt from isolating as close contacts will be broadened from midnight on Tuesday to include those in emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities, transport and freight.
Health care, food distribution, manufacturing, packaging and retail supermarket workers are already exempt, while state government project workers will not be included in the list.
Workers must first notify their employer when they become a close contact and both parties must consent to the worker returning to the workplace.
They can then return to work only if “it is necessary for continuity of operations” and will not be allowed to go out and socialise outside work.
Exempt workers must wear a face mask at all times and undertake daily rapid tests for five days, with negative results before attending work, with employers expected to provide RATs to employees.
Premier Daniel Andrews has said Victoria expects to receive about 2.5 million RATs from the national stockpile, and has ordered another 44 million.
But the federal government did not announce any allocation of free rapid tests to states or territories after Thursday’s national cabinet meeting.