Victoria has reported a record 1,965 new Covid-19 cases and five deaths overnight with the state tipped to reach both its vaccination targets ahead of schedule.
Covid-19 commander Jeroen Weimar has provided the latest vaccination tracking to the state government with the figures revealing the state will hit its 70 and 80 per cent vaccination milestones early.
Victoria was expected to hit the 70 per cent double jab rate by October 26. It is now expected to meet the milestone on October 23.
The 80 per cent milestone was forecast to be met on November 5. The date has been cut by two days to November 3.
The promising vaccination rates could mean that restrictions are eased sooner despite rising Covid-19 case numbers.
The 1,965 new cases announced on Saturday smash the 1,838 cases reported on Friday. It sets a new record for the most daily cases ever recorded in Australia during the pandemic.
The cases come as face masks will be made mandatory for all children in grades three to six in an effort to reduce COVID-19 spread as students start returning to the classroom.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said masks will be required indoors at school for those students, while mask-wearing will be ‘strongly recommended’ but not mandated for younger children from prep to grade two.
‘We really want to have these measures in place early on to keep kids in school and to make sure that they are as safe as possible in the school environment,’ he told reporters.
The state was expected to hit the 70 per cent double jab rate by October 26 (pictured, healthcare worker at drive-through in Melbourne)
Children in grades three to six will be forced to wear masks in Victorian schools after new rules are set to be introduced (pictured, Carlton Gardens Primary)
Shepparton and Moorabool’s lockdown restrictions will ease from midnight on Friday (pictured, a resident exercises during lockdown)
He said face masks, along with ventilation and other COVID-safe measures, had prevented virus transmission in schools overseas.
‘In many states in America, school mask mandates have been put in place and they have helped to reduce transmission,’ Professor Sutton said.
‘It really has been shown that where there are multiple layers of risk mitigation within the schools, that you can keep a cap on transmission and have kids return safely to that environment.’
Health authorities and the state government are in the process of drafting the mask rules, ahead of a staged return to classrooms in coming weeks.
Students aged 12 and over are already required to wear face masks at school, unless they have an illness, disability or are exempt.
Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital paediatrician Jane Munro said the mask mandate was ‘backed by good science’ and will help prevent student absence.
‘It is simple, it is safe. There are no health risks for a child wearing a mask. It is easy to do and it is also common sense,’ she told reporters.
‘Some people might still be confused about why we need to do this and it is because we want to get kids back to school and keep them there.’
Schools in parts of regional Victoria and year 12 students in Melbourne returned to classrooms this week.
More than one million Victorian children will return to 30,000 classrooms across 2276 schools over the next month, with all students expected to return to onsite learning either full or part-time by October 26.
However, none of the COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved for children aged under 12.
As well as mask wearing, Dr Munro said ventilation, physical distancing and hygiene measures are vital for classrooms to return.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said masks will be required indoors at school for those students, while mask-wearing will be ‘strongly recommended’ but not mandated for younger children from prep to grade two (pictured, Bentleigh Secondary College)
‘We need to get our kids back at school and keep them at school. We all need to work together as a community to make that happen,’ she said.
She said RCH, with the support of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, was developing resources to help children understand what they need to do to return to school.
Professor Sutton also announced a slight change to mask rules for adults from midnight on Friday, allowing masks to be removed to drink alcohol outdoors at a picnic.
As Victoria’s case numbers continue to climb, the state’s chief health officer announced several changes to restrictions in regional Victoria on Friday afternoon.
Professor Sutton declared Mildura Rural City Council residents would be plunged into a seven-day lockdown at midnight on Friday, giving locals just over six hours’ notice.
There are now 12 active COVID-19 cases in the area, with health officials hoping the lockdown will prevent the outbreak from escalating.
Professor Sutton declared Mildura Rural City Council residents would be plunged into a seven-day lockdown at midnight on Friday, giving locals just over six hours’ notice (pictured, Mildura town centre)
Mildura will be under the same stay-at-home rules as Melbourne, excluding the curfew, with a 15-kilometre travel limit and a ban on visitors at people’s homes.
It comes as Greater Shepparton and Moorabool Shire exited their lockdowns at 11:59pm on Friday, with rules now matching the rest of regional Victoria including masks indoors and out, and a ban on home gatherings.
Professor Sutton paid tribute to locals for helping to drive case numbers down.
‘I really thank everyone in the community for staying safe, staying apart, and doing the right thing,’ he said.
A small tweak to the mask rules also came into effect at midnight on Friday, with adults now allowed to remove their face mask to consume alcohol while outdoors.
Prof Sutton believes Victoria’s coronavirus outbreak is nearing its peak, after another record-breaking day of case numbers – 1838 infections were reported on Friday and five deaths.
The chief health officer said rising vaccination levels were ensuring the rate of people being hospitalised or placed into intensive care was not growing as quickly as the daily case numbers.
More to come