‘Get vaccinated now’: Premier flags further easing as state nears first-dose target

‘Get vaccinated now’: Premier flags further easing as state nears first-dose target

09/05/2021

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Victorians could be rewarded with extra freedoms in less than a fortnight when the state is expected to hit its first vaccination milestone sooner than the government initially anticipated.

Announcing 183 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews flagged a further easing of restrictions – beyond what he had outlined last Tuesday – when 70 per cent of the eligible Victorian population has received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Premier Daniel Andrews has urged Victorians not to wait to get vaccinated.Credit:Darrian Traynor

Government sources have said any further relaxation would be focused on permitting social activity, rather than allowing more industries to trade. Public health experts say if cases continue to stabilise, Victorians should be allowed greater freedoms outdoors, in recognition of the cumulative mental toll of successive lockdowns.

Under initial modelling, the state was set to hit 70 per cent single-dose vaccination targets on September 23, but Mr Andrews on Sunday said Victoria was on track to reach the milestone sooner.

The Premier also confirmed Victoria would receive 1 million Pfizer doses from the extra 4 million vaccinations the Commonwealth secured under a deal with Britain last week.

An analysis by The Age, based on the current trajectory of vaccination uptake and not considering external factors such as the extra doses of Pfizer the Commonwealth secured, indicates Victoria could meet the target about September 18.

“Every [vaccine] appointment that gets made, every shot in the arm between now and then will bring that date forward,” Mr Andrews said on Sunday.

The Premier last Tuesday announced a “modest” easing of restrictions once the state hits its 70 per cent single-dose vaccination target, including allowing 50 per cent of the construction workforce to return to site if 90 per cent of staff have received at least one dose . Large-scale construction is presently allowed to operate with 25 per cent of the average daily workforce on a site.

However, COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said 54 construction sites, out of 600 that had been visited, were not compliant with coronavirus restrictions, including mask-wearing, cleaning regimes and site registrations.

“It’s in those sorts of gaps that we see cases, like at the Box Hill construction site, suddenly jump,” Mr Weimar said.

“If you have the breaks in protocols, COVID will get in and spread rapidly across your workforce and across your site. We have issued enforcement notices to those not complying. But a big callout to those, for all the work you are doing to keep your places as safe as possible now we are dealing with the Delta variant.”

Cases linked to the Box Hill construction site have jumped to 63, and the public health team has identified 14 cases – more than half the people who were on site – linked to Classy Kitchens in Craigieburn.

In a major policy shift last week, the Andrews government abandoned its COVID-zero strategy and focused its attention on vaccinating the state out of the latest Delta outbreak, which has reached 1414 active cases.

Of those, 89 are in hospital, with 24 in intensive care and 13 on a ventilator. One of the people in intensive care is a man aged in his 20s.

A security guard at a Melbourne detention centre has tested positive for COVID-19.

Other restrictions to be eased once the state hits its single-dose vaccination target include expanding the travel bubble from five kilometres to 10 kilometres, lifting the outdoor exercise time limit from two hours to three, and allowing people to have personal training sessions with one other person.

Mr Andrews urged Victorians not to wait to get vaccinated. “Don’t wait for next month, don’t wait until some other time. Act on that now,” he said.

“The more people who get vaccinated, the quicker we will get to the 70 per cent mark – that’s obviously a good thing. Secondly, the harder we all work to follow these rules and limit the cases, the more options we will have. Those two things work together very, very closely.”

Professor Nancy Baxter, clinical epidemiologist and head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, predicted any easing of restrictions would be contingent on case numbers continuing to stabilise.

“If they’ve managed to keep things not growing too much, then we may well be able to open up some more restrictions, particularly with respect to outdoors,” she said. “The Premier didn’t talk about picnics, but something like picnics would work. And perhaps less restriction on the amount of times outdoors. There’s going to be very little indoor activity for quite some time.”

Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, implored the government to allow for outdoor gatherings with one other household, warning about the dangers of “lockdown fatigue”.

She said it was essential for lockdown-weary Melburnians to be allowed to enjoy some outdoor freedoms that were still relatively safe.

Professor Catherine Bennett says it is time to ease some restrictions to ensure wider compliance.Credit:Jason South

“It’s about keeping people on the most essential bits of lockdown and not worrying about the peripheral constraints,” Professor Bennett said.

She said it was important to have fewer rules but stick to the fundamentals of not visiting households, and not opening indoor restaurants or indoor venues.

“We need to address some of these issues, and really paring back the rules to make it more likely for people to really follow them.”

Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Luke Donnellan on Sunday announced a $27 million funding boost for food, financial relief and family violence services, in recognition of the “acute impact” of the state’s sixth lockdown, and the slow rollout of the Commonwealth’s vaccination program.

“Family violence during this period of time, it has increased, there is no doubt about that, and this is very much about providing that support and recognising the continuing need to support people,” he said.

“If you are in that situation, really, that is a simple reason to get out of your house.

“We need to provide the support, the brokerage and accommodation. We, to be blunt, we need them to leave the house in those difficult situations.”

Year 12 students, and those in year 11 completing year 12 subjects, will be given priority vaccination from Monday.

There will be a dedicated call centre hotline for the senior students, and Mr Weimar said a vaccination spot had been reserved for all VCE students between September 7 and 19.

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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