Acting premier James Merlino has admitted that uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible Victorians is lower than hoped, as he said state hubs would be offering the Pfizer vaccine to people aged 40-49 from Friday.
People aged 40 plus were being urged to make a booking to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as case numbers of the virus have doubled in the last 24 hours. The government said that while the Pfizer vaccine would be available to those 40-49 years, other eligible Victorians over 50 would continue to receive AstraZeneca.
“From tomorrow and dependent upon supply from the federal government, all Victorians over the age of 40 will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine,” Merlino said.
“My message to those Victorians: if you’re eligible, get vaccinated. Make your plan today. If someone you love is eligible, make a plan together,” Merlino said.
“Do it for yourself. Your family. Your friends. Your community. Whatever your motivation – please do it.”
Merlino announced at a press conference on Thursday that Victoria will be subject to seven days of circuit breaker restrictions from midnight and also movement restrictions that mean Victorians can only go outside for five reasons:
- Food and supplies (one person each day per household and limited to venues within 5km of home)
- Authorised work
- Care and caregiving
- Exercise, for up to two hours and with one other person (limited to venues within 5km of home)
- Getting vaccinated
Victoria’s new public health restrictions have been introduced to respond to the highly contagious COVID-19 variant B1.617.1 (a strain that has emerged from India), which the government believes to be spreading through the community faster than previous strains.
The restrictions also mean that facemasks must be worn inside and outdoors, the only reason not to be wearing a mask is if you are at home.
Single person bubbles within households are permitted but no public or private gatherings are allowed. Weddings in the state will not be permitted in the next seven days (without exceptional circumstances) and funerals will also have attendance limits.
In other countries like Taiwan, where the B1.617.1 strain is also sweeping through, Merlino said that low COVID-19 numbers had ‘skyrocketed’ in a matter of days and weeks. He explained that Victoria wanted to avoid being in the same position where it too would struggle to contain this more infectious form of the virus.
“We also know our nation’s vaccine rollout has been slower than we’d hoped. And if more people were vaccinated, we might be facing a different set of circumstances. Sadly, we are not,” Merlino said.
“If we make the wrong choice now, if we wait too long, if we hesitate too much, this thing will get away from us. And lives will be at risk.”
During the press conference, the Victorian hotline to make bookings for the COVID-19 vaccine (1800 675 398) was down. The acting premier said that now that he was part of the eligible vaccine group, he would be making an appointment to get the jab himself.
Callers are currently having difficulty accessing the Victorian Coronavirus Hotline.
We are working with the service provider and will advise as soon as this issue has been rectified. pic.twitter.com/AlTyZPcbgJ
— VicGovDH (@VicGovDH) May 27, 2021
“Overseas, they haven’t been able to track how quickly this version of the virus can move. Here in Victoria, though, we’re seeing not only how quick it is – but how contagious it is too,” Merlino said.
“Our contract tracers are identifying and locking down first ring, second ring and third ring contacts within 24 hours. That’s faster than ever. And yet this variant is still moving faster.”
By Thursday morning the number of active COVID-19 cases in Victoria had reached 34. Not long after the news of the case numbers, Western Australia announced it was upgrading Victoria’s risk status to ‘medium’ and established a hard border that banned people visiting the state unless they had a travel exemption.
“Travel from Victoria will no longer be permitted, unless you are an exempt traveller. This also applies to anyone who may have been in Victoria since May 16, 2021 and has not completed 14 days’ quarantine in a lower risk State or Territory,” a WA notice said.
All Victorian public schools will have a pupil free day on Friday to give educators an opportunity to pivot their learning settings to be delivered online. Schools (including childcare and kinder) will remain open to cater to the education needs of authorised workers and vulnerable children.
“Shops like supermarkets, food stores, bottle shops, banks, petrol stations and pharmacies will also remain open. Cafes and restaurants will be able to offer take-away only. Gyms, hairdressers, community facilities and entertainment venues will all close. Non-essential retail may only open for click and collect,” Merlino said.
“Hotels and accommodation can only stay open to support guests already staying onsite. No new bookings can be made – unless it’s for one a permitted purpose, like authorised work.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison held his own press conference on Thursday afternoon, announcing that 218 ADF personnel would be sent to assist Victoria’s lockdown and that the commonwealth would provide another 130,000 COVID-19 vaccines to the state.