Victoria could end lockdown early if Pfizer dose window is halved

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Victoria has recorded 535 new Covid-19 cases and one death amid hopes the state could end lockdown as soon as Melbourne Cup day if the wait time between Pfizer doses is halved.

World Health Organisation epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman said it was time to revise the window period between receiving both doses of the vaccine.

The waiting period could be cut down from six to three weeks and ultimately fast track the state to reach its 80 per cent vaccination target by November 2. At its current pace, Victoria is expected to reach the milestone by November 19. 

‘Now is absolutely the time to revise those wait times and get more people fully protected,’ professor Esterman said. 

The promise of reopening comes despite case numbers continuing to climb. The new cases announced on Saturday add to the 510 reported on Friday. Only 62 have been linked to known outbreaks. 

Melbourne is also on track to setting an unenviable world record with the city set to claim the top gong for the longest lockdown.

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Buenos Aires, in Argentina, currently holds the record after the city endured 234 days under lockdown. Melbourne – which has gone through six lockdowns – is expected to hit 235 days on September 23. 

There were 45,537 vaccines administered and 61,622 tests conducted in the last 24 hours.

Residents can already get the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine within three weeks by visiting their GPs. However, state vaccination hubs still have a waiting period of six seeks.

Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health criticised the different wait times.

‘To me it is bananas that you have different programs where there’s no consistency,’ she said. 

The state government is planning to outline a full roadmap out of lockdown on Sunday, tied to double dose vaccination rates and based on Burnet Institute modelling.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation says it’s critical Victoria doesn’t open up too hastily, as hospitals brace for a wave of Covid-19 patients in coming weeks.

‘It’s not about getting on the beers too early because there won’t be beers to be had whilst you’re in hospital in an ICU bed,’ ANMF Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said.

More than 100,000 doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health workers issued a joint plea through their unions for ‘accurate modelling’ on expected ambulance demand, hospitalisations, intensive care patients and deaths.

Health Minister Martin Foley said these workers had ‘shared their concerns very forcefully’ with the state government.

‘They’ve expressed, quite rightly, their concerns about what would happen if we continue to have high levels of uncontrolled infections in our community,’ he said.

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‘We’re working with them, and we’re working with our health services, to make sure that we have plans in place to try to avoid that.’

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Paul Guerra has joined calls to reopen businesses when it is safe.

‘We’ve known for some time that the key to getting Victorian businesses open again is to get vaccination rates up as quickly as possible and the Victorian Chamber welcomes all initiatives that safely enables that to happen,’ he said 

It comes as police embark on their biggest operation in two decades to quash a Melbourne anti-lockdown protest, as ‘picnic day’ arrives for pandemic-fatigued residents.

The Melbourne CBD will effectively be turned into a no-go zone for Saturday’s planned rally, with most public transport to and from the city suspended and a ‘ring of steel’ erected around its fringe.

Authorised workers and those with Covid-19 vaccination bookings at two city-based hubs will need to show proof to board limited buses and pass through checkpoints from 8am to 2pm.

The partial public transport shutdown was made at the request of police after 4000 people attended a violent anti-lockdown protest on August 21.

Some 2,000 officers will be deployed during Saturday’s operation, which will involve road checkpoints, barricades and roving patrols.

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Chief Commissioner Shane Patton previously labelled it the biggest Victoria Police operation since the 2000 World Economic Forum was held in Melbourne.

Organisers have flagged the protest will be moved, with a new location set to be revealed on Saturday morning.

A Victoria Police spokesman would not confirm if they were aware of the potential location change, but said the force would have a ‘highly visible presence’.

It comes as Melbourne and Ballarat residents simultaneously prepare to revel in modestly eased Covid-19 restrictions on Saturday after reaching 70 per cent first dose coverage across Victoria’s eligible population.

Among the changes, people will be able to meet one person from another household for a walk or picnic, outdoor exercise time is doubled and the travel limit expanded to 10km.

Fully vaccinated adults can see five people from two households, plus dependants for a picnic. 

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