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Ballarat to be plunged into lockdown as Shepparton allowed to open up

Long queues formed at Ballarat testing sites on Tuesday after two popular restaurants and a Big W were listed as tier-1 exposure sites.

Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney said on Wednesday that another testing site would soon be set up to cater for continued high demand in coming days.

“When people saw those locations on the exposure site list everyone was fairly resigned to the fact that it will get worse before it gets better,” Cr Moloney said.

Ballarat will return to the same lockdown restrictions as metropolitan Melbourne.

Ballarat will return to the same lockdown restrictions as metropolitan Melbourne.Credit:Penny Stephens

Professor Sutton said the lockdown gave Ballarat “the best chance of opening up again in the shortest time possible”.

“Shepparton has shown us the way: that you can control even the Delta variant, even with dozens and dozens of cases,” he said.

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Mr Andrews said “Shepparton shows you that a community can be locked down, can stick together, can be supported and deliver fundamental control of an outbreak.

“We know, and we’re very confident, that’s exactly what can happen in the Ballarat community.”

Shepparton’s tough lockdown will ease from 11.59pm on Wednesday, with new restrictions to match the rest of regional Victoria.

Victoria records two deaths, 423 cases

Two men, one aged in his 40s and another in his 70s, have died with COVID-19 in Victoria.

Mr Andrews said the man aged in his 40s was from Whittlesea, while the other man, aged in his 70s, was from the Wyndham area.

“We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences,” Mr Andrews said.

The state recorded 423 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, 149 of them had been linked to current outbreaks.

The number of new cases was 22 fewer than Tuesday, and 50 fewer than Monday.

However, Professor Sutton warned that case numbers in the state hadn’t yet peaked and that modelling suggested they would likely increase.

Premier Daniel Andrews, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar on Wednesday.

Premier Daniel Andrews, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar on Wednesday.Credit: Eddie Jim

“The risk of it [daily new cases] getting to 1000 is real, so we have to press on with vaccinations at the fastest possible rate for that reason alone,” he said.

Almost 77,000 vaccines were administered in Victoria on Tuesday, including 36,615 at state-run hubs, while 42,694 COVID-19 tests were processed.

There are now 4038 active cases in the state.

More cases added to Melbourne construction site outbreak

A further 10 cases have been added to the cases out of an outbreak from a Box Hill construction site.

COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said a total of 146 cases have now been linked to the worksite.

Another five cases have been linked to the Fitzroy Community School, whose principal has been accused of telling parents that their children could still come to school in lockdown.

That outbreak is now at 38 cases in total, Mr Weimar said, and 76 primary close contacts.

Opening up now is dangerous: Andrews

Mr Andrews said with half of the state not yet fully vaccinated, it would be irresponsible and dangerous to completely open up.

Mr Andrews said on Wednesday that 68.3 per cent of Victorians have had their first dose, but fewer than 50 per cent had received two doses.

He repeated his intention to outline a road map for the state on Sunday.

“We’re not yet at 50 per cent double dose… the notion of opening up now is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous,” Mr Andrews said.

The Premier said the state should hit the target of 70 per cent of people receiving one dose of a vaccine by Thursday and that he could announce a minor easing of restrictions before Sunday.

“I’m not over-selling this. It’s modest. The notion of extra time and extra distance to be able to travel from home for exercise, if we can go further than that with some social interactions as well … we’ll get those announcements as soon as possible,” he said.

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The government committed weeks ago to increasing the travel limit from five kilometres to 10 kilometres and the exercise time limit from two to three hours when the 70 per cent first-dose target was hit. This was initially forecast to be September 23.

Victoria Police warns protesters over Saturday demonstration

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton warned protesters planning to attend an anti-lockdown rally in Melbourne’s CBD on Saturday that officers would arrest and fine those not complying with COVID-19 directions.

Mr Patton also announced plans to halt the city’s public transport network between 8am and 2pm on Saturday to prevent people from travelling to the city for the rally.

“It is an illegal gathering, and we’ll be doing everything we can to prevent that gathering,” he said.

Mr Patton, said there will be more than 2000 police patrolling Melbourne’s CBD on Saturday, making it one of the biggest operations in decades.

Protesters were sprayed with capsicum spray during Melbourne’s anti-lockdown rally in August.

Protesters were sprayed with capsicum spray during Melbourne’s anti-lockdown rally in August. Credit:Justin McManus

“This will be one of our largest operations we’ve conducted, I think, since the World Economic Forum many years ago,” he said.

Small outdoor gatherings on the horizon

Professor Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, has supported allowing two households to meet outdoors ahead of AFL grand final day.

“The chance to meet outdoors in a park, have a picnic, or just to sit there … and read a book. There is space, we’ve got the weather, it is a fundamentally safe activity if you do the right thing,” Professor Bennett told The Age on Wednesday.

Socially distanced picnics were held in the St Kilda sunshine last October.

Socially distanced picnics were held in the St Kilda sunshine last October.Credit:Darrian Traynor

Professor Bennett said two households can meet safely if they maintained physical distance and wore masks. She said people must remember that bringing households together, brings exposures together. For example, one household might only be going to the supermarket, while another household consists of people having to go into work.

She said this small reward could assist continued co-operation from the public with the rules in the long term.

Professor Nancy Baxter, clinical epidemiologist and head of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, predicted the government would grant low-risk outdoor freedoms to maintain public acceptance of lockdowns and offer a signal of hope.

Professor Baxter said the Victorian community was understandably anxious to loosen public-health rules, but waiting even a few weeks – when vaccination rates improved – could decrease the risk of cases spiking as restrictions eased.

“It could mean we have a much better Christmas and avoid putting pressure on the health system,” she said.

National vaccine mandate for healthcare workers coming: Andrews

Mr Andrews said national cabinet was likely to confirm that healthcare workers would be subject to mandatory vaccinations.

NSW, Queensland and Western Australia have already announced compulsory vaccinations for the sector and aged care workers are already required to get fully vaccinated in order to work.

Earlier on Wednesday, St Vincent’s Health announced it would require its staff in three states, including Victoria, to get the vaccine.

Chief executive Toby Hall said though 70 per cent of its staff nationally were fully vaccinated, the outbreaks in Victoria and NSW was confirmation that a mandatory policy was the right move.

The mandate will apply to all staff, volunteers and contractors to be vaccinated across its 16 public and private hospitals across Victoria, NSW and Queensland.

“St Vincent’s Health’s vaccination policy will apply to all staff who fall outside these existing mandates. We see it as a complementary and logical step in the process of keeping our sites as safe as possible as Australia learns to live with COVID-19 long-term,” Mr Hall said.

Mr Hall said only a “very small” number of employees may be resistant or have “specific sensitivities” to the mandate.

The Australian Medical Association has been pushing for a nationally consistent compulsory vaccination for all frontline medical staff.

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“We’ve said plans to reopen Australia will be a disaster unless our health sector is ready and that will mean having a fully protected medical workforce,” AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid has said previously.

Aged care workers are already subjected to a vaccine mandate.

Racing Victoria first sporting body to mandate COVID-19 jabs

Racing Victoria announced on Wednesday that all staff and participants, including trainers and jockeys, must be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of entry to its workplaces and licensed premises.

The no-jab, no-entry policy will apply to the racing operations areas at Victorian racecourses on raceday and public training centres, as well as at Racing Victoria’s Flemington headquarters and offices. All Racing Victoria staff and “licensed and registered participants” will need to be fully vaccinated to gain entry.

With Paul Sakkal, David Estcourt, Ben Preiss and Claire Siracusa

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