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Crowds could return to Melbourne sporting events by November and the government intends to implement a “no jab, no entry” policy for people going to major events, restaurants or pubs as part of the state’s road map to reopening.
Andrews government officials have told industry stakeholders of the government’s intention to force visitors and staff at hospitality venues and major events to be fully vaccinated, according to two sources not authorised to speak publicly about the briefings.
Victorians booked in for a vaccine in the city on Saturday will still be able to get their jabs.Credit:Eddie Jim
The government will spend the weekend putting the final touches to the road map, which is underpinned by modelling from the Burnet Institute and will inform the return to school, the unshackling of businesses and easing of border rules for Victorians stuck in NSW.
Victoria recorded 510 new infections on Friday, 95 per cent of which were in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs. A woman in her 50s died with COVID-19, while 208 people were in hospital, including 49 in intensive care. In a demonstration of the effectiveness of vaccines, just 2 per cent of people hospitalised with COVID are fully vaccinated.
It comes as key health unions including the Australian Medical Association and nurses federation say it would be reckless if current restrictions eased further before 80 per cent of Victorians aged 12 or over are fully vaccinated, and two weeks have passed to enable the effect of the second dose to kick in.
This is higher than the goal set out by the national plan for reopening, which bases the 80 per cent rate on those 16 and over and says only “low-level restrictions” should remain once rates hit 70 per cent double dose, assuming contact tracing is performing adequately.
A source briefed on the state government’s plans for sport said Victorian officials were eyeing the start of the A-League soccer and NBL basketball seasons, in late October and early November, as the first live sporting events where crowds of fully vaccinated people may be allowed.
The soccer is seen as a more attractive proposition because stadiums are outdoors where virus transmission is less likely. The plan for heavily capped crowds would only proceed if hospitalisations were under control.
A-League soccer could allow crowds of fully vaccinated people.Credit:Getty
While the full details of the road map remain unknown, Premier Daniel Andrews has confirmed the pressure on hospitals will be a key metric on the reopening path.
Paddy O’Sullivan, chief executive of the Australian Hotel Association Victoria, said his organisation was in talks with the government about an indemnity scheme to ensure pub owners could not be sued by either patrons or staff for enforcing a vaccine mandate.
Mr O’Sullivan said pubs could be trialling the vaccine-only model before the state reached its 70 per cent double-dose target, which is forecast to be hit on November 17, according to data from covidlive.com.au.
“We can do that ahead of that threshold if the government is willing to trial it with pubs that guarantee they only serve vaccinated customers and have vaccinated staff,” he said.
People will be able to prove their vaccine status to enter venues using the same Service Victoria app used to check in to venues. The state government is working to integrate the Commonwealth-run Medicare vaccine certificate with the Victorian app.
The Service Victoria app could be used to confirm a person’s vaccination status.Credit:Joe Armao
The vaccination status of customer-facing staff, such as security guards and food workers, will also be a sticking point for major events this summer, with Sport and Major Events Minister Martin Pakula in discussions with stadium owners about the prospect of a mandate.
Last week Racing Victoria said it would require all staff and participants, including trainers and jockeys, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of entry to its workplaces and licensed premises. The policy, which will cover the spring racing carnival, will kick in on Caulfield Cup Day.
A group of Burnet Institute researchers have been embedded within the Victorian Health Department for weeks working on modelling to guide government decision-makers on when it might be safe to take off some of the rules Victorians have been living with for months.
Secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, Lisa Fitzpatrick, said it would be possible for hospitals to cope with a predicted 800 cases by mid-October, but her concern is cases will continue to increase well beyond that number.
She said while everyone wanted certainty and a guarantee they would see their family by Christmas, opening up at 80 per cent of those over 16 vaccinated would still leave 40 per cent of the total population unprotected.
“I think the idea of 800 patients in hospital is la la land,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
AMA Victoria president Roderick McRae urged Victorians to minimise their movement as much as possible, even if that meant going beyond the current restrictions, which now allow people to picnic in small groups if fully vaccinated.
“Just because you’re allowed to have a group of five in your park, it is in your own interests not to do that,” Dr McRae said.
Following a record 43,993 vaccinations in state clinics on Thursday, appointments for 7700 AstraZeneca and 5000 Pfizer first doses were available for booking on Friday.
About 2700 Victorians booked in for a vaccine in the city on Saturday should still be able to get their jabs, despite police closing down public transport and setting up checkpoints in an effort to stem an anti-lockdown protest.
COVID response commander Jeroen Weimar said those with proof of bookings would be able to cross police checkpoints.
NSW and Tasmania announced a plan for international arrivals to complete seven days’ home quarantine on Friday, a major step towards the reopening of the country’s borders.
A spokeswoman said the Victorian government had no immediate announcements on home quarantine but confirmed the concept was part of the national reopening agreement, which the state remained committed to.
A home quarantine trial for up to 300 Victorians who had been stuck on the NSW side of the border is under way after starting last week. If successful, the trial could be expanded to all Victorians stranded interstate.
Despite more Pfizer supply expected from the Commonwealth in October, Health Minister Martin Foley said Victoria was not planning to reduce the interval between doses from six weeks back to the original three weeks in order to speed up the race to 80 per cent double-dosage.
“It is better to get more people vaccinated with first doses and that ring of protection it brings … If we were able to get 318,000 more week on week, then that would be something we could address. But it’s all about supply and demand.”
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