Victoria’s isolation rules for close contacts will be scrapped, along with vaccine requirements and mandatory mask rules under an easing of restrictions announced this morning.
- Close contacts of COVID cases will no longer be required to isolate in Victoria
- Isolation protocols will remain in place for COVID-positive cases
- The vaccine mandate will also be scrapped on the back of continued uptake of booster doses
As part of the swathe of changes, Victorians won’t be required to have two vaccine doses or show their vaccination status before entering venues.
The changes will come into effect from 11:59pm on Friday.
The requirement for staff and patrons of venues to check in using the Services Victoria app will end and operators will not be required to maintain attendance records or maintain a COVID marshal.
Masks will no longer be required in primary schools, in early childhood settings, or retail settings or events.
Close contacts will no longer have to quarantine, provided they wear a mask and avoid sensitive settings. They must also conduct five rapid antigen tests (RATs) over the course of seven days.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the government would continue to provide free RAT kits in education settings and to people living with a disability.
People who have had COVID will be exempt from testing or quarantining for 12 weeks, up from the current period of eight weeks.
While individuals will be required to notify their workplace contacts, workplaces will not have to individually identify and notify each potentially exposed worker.
Visitor restrictions in hospitals will be removed barring mask requirements, with health services able to tailor their own settings based on circumstances.
International travelers who are symptom-free will be recommended, but not required, to undertake PCR or rapid tests on arrival and unvaccinated travelers will no longer need to complete seven days’ quarantine.
Events with more than 30,000 attendees will no longer need approval from health authorities.
Mr Foley said modeling had shown that Victoria was passed the peak of it’s latest Omicron surge.
“We know that there will be a long plateauing and tail to this BA.2 Omicron sub-variant wave,” Mr Foley said.
“But what we know is that we’ve passed the peak and we are able to look to this group of sensitive measures being able to take us into a still-challenging winter.”
Mr Foley warned that Victorians could not afford to be complacent about more traditional illnesses with the onset of colder weather.
“After two seasons of pretty much zero influenza, we are expecting significant outbreaks of the flu over the course of this coming winter,” he said.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was a significant day for all Victorians and that health policy was pivoting towards individual discretion.
Professor Sutton said the high vaccination rates contributed to the easing of restrictions and that mandates for booster doses would remain in place in critical industries such as healthcare, disability, education and food distribution.
More than two thirds of Victorians over 16 have had a booster shot, while 94.5 per cent of Victorians over 12 have had two doses.
“We’ve reached that milestone in just five months. The vaccine rates among older Victorians are even higher,” Professor Sutton said.
“We’ve got 90 per cent coverage for those over 70, 85 per cent for those over 65, 82 per cent for those over 60, really terrific figures.”
Victoria reported 10,628 new COVID cases and 14 further deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 53,518.
There are 437 people in hospital, including 34 in intensive care and 12 on ventilators.
Health expert warns against mixed messaging on COVID
Epidemiologists have been split on the decision to ease restrictions, with concerns that cases are still too high to justify changes.
University of Melbourne epidemiologist Nancy Baxter said the move may send the wrong health message to Victorians.
“Politically, it is expedient for all of these things to be relaxed because it signals that COVID is over,” Professor Baxter told ABC News Breakfast.
“But the problem is COVID hasn’t gotten the memo that COVID is over.”
Professor Baxter said Australia currently had one of the world’s highest rates of new cases per day and would not be able to reduce its daily case tally with relaxed restrictions.
“If we relax all restrictions, what we’re going to find is we have a plateau — a high number of cases on an ongoing basis — that leads to a lot of hospitalization, significant amount of death and a lot of long COVID,” Professor Baxter said.
“That’s what we’re setting ourselves up for by basically wanting to act like it’s 2019.”
Epidemiologists have also warned new variants could put additional stress on the health system with the onset of winter.
The BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants were detected for the first time in Australia last week through wastewater samples taken in Melbourne.