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Covid Victoria: Code brown lifted, elective surgery back as booster mandate deadline receives backlash


Health Minister Martin Foley says the government and health experts are still “working through” what third dose directions will mean for our vaccinated economy.

The government and health experts are still working through what ATAGI’s new advice on booster jabs will mean for tourism and the vaccinated economy.

Health Minister Martin Foley could not shed any light on Friday on how the new rules would apply in Victoria.

It comes amid questions as to how Victoria would be able to attract tourists if it enforced a third dose requirement for pubs and cafes.

ATAGI has changed it’s advice to spell out that vaccination status should be considered “up to date” with three doses but international arrivals will currently be required to have two.

Victoria’s chief health officer will now provide advice about the ATAGI guidelines, which could includes recommendations about further booster mandates.

Mr Foley said he believed national cabinet had set a benchmark and it was up to individual states to do what they thought were best for their local conditions.

“The ATAGI guidelines only landed late yesterday and we’ve already been in conversation with health around what that will mean,” he said.

“I look forward to very soon working through those issues with our public health team.

“What does that mean to be up to date.

“The up to date motion, particularly as we head into winter and the foreshadowed spike that we would likely see, means three doses for most of the population.

“For the immunocompromised, who have already largely had a third dose, there’s some suggestion from ATAGI who are looking at this oasis that they might need a fourth dose.

“For kids five to 11, who have yet to complete their first and second programs it might mean something else.

“We need to make sure that all our decisions are evidence based, reflect the best advice and, at the same time, make sure that we achieve our goal of the highest levels of vaccinations we can because what we know is vaccinations work.”

National cabinet received the third dose advice from Australia’s expert immunisation panel on Thursday, paving the way for Daniel Andrews to explain whether the third jab will be mandated for pubs, restaurants and major events.

But it came as the Premier backed down on his February 12 booster deadline for workers in key sectors, giving them a one-month reprieve in a bid to avoid drastic supply chain shortages.

The Herald Sun has been told “serious concerns” were expressed “across the board” that not enough key workers were triple vaccinated, forcing authorities to address the prospect of mass staff gaps.

Workers in healthcare, aged care, disability, emergency services, correctional facility, quarantine accommodation and food distribution sectors – who were eligible to receive an additional jab by January 12, are now required to get their third dose by March 12.

Hospital chiefs have raised serious concerns about the suitability of the booster shot mandates with the Department of Health in recent weeks as they faced the prospect of losing hundreds, or even thousands of staff from their rosters.

It’s understood some hospital CEO’s requested a delay or even a scrapping of the mandate during a meeting with department management on February 1.

Despite several major hospitals each having more than 1500 staff members without records for having a booster shot, it is understood department secretary Euan Wallace made it clear during the meeting that no delay to the mandate would be considered.

Hospital sources told the Herald Sun they feared losing hundreds of staff from their already crippled rosters from February 12 through a combination of those returning from leave who had not vaccinated, a high number recovering from Covid who were delaying boosters, and others who had received jabs at GPs whose records did not filter into their employment records.

Hospital board chairs met with Health Minister Martin Foley on Wednesday night where they were told of wider concerns over the booster mandate, including concerns the abattoir sector was going to be the worst hit and a meat shortage loomed if a delay was not introduced.

But on Thursday some Melbourne hospitals were finalising official notifications to some staff informing them there was no record of them having received a third vaccine and that they would not be able to work from Monday when they received an 11th hour reprieve.

Australian Industry Group Victorian head Tim Piper said there are also “plenty of other industries”, including meatworks, that had pleaded for more time to get workers boosted.

Mr Piper said without urgent intervention, Victoria’s “vital supply chain” was at serious risk.

“There’s been consistent concern as to whether they’re able to achieve the timeline. This is the type of pragmatic decision that we prefer government to be making. We are so pleased they are looking to the implications of their decision making,” Mr Piper said.

“We don’t want to see empty supermarket shelves, we want to see waste picked up every day and we want to make sure our water, gas and electricity is maintained. To do that, we need to make sure that staffing levels are adequate.”

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has recommended people aged 16 and over have a booster shot three months after their last primary dose.

However, a person would be considered “overdue” if they did not get a booster within six months of completing the primary schedule.

Experts say the new vaccination status should come into effect by the end of March.

Leaders will now have to determine how it will affect any domestic mandates.

Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, had foreshadowed that officials were transitioning from the term “fully vaccinated” to “up to date”.

ELECTIVE SURGERY TO BE RAMPED UP

Victoria’s Code Brown will end on Monday and elective surgery will be ramped up after a reduction in hospitalisations across the state.

Health Minister Martin Foley on Friday confirmed the unprecedented Code Brown would be wound back, with individual hospitals to receive targeted support where needed.

Planned increases in elective surgery will also begin on the same day.

Private hospitals will be able to perform up to 50 per cent of all elective surgery in Melbourne and up to 75 per cent in regional areas.

Public hospitals in regional Victoria will also be able to resume all Category 2 elective operations.

Further easings will be considered next week if staff are available and hospitalisations continue to fall.

“Victoria’s first ever Pandemic Code Brown has been an extraordinary system-wide effort which allowed us to prioritise care in the face of significant pressure – providing much needed support for our exhausted healthcare workers,” Mr Foley said.

“As that pressure continues to ease, now is the right time to lift it.”

It comes as it was revealed more than 1000 Victorians have applied to assist the vaccination rollout in an expansion of who can deliver the jab.

This includes health students, retired nurses and other trained workers.

About 130 new vaccinators have completed training while more than 700 others are being trained.

They have completed all required accreditation and training as other people already assisting the rollout.

“A third dose of the vaccine provides the strongest protection from this virus and we now have hundreds more trained staff who are able to help you get a jab,” Mr Foley said.

“By helping Victorians in relevant fields get the training they need to support our vaccination program, we’re ensuring health workers can return to their usual jobs and provide care for Victorians in hospitals.”

Victoria has recorded 8521 Covid cases and 13 deaths on Friday.

There are 553 people with Covid in hospital, with 82 in intensive care and 23 on ventilators.

The state has 55,617 active cases.

More than 93 per cent of eligible Victorians are fully vaccinated as it was revealed Aussies will need to have a Covid booster shot within six months of their primary dose to be considered “up to date” under an overhaul to people’s vaccination status.

POLICE UNION BOSS’ STARK WARNING ON JAB RULES

Police Association Secretary Wayne Gatt said the “hand fisted” 11th hour mandate that could force some officers to be sent home for not booking their booster vaccine was not good enough.

“What we don’t want is a situation where a single officer has to come to work and get sent home, because that doesn’t help anybody, doesn’t help Victoria Police, doesn’t help the community,” Mr Gatt said.

Mr Gatt said the mandate’s strict deadline was “completely unnecessary” because most of the police force were compliant with Covid measures, but confusion reigned over when officers were eligible for their booster after having contracted Covid.

“The same minute you impose the mandate shouldn’t be the same time you impose the deadline for the provision of evidence.

“It is simply ludicrous.”

Mr Gatt said the Police Association wrote to the Victorian government on January 12 asking for a more flexible approach to the booster mandate.

Mr Gatt lashed Health Minister Martin Foley over Friday’s Covid press conference, saying Mr Foley should have been in talks with emergency service representatives about the mandate instead.

“What the minister should be doing is not having a press conference at 11am this morning. He’d be having a phone call with us to say what do I need to change to get this right,” he said.

“The government just needs to give Victoria Police and other emergency workers a few days, five days, seven days’ time to get those bookings in place, and acknowledge the fact that our workforces work 24-7, seven days a week.

“At midnight tonight, on a Friday night, our members will be rolling into work. And that’s exactly where we want them at work serving the community.

“You’ll find that everybody wants the same outcome.”

Police Association Secretary Wayne Gatt said proposed orders that would require all police officers to book their booster shots by midnight on Friday “lacked” common sense and would cause “bureaucratic nightmare” amid potential mass staff shortages.

Mr Gatt said it would be “impossible to say” how many members of the police force would be forced off the job until they were triple jabbed because Covid was rampant among officers and in the community.

“The numbers of our members that have contracted Covid have just gone off the scale. They’ve gone through the roof,” Mr Gatt told 3AW on Friday.

“It just smacks of a bureaucratic nightmare, where, at the 11th hour we are drafting health orders that are imperfect and are not fit for purpose,” he said.

“The issues that our members face because of contracting Covid, for example, and for a number of other reasons that pop in from time to time, mean they simply won’t be able to comply within those time frames.

Mr Gatt said previous calls for nuance in workforce vaccine mandates had gone unanswered.

“It just needs a little bit of nuance in the approach adopted by the government here. It‘s frustrating because we told them four weeks ago: ‘can you just address this, help us to help you to get this right?’ and it just seems to fall on deaf ears,’ he said.

“It just needs to be common sense. But that’s a commodity that seems to be lacking in the Department of Health.

“If all of the machinery of government can’t fix a health order with perhaps a change to a couple of words to give a little bit of flexibility, then that points to a bit of a problem in my view.”

THOUSANDS OF KIDS MISSING SCHOOL

More than 20,000 Covid-positive students and their siblings are estimated to have missed class in the past week because of home isolation rules.

A further 1463 students and 152 staff have tested positive in the 24 hours to 4pm Wednesday, bringing the number of students with Covid to at least 9000 in the past week.

These positive cases, and their siblings also required to isolate at home for seven days, brings the total to more than 20,000, the Herald Sun estimates. The household contact rules have also let to boarding campuses and camps forced to close or send home big numbers of students.

The government isn’t keeping track of the number of siblings absent from class, although parents are required to alert schools.

Originally published as Hospitals Code Brown to end Monday but booster advice still being worked through



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