State mandates boosters for frontline workers, national plan for critical industries to allow close contacts to work

By Jackson Graham

January 10, 2022

Martin Foley
Victorian health minister Martin Foley. (AAP Image/James Ross)

Victoria will mandate a third vaccination dose against COVID-19 for a range of public frontline services including workers in healthcare, emergency services and correctional facilities. 

Premier Daniel Andrews has extended the state’s pandemic declaration for three months from Wednesday using new laws as Victoria braces for Omicron cases to peak in late January or early February. 

Victorian health minister Martin Foley said all residential aged care workers would need to be vaccinated with a third dose by March 1. 

All disability, hotel quarantine, corrections, emergency services, and food distribution workers will need a third dose by March 12. All healthcare workers need a booster dose by March 29. 

But workers eligible for a third dose on or before January 12 will have until Saturday February 12 to get the third dose.

“This is a sensible addition for the relative high-risk nature of these sectors,” Foley said. 

As workforce absences due to isolation requirements put pressure on Australia’s critical supply chains, the federal government is proposing to allow new groups of workers to continue their jobs as asymptomatic close contacts. 

Prime minister Scott Morrison said the workers included staff in food processing, production and distribution as well as emergency services. They could also later involve transport and aviation workers. 

“We are looking to maximise those who can remain in the workforce,” Morrison said. “But anyone who is symptomatic or has COVID, they are not going into work.” 

Australia is facing more than 500,000 active COVID-19 cases, which chief medical officer Paul Kelly acknowledged as a “very different situation to even a few weeks ago”. 

Morrison said the Omicron was “a gear change” that Australians “have to push through”. 

“That’s what Omicron is about, we are dealing with serious volumes of cases, but we are not seeing the same impact proportionally from previous variants in terms of the impact on hospitalisations, ICU and ventilated patients,” Morrison said. 

“There are 5097 patients in hospital with COVID, that does not mean they went to hospital because of COVID. It means they are in hospital and have COVID.”

Monday marked the beginning of children in Australia aged five to 11 having access to COVID-19 vaccines. 

Lieutenant General John Frewen emphasised there was enough supply of paediatric vaccines for every child to receive a first dose before school commenced this year, amid frustration from some parents and carers unable to find appointments. 

“If you can’t get an immediate appointment with your primary healthcare provider, if that is your GP please do try pharmacies, please do try the state hubs,” Fewen said. 

Queensland has delayed the beginning of the school year by two weeks, but Morrison said he “did not anticipate” other states and territories to do the same. National cabinet is seeking to discuss a consistent approach to return to school on Thursday. 

“One of the big challenges we have is to balance that need to ensure we have kids back at school, because we need kids back at school learning, we need kids back at school because it also has very significant impacts on workforce availability particularly in our healthcare sector,” Morrison said. 

Victoria will follow any nationally consistent approach, health minister Martin Foley said. 

“We will be active participants in that national approach,” he said. “We want kids back, we want them back vaccinated, but we want them back as safely as possible, as soon as possible.”

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