Daniel Andrews makes first pandemic declaration under Victoria's new public health laws

The laws allow the Victorian premier to declare a pandemic and the health minister to enforce orders such as lockdowns, mask-wearing, vaccination mandates, and quarantine.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews speaks to the media during a press conferenceat at Camp Manyung in Mount Eliza, 50kms south east of Melbourne, Sunday, December 5, 2021. (AAP Image/Diego Fedele)

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Source: AAP

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews has made his first pandemic declaration since new public health laws came into effect.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Andrews confirmed the pandemic declaration will come into effect at 11.59pm on 15 December, when the current state of emergency expires.

The premier said he consulted with Chief Health Officer (CHO) Brett Sutton and Health Minister Martin Foley prior to making the declaration, with the former noting the widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in the state and thousands of active cases who require care.

The CHO also advised protective measures were necessary to ensure the Victorian health system is not overwhelmed.

A statement of reasons for the pandemic declaration and the advice of Professor Sutton and Mr Foley will be tabled in parliament, while a copy will also be published in the Government Gazette.

The declaration is a result of pandemic-specific legislation passing Victorian parliament last week.

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill allows the premier to declare a pandemic and the health minister to enforce orders such as lockdowns, mask-wearing, vaccination mandates, and quarantine.

The new laws were required as the state of emergency could no longer be extended.

But they quickly became a lightning rod for anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination groups, who occupied the steps of state parliament for weeks in protest.

Mr Andrews said the new framework has more oversight than a state of emergency, with an independent joint investigatory committee and the ability for the parliament to disallow pandemic orders.

"We've learned a lot over the past two years of this global pandemic - now, we're applying these lessons to manage pandemics in the future, support our public health system, keep Victorians safe and keep our vaccinated economy open," he said.

It comes as Victoria recorded 1,206 new COVID-19 infections, with all except three locally acquired, and two deaths.

It's the fifth day in a row daily infections have been above 1000, bringing the total number of active cases to 11,224.

Among the infections are two additional cases of the Omicron variant.

Healthcare workers are seen at a Covid19 testing facility in Ballarat,
Victoria recorded 1206 new COVID-19 infections on Friday. Source: AAP

There are now three Omicron cases in Victoria, after a returned traveller was identified in hotel quarantine earlier this week.

Both of the latest cases are travellers from overseas, who touched down aboard a flight from Dubai to Melbourne on 30 November.

Genomic sequencing is underway to determine whether a third COVID-positive person on the flight is carrying the new variant, which was observed in South Africa and has since spread to more than 50 countries.

All other passengers have been contacted and asked to get tested, as contact tracers attempt to prevent the variant leaking into the community.

In addition, three previously suspected Omicron cases — none of whom had a history of interstate or overseas travel — have either been confirmed or are likely to be infected with the Delta variant, the health department says.

Premier Daniel Andrews has reiterated the state is not chasing an "Omicron zero strategy", describing it as unachievable.

Some 313 Victorians are battling the virus in hospital, 104 of whom are in intensive care and 25 on a ventilator. The seven-day hospitalisation average remains steady at 306.

Testers processed 66,784 results on Thursday, while 3,925 people were vaccinated in state-run hubs.

Victoria's double-dose vaccination rate for those 12 and up sits at 91.9 per cent, as the state prepares to begin rolling out Pfizer doses to five- to 11-year-olds from January 10 after final approval from Australia's immunisation advisory body.

Tasmania tweaks rules ahead of reopening

Tasmania has tweaked its border reopening rules for residents going to and from high-risk zones on the mainland.

The island state will from Wednesday allow all fully vaccinated travellers entry, provided they return a negative test within 72 hours of arrival.

Under the original plan, Tasmanian residents travelling to high-risk locations were exempt from needing a test if they spent less than a week there.

But Premier Peter Gutwein on Friday announced all Tasmanians will need to be tested if they visit high-risk zones.

"All Tasmanians who travel to high-risk areas will be required to have a COVID-19 test, regardless of how little time they have spent there," he told reporters.

"If you want to go and shop in Melbourne for a day and it's into one of the high-risk areas, then you'll need to have a test on your return and isolate until you get the result."

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein speaking to the media
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein. Source: AAP

Mr Gutwein said 90 per cent of Tasmanians aged 16 or over will be fully vaccinated by the end of the weekend.

The island state is currently closed to NSW and Victoria, its two biggest tourism markets, as well as the ACT and hotspots in other jurisdictions.

Tasmania has been essentially free of community COVID-19 transmission since a deadly outbreak in the northwest in April last year.

NSW and Queensland

New South Wales has recorded its highest caseload since lockdown lifted, with health authorities raising concern about increased transmission occurring in larger social venues such as pubs and clubs. 

Some 516 infections were detected from more than 90,000 tests on Thursday, but no new virus related deaths were reported.

It is the highest daily tally recorded in NSW since 9 October, two days before lockdown lifted.

Among the cases is a traveller whose diagnosis sparked a short lived lockdown of a Bondi hostel.

Police on Thursday afternoon cordoned off the Noah' s Bondi Backpackers as NSW Health locked it down and began testing all residents.

A spokesperson for the Sydney Local Health District on Thursday night confirmed one case had been detected.

"The case is now isolating. At this time, Omicron is not suspected," they said.

It's a relief for health authorities, who are already battling to contain at least two large transmission events.

A trivia night at a Sydney pub sparked a new cluster of cases, with at least 44 patrons testing positive to the virus after attending the popular Oxford Tavern in Petersham on 30 November.

Authorities are also concerned about 140 passengers who embarked on a Sydney Harbour cruise on Friday night which has so far resulted in five cases of the Omicron variant.

NSW Health said on Friday it is concerned about the increased transmission taking place in larger social venues such as pubs, clubs, and party settings. 

"The transmission in these types of settings is contributing to the increase in cases in NSW and we urge people not to attend social functions if they have any symptoms, even if mild," it said.

The number of people diagnosed with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in NSW has now surpassed 40.

NSW Health has also issued an alert for Woody's Surf Shack Night Club in Byron Bay over several days, where thousands of teenagers are celebrating schoolies.

"As Christmas approaches, and more of us gather with families, friends and colleagues to celebrate, it is particularly important to be vigilant," she said.

Gatherings should be held outdoors wherever possible, she said, and people with even mild symptoms should not attend or have visitors.

But Premier Dominic Perrottet is urging "confidence, hope and optimism" ahead of the end of most restrictions next week.

From 15 December, density limits will be scrapped, QR check-ins will only be required at high-risk venues, and masks will only have to be worn on public transport, at airports and on planes.

The government has also announced a boost to rebate relief available to eligible sole traders, not-for-profit organisations and small businesses across the state.

They will be able to access up to $2,000 — up from $1,500 — to offset some NSW and local government fees, including food and liquor licences, event fees and council rates.

In Queensland, six new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 have been recorded and the state is investigating a seventh just three days before border restrictions with NSW ease.

Health Minister Yvette D'Ath says all six confirmed cases, and the seventh, are on the Gold Coast with evidence there is community transmission across the region.

With SBS News

8 min read
Published 10 December 2021 at 12:09pm
Source: AAP, SBS