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Victoria has recorded 1302 new coronavirus cases as experts call for increased COVID-19 testing capacity and a rethink of large social gatherings in light of the infectious Omicron strain.
There are now 406 people in hospital with COVID-19 and 43 on a ventilator. Of those in intensive care, 81 have an active case of the virus and 37 have been cleared of infection.
Drivers wait for COVID-19 testing in a long queue in their cars at the Central Bayside Community Health Services testing site.Credit:Penny Stephens
More than 71,491 test results were returned across the state on Sunday, while 4844 vaccinations were administered at state-run hubs.
Victoria now has 13,175 active cases of COVID-19.
Bruce Thompson, the Dean of Health Sciences at Swinburne University, said Victorians needed to be “semi-sensible and try to stop the spread” by potentially avoiding large social events through the festive season.
“Government is saying we’re not shutting our borders – and I don’t necessarily believe that we need to – as long as we all fully understand that we’re just going to have to make sure that we’re tested if we’re feeling symptomatic,” he told 3AW Breakfast.
“We definitely need to have all our vaccines up to date, that’s going to be absolutely critical. And then, also, how about we skip that major pub night that we were planning to do where all you’re doing is increasing risk.”
Sharon Lewin, the Doherty Institute director who advised on the national plan to roll back public health restrictions, called for masks to be worn in all indoor areas and to ban large gathering at pubs and nightclubs.
Professor Lewin was joined by Professor John Kaldor and Professor Greg Dore, epidemiologists at the Kirby Institute, based at the University of NSW, in a joint call for a rethink of the national reopening plans.
“We should bring back some restrictions on how people mix for a few weeks, while we get more information on Omicron’s severity and its ability to evade vaccines,” they said in a joint statement.
Acting Premier James Merlino said on Sunday that the state government was not considering putting crowd limits on major events such as the Australian Open or Boxing Day Test due to the emerging Omicron variant.
“We’re not looking at capacity, but we’ll continue to observe Omicron quite closely,” he said.
Victoria currently has 24 Omicron cases, with eight of those acquired in Australia.
The Victorian head of the nursing union is calling for extra testing sites and extended hours as demand for COVID-19 testing surges due to rising community transmission of the virus.
Some testing centres had estimated wait times of two hours and 30 minutes on Sunday, while others nearby were only 15 minutes. A number of testing centres in Melbourne – including those at Box Hill Hospital, The Alfred hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital – had temporarily closed by midday because they were over capacity.
Lisa Fitzpatrick, the Victorian branch secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, said a surge workforce of allied health and nursing, midwifery and medical students had been built by the state government to deal with the increase and was currently being used, but more might need to be done.
“There is a heavy demand on our testing sites with a rise in community transmission coinciding with an increase in testing for people to meet travel requirements. There may be a need to extend hours or increase the number of sites,” she said.
“There’s no capacity to draw more testing staff from our health services because those people are all unselfishly working, despite the need for a break, so they can care for the unvaccinated who continue to require hospitalisation.”
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