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Victoria COVID LIVE updates: Restrictions to ease in Melbourne as state records zero local cases; new cases in NSW

The federal government has accepted advice from Australia’s expert immunisation panel that the age range for those using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine be increased to 60 and over, from 50 previously.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday Pfizer was now the preferred vaccine for under 60s and the government would immediately move to open access to the vaccine for 40 to 59-year-olds.

People who have had one dose of AstraZeneca are still encouraged to get their second dose.

The Australian Technical Group on Immunisation has recommended raising the age for AstraZeneca to 60.

The Australian Technical Group on Immunisation has recommended raising the age for AstraZeneca to 60.Credit:AP

Seven of the 12 new cases of a rare blood-clotting disorder linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine confirmed in the past week were in people aged 50 to 59, according to the latest vaccine safety report.

Mr Hunt said on Thursday the decision would open access to Pfizer to about 2.1 million people in the 50-59 age group who were yet to receive a vaccination. He urged patience as the change was rolled out to GPs and Commonwealth and state clinics.

Read the full story here.

I’m Daniella Miletic, deputy digital editor at The Age, handing over the blog to David Estcourt.

If you are just catching up, there is been a significant change in medical advice concerning AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.

Australia’s expert immunisation panel has recommended that the age range for those using the AstraZeneca vaccine be increased to 60 and over, from 50 previously.

The federal government has accepted the advice.

Meanwhile, a nurse who contracted COVID-19 after working with coronavirus patients at Epping Private Hospital worked two shifts at the Northern Hospital while infectious and attended a vaccination clinic, potentially exposing dozens of other healthcare workers to the virus.

Victoria has recorded no new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as Victorians heeded earlier pleas from health authorities to get tested.

Six new locations were also added to the Victorian government’s list of public exposure sites late on Wednesday night, including a Crown Casino restaurant and a screening of Disney film Cruella.

Meanwhile, Queensland has banned residents of Greater Melbourne from entering the state for another seven days …

So I’m off to ring Jetstar and RACV’s Noosa resort to see if I can wait for further advice before cancelling my plans for the first week of school holidays.

The Age is publishing this live blog free for all readers as a public service – all Victorians need access to reliable, factual information about the COVID-19 outbreak and the impact of lockdown.

We know many Victorians are going through tough times, but if you can, consider a subscription to The Age.

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Paris: France eased several COVID-19 restrictions ahead of schedule, with authorities saying it’s no longer always mandatory to wear masks outdoors and halting an 8-month nightly coronavirus curfew this weekend.

The surprise announcement on Wednesday (on Thursday) by French Prime Minister Jean Castex comes as France is registering about 3900 new virus infections a day, down from 35,000 in the March-April peak.

Young French people dive in the Canal de l’Ourcq in Paris.

Young French people dive in the Canal de l’Ourcq in Paris.Credit:AP

Castex welcomed the “very good news” and said the curfew will be lifted on Sunday, 10 days earlier than expected. The decision was made at a government meeting focusing on the virus.

“It’s actually improving more rapidly that we had hoped for,” Castex said. “My dear fellow citizens, I say it, I feel it: we are experiencing an important moment, a happy moment of return to a form of normal life again.”

Wearing a mask will still remain mandatory outdoors in crowded places like street markets and stadiums, he said. People are also required to wear a mask indoors in public spaces, including at work — with an exception for restaurants and bars.

“We have not known such a low level of virus spreading since last August,” Castex said. “Those positive evolutions are due to the mobilisation of the French and to the vaccination campaign.”

A woman dances by a cafe terrace in Lille, northern France.

A woman dances by a cafe terrace in Lille, northern France. Credit:AP

Still, President Emmanuel Macron called on French people to remain cautious on the sidelines of an event promoting startups in Paris.

Read more: ‘Joy and a sense of freedom’: France eases COVID-19 mask rules ahead of schedule

Two-thirds of Australians continued to work from home after pandemic restrictions were lifted last year, and changes to the way we work have left many mothers taking on a greater share of labour in the home.

Since the lockdowns of 2020 there has been a 25-percentage-point increase in working from home, data from the Australian Institute of Family Studies found, with 67 per cent of respondents working at home some or all of the time at the end of last year compared with 42 per cent pre-pandemic.

Louisa Pontonio with her son Charlie. She says working from home several days a week has been life-changing.

Louisa Pontonio with her son Charlie. She says working from home several days a week has been life-changing.Credit:Simon Schluter

Of the more than 3600 people surveyed in November and December last year 29 per cent were always working at home, compared with 7 per cent at the start of 2020.

Lead researcher on the study Jennifer Baxter said many people liked the lack of commute and better balance of doing some work at home.

Half of parents found it difficult to combine work and childcare at home. Mothers working at home carried out more childcare and risked needing to do “two jobs at once” – which some did, without sacrificing productivity.

“For some people working at home has created challenges; it depends on what your caring responsibilities are, what support you have from a partner and whether or not they’re participating in the caring or home management,” said Dr Baxter.

“Working from home hasn’t necessarily improved things for women overall. There’s still a lot of work to be done combining work, care and other household work that is still largely falling to women.”

Among parents working at home, nearly one-quarter of mothers (23 per cent) were caring for children as well, compared with 15 per cent of fathers. Dr Baxter said fewer fathers were using their new flexibility to participate in childcare.

Read more: ‘Two jobs at once’: Mothers combine work and childcare in the home office

The federal government has accepted advice from Australia’s expert immunisation panel that the age range for those using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine be increased to 60 and over, from 50 previously.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday Pfizer was now the preferred vaccine for under 60s and the government would immediately move to open access to the vaccine for 40 to 59-year-olds.

People who have had one dose of AstraZeneca are still encouraged to get their second dose.

The Australian Technical Group on Immunisation has recommended raising the age for AstraZeneca to 60.

The Australian Technical Group on Immunisation has recommended raising the age for AstraZeneca to 60.Credit:AP

Seven of the 12 new cases of a rare blood-clotting disorder linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine confirmed in the past week were in people aged 50 to 59, according to the latest vaccine safety report.

Mr Hunt said on Thursday the decision would open access to Pfizer to about 2.1 million people in the 50-59 age group who were yet to receive a vaccination. He urged patience as the change was rolled out to GPs and Commonwealth and state clinics.

Read the full story here.

Melbourne City’s A-League semi-final has been moved from AAMI Park to Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Sydney.

A-League premiers City had been due to host Macarthur FC on Sunday afternoon in Melbourne, but COVID-19 restrictions meant that no fans would have been allowed in the venue.

“We are, alongside every City fan, extremely disappointed by this decision, and we want you to know that we did everything in our power to keep the game at home,” City said in a statement.

“Our City boys are as focused as ever, and we will be backing them in to get the result on Sunday afternoon.

“As always, we’re behind them no matter if the game is played at AAMI Park, Jubilee Stadium, or on the moon. If as we’re striving for, grand final qualification is achieved, we’ll once again pick up the fight to have crowds at home.”

A-League commissioner Greg O’Rourke said the move to the “neutral venue” in Sydney allowed the showpiece game to be held in front of a crowd.

“I share the frustration of Melbourne City and the Club’s supporters that the home A-League Semi Final they had earned by being Premiers can’t be played at AAMI Park. But with the game due to be played in less than four days, we have had to make the decision to move it to Sydney so that both teams can plan accordingly,” O’Rourke said.

Today’s decision is a distinct blow to the AstraZeneca vaccine, though it remains generally safe and effective for much of the population.

A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca sent this statement a moment ago.

AstraZeneca vaccine.

AstraZeneca vaccine.Credit:Eddie Jim

“AstraZeneca remains committed to supporting the rollout of the vaccination strategy in Australia and is confident that our vaccine has an important role in protecting Australians from the virus,” the statement said.

“Our vaccine has helped to save tens of thousands of lives and extensive data from clinical trials and real-world evidence from millions of people shows that our vaccine is highly effective against COVID-19.

“Regulatory authorities around the world have stated that the benefit of using our vaccine significantly outweigh the risks across all adult age groups.

“Patient safety is AstraZeneca’s highest priority, and we continue to work closely with the TGA and other regulators around the world.

“Our global commitment remains to play an important role in addressing the current global health emergency posed by COVID-19 by providing our vaccine at no profit during the pandemic.”

Were you booked to have the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Have you already had your first shot but not the second?

Tell us your story using the form below (please leave a phone number if you are happy to talk to a reporter).

The Andrews government this week halted all walk-ins for Pfizer at its mass vaccination hubs, citing supply constraints.

The Commonwealth has disputed the state’s claims, while the Victorian government has maintained it cannot keep up with the rate of demand at the current level of supply.

So what is really going on?

People wait to be vaccinated at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building.

People wait to be vaccinated at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building.Credit:Getty

In this article, state political reporter Sumeyya Ilanbey examines the political tit-for-tat over the coveted Pfizer vaccine, and who is to blame for the lack of supply certainty.

There has been an increased demand for vaccines since the Whittlesea COVID-19 cluster emerged in late May, and the Andrews government rolled out Pfizer to Victorians aged in their 40s from May 28.

That means people who received their first shot of Pfizer around that time are due for their second dose, and this is creating a vaccine crunch.

Australia’s expert immunisation panel is now recommending AstraZeneca should be given to people over the age of 60 – up from the current recommendation of 50.

This is set to add further strains on the country’s, and Victoria’s, vaccination efforts.

Read more here.

Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy said the vaccine advisory group factored in the risk of future lockdowns when it was considering advising the government to further limit the use of AstraZeneca.

Australia doesn’t have the capacity to make Pfizer locally, and it is more difficult to roll out than AstraZeneca.

Consequently, today’s decision looks like it will make the country’s vaccine rollout slower and risk more lockdowns if there are outbreaks in that time.

The changed advice could slow the vaccine rollout and risk further lockdowns.

The changed advice could slow the vaccine rollout and risk further lockdowns.Credit:Eddie Jim

Nine News’ political editor Chris Uhlmann put that hard question to Professor Murphy at the press conference earlier, suggesting that ATAGI has essentially prescribed more lockdowns.

The secretary disagreed. “I don’t think the Commonwealth has prescribed too many lockdowns,” Professor Murphy said. And it is a factor that was weighed up, he said.

Professor Murphy believes this change will also persuade nervous people to get vaccinated.

“There are a number of people in that 50 to 59-year-old age group, who have been very hesitant and were probably not going to turn up for AstraZeneca, no matter how much we reassured them,” Professor Murphy said.

“This now gives some of those 2.1 million people an opportunity to get vaccinated earlier.”

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