Acting Chief Health Officer Dan O’Brien described indoor masks in general as a “safety blanket”, particularly with outbreaks ongoing in states such as NSW, but he acknowledged that offices could be considered lower risk than other indoor settings.
However, Australian Medical Association Victorian branch president Roderick McRae warned against the change on Tuesday, saying he thought it was premature for the mask mandate to be removed in Victorian offices.
He said Victoria was edging towards the change as more people became vaccinated against COVID-19, but it was “all about the knowledge of the circumstances of everybody in your vicinity”.
“We know with this virus many people are completely asymptomatic and yet they’re transmitting the virus,” Dr McRae told radio station 3AW.
“They don’t know they’ve got it, you don’t know they’ve got it, and if you’re not able to stay physically distanced from them, then there’s the risk of the transmission.”
Dr McRae said it was probably realistic to think that masks could be required in some settings for many years to come, as they helped minimise coronavirus’ transmission.
Warning for Victorian travellers stranded in red zones
At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Mr Andrews also said that he did not expect Greater Sydney’s “red zone” or NSW “orange zones” to be downgraded anytime soon.
Travel into Victoria from red zones is barred to all but Victorian residents, who must quarantine at home for 14 days. Those travelling from orange zones must obtain a permit, get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival, and isolate until receiving a negative result.
Associate Professor O’Brien said officers performed 321 visits in Victoria on Monday, and 208 of those were to red zone permit holders.
He said three of the 321 people authorities visited were intentionally not isolating. Health teams were investigating those people, and they would be referred on to authorities if necessary.
COVID-19 commander supportive of business’ rollout push
Businesses have called on the government to include them in the vaccine rollout, and corporate bosses are gearing up to tell Treasurer Josh Frydenberg how they can accelerate it in a major roundtable meeting on Wednesday.
Victoria’s COVID-19 commander Jeroen Weimar said on Tuesday it had always been part of the plan for businesses and organisations to play a part in the rollout, but for now it was a vaccine supply issue.
“There is a short-term problem over the next three or four months, which is that we don’t have much vaccine to allocate, so there isn’t much scope of getting more people involved in a program where there are so relatively few vaccines available,” Mr Weimar said.
“But getting that planning right now and the work we’re doing right now with the commonwealth, making sure we’ve got those surge plans ready for the back quarter of the year, and getting as many organisations involved not only in delivering vaccinations, but also in ensuring that workforces come forward to be vaccinated.
“There is nothing stopping us from getting ourselves ready now so that when the vaccine does become available, we can get on with it quickly.”
Student plan to supersize rollout
The Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid has said general practitioners could call on medical students, trainee paramedics and retired health workers to ramp up the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the final months of the year, when mass vaccine doses are expected to arrive.
Dr Khorshid said deploying those people to assist the vaccine effort could help to avoid a situation where more nurses were taken out of frontline hospital roles.
“The numbers [of vaccine doses] we are talking about in the last quarter of the year are really quite extraordinary,” Dr Khorshid said.
He said while limited supply was the current handbrake on Australia’s vaccine rollout, “once the Pfizer arrives in full swing it’s actually going to be the logistics and the administration that is going to be the big challenge”.
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With Rachel Clun and Abbi Dib