Premier Dan Andrews has announced fully vaccinated Victorians currently trapped in New South Wales can return home within a week.
The state has broken two grim Covid records on the same day as it prepares for its outbreak to get even worse.
Mr Andrews said vaccinated Victorians in extreme risk zones will be eligible to return to the state if they return a negative test 72 hours prior to their departure.
Returnees will be required to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival in Victoria, with the new rules to take effect from September 30.
Melbourne shattered the world record for the most days in lockdown since the pandemic with 235, and recorded 766 new Covid cases and four deaths.
Mr Andrews said the new travel rules would provide some much needed relief for residents who have been trapped in NSW for a ‘lengthy period’.
‘I know it has been a real inconvenience and challenge for those people and their families,’ Mr Andrews told reporters on Thursday.
‘It is essentially home quarantine, if you are double vaxxed and have a negative test within three days of coming home, then that all begins on the 30th.’
Returnees will also undergo a test at the start and end of their quarantine period.
Mr Andrews estimated there were several thousand Victorians currently trapped in Greater Sydney and the ACT that can apply for a travel permit.
He said if a traveller doesn’t have a safe place to go on their return to Victoria the state government would provide arrangements for that person.
Current extreme risk zone rules will remain in place for the unvaccinated, who can still apply for an exemption to enter the state under the existing limited criteria.
The Premier confirmed Melbourne’s Town Hall vaccination site was forced to close on Thursday due to risks posed by violent anti-vax protests.
He said healthcare workers at the site were providing vaccines to some ‘of the most vulnerable in the community,’ but had been treated appallingly.
Mr Andrews said three days of consecutive protests had not swayed his decision to impose mandatory vaccinations for construction workers.
‘Let’s not have the ugly actions of a small number detract from the amazing work that the vast majority of people across the state are doing, following the rules, making huge sacrifices,’ he said.
‘We’re so close to getting that 80 per cent single dose, the 70 per cent double dose and then 8 per cent double dose and delivering the road map agreed to by all political leaders. That’s what I’m passionate and committed to doing.’
Victoria’s 766 new cases is the highest number of daily infections the state has reported throughout the entire pandemic.
Argentinian capital Buenos Aires held the unfortunate record with 234 total days stuck in lockdown until today when it was surpassed.
Melbourne has suffered through six lockdowns, the longest being about five months last year during its second wave that killed more than 900 people.
That outbreak peaked at 723 new cases on July 29 last year, 43 fewer than today’s total with warnings it will pass NSW’s high watermark of 1,599 on September 11.
It comes modelling warns daily cases could climb as high as 4,000, in contrast to the premier’s boast he would crush the outbreak with a one-week lockdown.
Instead, the lockdown is in its 11th week and included desperate measures including a curfew, and closing playgrounds and golf courses.
Melburnians are not due to leave lockdown until October 26, by which time it will have spent 267 days in lockdown, but only outdoor retail and hospitality will open.
Victoria’s 766 new cases were diagnosed from 62,408 tests and 40,957 vaccine doses were administered on Wednesday.
To further boost this vaccination rate, which hit 45.2 per cent on Wednesday, teachers and early childhood workers must get the jab by November 29.
Of the four deaths recorded on Thursday was a man in his 80s from Moreland, a man in his 70s from Hume, a man in his 80s from Hume, and a woman in her 90s from Hume.
There are 257 people currently in hospital with Covid-19, with 60 in intensive care and 41 currently on a ventilator.
Education Minister James Merlino on Wednesday announced all staff at government and independent schools and all early childhood settings will need to have their first jab by October 18, or have a booking within a week of that date.
The Catholic Education Commission of Victoria says it will also make the Covid-19 vaccine mandatory for teachers and staff in its 498 primary and secondary schools, sticking to the same timelines.
All government school staff will be entitled to half a day of paid time off to get vaccinated.
‘Children under 12 do not have access to a vaccine, so we’ve got to protect our kids, both from contracting the virus and also transmitting the virus when they go home to their families,’ Mr Merlino told reporters.
‘The best way to do that is to ensure that people who work with our children in early childhood, in care settings, in our schools, that they are all required to be vaccinated.’
He said priority access would not be given to staff to receive a vaccine as there was ‘plenty of capacity’ at the state-run hubs, pharmacies and GPs, while a recent survey of 33,000 teachers found 75 per cent were already fully vaccinated.
The Australian Education Union and Independent Education Union as well as the Early Learning Association of Australia welcomed the announcement.
AEU Victorian branch president Meredith Peace said the union has taken ‘every opportunity since vaccinations became available to encourage our members to get a Covid-19 vaccination as soon as they were eligible’.
‘The union’s position continues to be that our members and the community should follow the public health advice in relation to Covid-19 safety measures, vaccination requirements and the safe return to on-site learning,’ she said in a statement.
IEU general secretary Deb James said the ‘fastest, safest way out of the pandemic remains for us to get vaccinated’.
‘Overwhelmingly, our members support vaccination as the most important tool to get schools back to normal,’ she said.
Mr Merlino also announced the government will spend $190 million to ensure schools are properly ventilated by the start of term four, in what he described as an ‘Australian-first unprecedented, massive investment’.
This includes signing a contract with South Korean tech company Samsung to deliver 51,000 air purification devices to every government and low-fee independent school in the state.
Mr Merlino said the devices, which will begin arriving in the state from next week, will be placed in high-risk settings such as sick bays, canteens, staff rooms and music rooms.
Some $60 million will be spent on installing shade sails at 2149 schools to create more outdoor learning space, while a small trial of home antigen testing with students and their families will explore their feasibility.
A Ventilation Technical Advisory Panel will also be established to undertake further risk assessments of other environments including early childhood settings and youth justice facilities.
Year 12 students in Melbourne are going back to class on October 6 and a staggered return of other years will follow, starting with prep to Year 2s on October 18.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy supported the state government’s plan.
‘We just want our kids back in school,’ he said.
The City of Melbourne will push to host a state-government run trial of vaccine passports in order for small businesses to be allowed to immediately reopen.
Timeline of the Covid-19 pandemic in NSW and Victoria
June 16: Lockdown is announced in New South Wales
August 5: Lockdown is announced in Victoria
September 11: NSW records highest daily tally of 1,599 new Covid cases
September 23: Victoria records highest daily tally of 766 new Covid cases
City councillors voted unanimously for the trial to be tested in the city’s venues after an overwhelming positive response from businesses in the area.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the trial would come as a relief to small businesses that were ‘terrified’ of closing down before being permitted to trade properly.
‘This trial will deliver hope and insight to businesses big and small and provide the perfect opportunity to start reopening safely,’ Ms Capp told the Herald Sun.
Businesses will be given the choice to take part in the trial and open immediately or remain shut until they can reopen under the state government’s roadmap.
Meanwhile, Ballarat residents were released from a seven-day lockdown at 11:59pm on Wednesday, as well as around 500 residents in parts of Point Lonsdale.
Mayor of the Central Highlands town Ross Ebbels said the easing of stay-at-home orders was ‘sensible’ given the high vaccination rates in the inland city.
It comes as Victoria records the nation’s lowest vaccination rates for aged-care staff, after government-funded nursing homes were asked to provide records of workplace jab rates on Friday.
State-wide 98.6 per cent of workers have received one dose of a Covid vaccine. In Tasmania 99.5 per cent of workers are single-dosed.
Victorian aged-care workers who are yet to book an appointment for a vaccine have until October 1 to get their first jab, estimated to be about 3100 people.
The city of Melbourne is still reeling from the after-effects of three consecutive days of violent anti-vax protests in the CBD.
The demonstrations initially began in opposition to mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations but have since spiralled into scenes of chaos after Premier Dan Andrews announced a two-week shutdown of the construction industry on Monday night.
The protests hit an all-time low when around 400 attendees stormed the city’s Shrine of Remembrance and chanted ‘lest we forget’ on Wednesday.
Shrine of Remembrance CEO Dean Lee said he was ‘appalled’ after footage shared online showed police removing rubbish bags from the monument in the hours after the protesters decamped.
Victoria Police made 215 arrests on Wednesday while two officers suffered head injuries after rocks, bottles and other projectiles were thrown at authorities.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has condemned those that protested at the shrine, telling reporters in Washington ‘the conduct was disgraceful’.
‘This is a sacred place, it’s not a place of protest. It was disrespectful and it dishonoured those Australians who have made the ultimate sacrifice,’ he said.
‘I would hope any and all who were engaged in that disgraceful behaviour, would be ashamed.’Internet Explorer Channel Network