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'Vaccinated economy' trial potential across the Wimmera

The entire September 22, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

Areas of the Wimmera might qualify for Victoria’s first ‘vaccinated economy’ trials if data shows they can get among the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state and remain free of cases.

That’s a scenario confronting the region as Victorians come to grip with the State Government’s Roadmap to Deliver the National Plan.

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Premier Daniel Andrews, in announcing the roadmap on Sunday, confirmed that transitioning to a vaccinated economy would involve business-support trials.

“There is very little precedence in Australia for fully vaccinated events, which is why the government will conduct trials and ensure we have the right systems in place,” he said.

“Both one-off events and specific venues will be considered – with businesses permitted to operate with higher patron caps if all staff and patrons provide evidence of full vaccination. 

“Areas in regional Victoria with highest vaccination rates and no COVID-19 cases will be the first to be considered for these trials. 

“Proof of vaccination options will also be part of the trials. The Service Victoria app will be integrated with a Medicare certificate that shows proof of vaccination. 

“Other proof of vaccination options might also be trialled to determine what works best for both businesses and patrons.”

The Wimmera had an extensive period without a COVID-19 case until last week when East Wimmera Health Service advised of a person testing positive at St Arnaud.

Member for Lowan Emma Kealy said despite the new case, areas of the Wimmera were obvious candidates for pilot trials.

“In Lowan we haven’t had a case for more than a year and have high vaccination rates despite some distribution-of-supply issues,” she said.

“Our businesses really need to have an opportunity to open up because they have a proven track record of doing the right thing. 

“The reason we’ve had so few COVID-19 cases is more than simple regional isolation. Our communities have been working together right through this pandemic.”

Ms Kealy added that schools could also easily fit into a trial process, but argued that children should be back in the classroom when there were no cases in an area regardless of statewide rules.

“Schools represent a major piece missing in the roadmap and our kids have been away from classrooms for far too long,” she said.

“There is no reason for our school children to be disadvantaged when they live such a long way from Melbourne and there are no cases here.

“The other issue in the ‘vaccinated economy’ is for people who medically cannot get vaccinated, which means rapid testing must also be part of the way out.”

Opening up

Mr Andrews said when Victoria reached 70 percent of double-dosed vaccination, changes would include an increase in numbers for public gatherings outdoors, funerals, weddings and religious gatherings – with larger caps for people who were fully vaccinated.

He said creative studios, amusement parks, entertainment centres and hospitality venues would also reopen with greater patron caps and density limits – but only to people who were fully vaccinated. He added the roadmap had been developed based on expert modelling from Burnet Institute and was set against COVID-19 thresholds including hospitalisation rates and  vaccination targets already set in the national plan to transition Australia’s national COVID-19 response. 

“The modelling has helped our public health teams get a picture of what our hospitalisation rates could look like while cases are still rising and develop trigger points to indicate if the system is becoming overstretched – allowing time to implement further health measures and protect it from becoming overwhelmed,” he said.

“While we’re no longer aiming for COVID zero, it’s imperative we don’t jeopardise our health system as we open up – too many Victorians rely on it every day. 

“The COVID-19 thresholds detailed in the roadmap will be important measures to maintain as we move through the different stages in order to safeguard the health system. 

“There will be a guard-rail system in place, which will allow our public health team to adjust restrictions if hospital admissions become too high.”

Mr Andrews said the Burnet modelling showed the key to opening up and reducing risk in Victoria would be ensuring workers across the state were vaccinated. 

“Victoria’s Chief Health Officer will assess vaccination requirements for all authorised workers in Victoria,” he said.

“These requirements and potential deadlines will be assessed progressively as the Chief Health Officer considers each sector. 

“There are already vaccine requirements for aged-care, construction and freight workforces.” 

• Work on Victorian building projects in regional areas outside municipalities under lockdown can continue under latest State Government rules to quell the spread of COVID-19.

On Monday night, the government shut down construction in metropolitan Melbourne and other Local Government Areas in lockdown for two weeks.

All construction projects in metropolitan Melbourne, City of Ballarat, City of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast Shire and Mitchell Shire will be closed as part of the move.