Victoria records two deaths, 423 new cases of COVID-19 as government prepares road map out of lockdown

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Victorians may be able to enjoy small outdoor gatherings ahead of grand final day with a slight easing of restrictions expected to be announced on Sunday, as the state recorded two deaths and 423 new cases of COVID-19.

Of the new cases, 143 have so far been linked to existing clusters, while the source of the remaining cases are under investigation.

Socially distanced picnics were held in the St Kilda sunshine last October.Credit:Darrian Traynor

The Department of Health said 54,649 test results were processed in the 24 hours to midnight on Tuesday, while 41,856 people received a dose of a vaccine.

There are now 4038 active cases in the state.

Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the government was assessing whether rules around gatherings could be safely eased when the 70 per cent first-dose vaccination target is reached within days.

“I’ll have more to say about schools, more to say about social gatherings, more to say about the economy and all of its different sectors. All of that will be out there on Sunday,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.

“I’m not necessarily promising that everything will be open when people want it to be open.”

Professor Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, supported allowing two households to meet outdoors ahead of AFL grand final day.

“The chance to meet outdoors in a park, have a picnic, or just to sit there…and read a book. There is space, we’ve got the weather, it is a fundamentally safe activity if you do the right thing,” Professor Bennett told The Age on Wednesday.

Professor Bennett said two households can meet safely if they maintained physical distance and wore masks. She said people must remember that bringing households together, brings exposures together. For example, one household might only be going to the supermarket, while another household consists of people having to go into work.

She said this small reward could assist continued cooperation from the public with the rules in the long term.

Professor Nancy Baxter, clinical epidemiologist and head of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, predicted the government would grant low-risk outdoor freedoms to maintain public acceptance of lockdowns and offer a signal of hope.

Professor Baxter said the Victorian community was understandably anxious to loosen public-health rules, but waiting even a few weeks – when vaccination rates improved – could decrease the risk of cases spiking as restrictions eased.

“It could mean we have a much better Christmas and avoid putting pressure on the health system,” she said.

Almost 67.5 per cent of Victorians have received one shot, just shy of the 70 per cent first dose vaccination target, according to the government on Tuesday.

Racing Victoria announced on Wednesday that all staff and participants, including trainers and jockeys, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of entry to its workplaces and licensed premises.

The no-jab, no-entry policy will apply to the racing operations areas at Victorian racecourses on raceday and public training centres, as well as at Racing Victoria’s Flemington headquarters and offices. All Racing Victoria staff and “licensed and registered participants” will need to be fully vaccinated to gain entry.

And St Vincent’s Health has announced a vaccine mandate for hospital workers in Victoria.

While the policy won’t affect employees in NSW and Queensland who are already subject to mandates from their state health departments, Victoria was yet to announce a compulsory scheme.

Chief executive Toby Hall said though 70 per cent of its staff nationally were fully vaccinated, the outbreaks in Victoria and NSW was confirmation that a mandatory policy was the right move.

The mandate will apply to all staff, volunteers and contractors to be vaccinated across its 16 public and private hospitals across Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

“St Vincent’s Health’s vaccination policy will apply to all staff who fall outside these existing mandates. We see it as a complementary and logical step in the process of keeping our sites as safe as possible as Australia learns to live with COVID-19 long-term,” Mr Hall said.

Mr Hall said only a “very small” number of employees may be resistant or have “specific sensitivities” to the mandate.

The Australian Medical Association has been pushing for a nationally consistent compulsory vaccination for all frontline medical staff.

“We’ve said plans to reopen Australia will be a disaster unless our health sector is ready and that will mean having a fully protected medical workforce,” AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid has said previously.

Aged care workers are already subjected to a vaccine mandate.

With Claire Siracusa

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