Third vaccine may be needed to counter winter threat

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Mr Andrews said unvaccinated Victorians will continue to be barred from restaurants and entertainment venues.

“The future of the vaccinated economy … is about balance,” he said Thursday. “It’s about the proportional benefit that comes out of it. He won’t be there forever.

Under the changes announced Thursday, dance floors will open and density quotients in hospitality venues will be scrapped from 6 p.m. Friday.

However, indoor mask rules will remain for at least one more week. QR check-ins will no longer be required in shops, schools and for employees in many workplaces, but will continue in high-risk sites in the “vaccinated economy” such as restaurants and entertainment venues.

The changes mirror similar moves announced in New South Wales on Thursday, with Premier Dominic Perrottet scrapping density limits and keeping QR codes only for nightclubs and major music festivals and indoor mask mandates in most places.

While Mr Perrottet lifted the work-from-home requirement, Mr Andrews said further announcements regarding mask requirements and return-to-work advice would be made at the end of next week.

The decision to retain elements of the QR check-in system drew criticism from the hospitality industry, while Liberal Democrat MP David Limbrick said he was pressuring upper house MPs to support a motion to end Vaccine Economy Mandates and keep the rules only for groups such as Health Care Workers.

His motion will ask the Independent Pandemic Management Oversight Committee – an expert panel created under the government’s new pandemic legislation – to consider the need for continuing warrants. If successful, it would be the first time the expert body has exercised its role of reviewing government pandemic orders.

“Vaccination rates are very high and the continuation of this exclusion of 7% of the population of society fuels division in society,” said Mr Limbrick, who is vaccinated but opposes warrants and has regularly attended in anti-government demonstrations last year.

NSW no longer requires people to show proof of vaccination to enter venues, and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has said age “Victoria [would] fall even further behind” if it didn’t go “beyond lockdowns to a common sense approach that empowers families, communities and businesses to move beyond COVID.”

Credit:Matt Golding

Restaurant and Catering Australia chef Wes Lambert said the industry was “flabbergasted” at the need to continue using QR codes when contact tracing was “almost useless” at this stage of the pandemic.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra called for the mask mandate to be scrapped, arguing it was preventing staff from returning to the workplace. He also said the QR code system and density requirements had served an important purpose but were now “past their expiration date”.

Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett said the government should either scrap the registration system or update the app so it checks three doses and lets people know if they’ve been exposed to a positive case.

The state could afford to skip the registration system, given that recall rates were increasing and many unvaccinated would likely have been infected with Omicron, she said.

“I found it quite difficult to look at the level of social exclusion which is based on an argument that scientists like me find it harder to substantiate now because there are so few people without immunity now.”

Professor Robert Booy, an infectious disease expert from the University of Sydney, said the system could be abolished by the end of March, when he estimated the daily death rate from COVID-19 could reach 20 or fewer across the country or five or fewer in Victoria.

He said it was overkill to impose booster shots.

“I think we have to learn to get along as well as possible, within each state and between states, and I think we have to be practical and have common sense,” he said.

Mandatory indoor mask rules are being revised and could be scrapped next week, but its expected masks will still be mandatory in some settings.

Mandatory indoor mask rules are being revised and could be scrapped next week, but its expected masks will still be mandatory in some settings.Credit:Justin McManus

Victoria recorded 8,501 cases and nine deaths on Thursday. Of the deaths reported by authorities, seven occurred in the past week.

There were 401 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 78 in intensive care and 16 people on ventilators.

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Infectious disease epidemiologist Paul Van Buynder said while the current QR system was flawed in that it only checked for two doses instead of three, it played a role in reducing the number of cases.

“There will be infected people who will be able to enter the theaters because they have a tick, but to open it then, when we do not have it under control yet, I think it is a step too far, too soon.

Other changes announced by the government, including mandatory COVID-19 testing oversight for key industries, including meat processing, will also become recommended only. Hospital worker “bubble” requirements will also be removed.

Victoria Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said the removal of density limits was good news for hotel businesses and nightclubs “but we still need a plan for the return of office workers”.

“The many CBD businesses that depend on the weekday trade of office workers have been screaming for when and how they can return, and they continue to languish as bills mount,” he said.

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