Victorian school student mask mandate expands as state records 1,838 COVID cases and five deaths

Victorian health authorities will extend the mandatory use of masks indoors in schools in an attempt to curb transmission, as the state records another record daily increase in cases.

The state recorded 1,838 locally acquired COVID-19 cases and five deaths during Thursday’s reporting period.

It marks the highest daily number of cases in any Australian jurisdiction since the beginning of the pandemic.

The peak of Victoria’s daily infections is still expected to be weeks away, with social gatherings around the AFL’s big last weekend linked to the increase in numbers.

But health officials have said the state is still on track to meet the vaccination targets set out in Victoria’s roadmap to lift closures.

About 84.7 percent of Victorians have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while about 56.6 percent are now fully vaccinated.

The cases were identified from 77,554 tests that were processed Thursday and marked the third record test day in a row for the state.

That brings the total number of active cases in the state to 16,823, which is another record for the state.

The five deaths bring the tolls for the current outbreak to 75.

A man in his 80s from Brimbank, a woman in her 80s from Whittlesea, a woman in her 70s from Greater Shepparton, a woman in her 70s from Knox and a man in his 70s from Moreland died.

Authorities said Thursday that the rising number of hospitalizations and serious illnesses in recent days was a result of the fact that those infected at social gatherings last week worsened.

There are currently 620 COVID-19 patients in the hospital and 114 in the ICU, with 76 on a ventilator.

Masks become mandatory for most elementary school students

From Saturday, state health directives will ease to allow the removal of masks for alcohol consumption.

“It really is a reflection of a push for more outdoor recreational activities, including picnics, and a welcome change I’m sure,” said Health Director Brett Sutton.

He said further cases in regional Victoria had new rules on masks in schools, with all school children aged 3 and over having to wear masks indoors at school.

Masks indoors in school will be strongly recommended, but not mandatory for children in preparation for year 2.

The rule change marks an extension of the current mandates, where face masks are already mandatory for all Victorians over the age of 12 outside their homes.

A female child wearing a surgical face mask with a baby pattern on
Children around the world have successfully worn masks to reduce transmission, said health chief Brett Sutton.(

AP / Marco Ugarte

)

The health chief said the new rules were still being drafted and that a date had not yet been set for the extended mandates for student masks.

Professor Sutton said many other countries had effectively curbed COVID-19 transmission in schools by enforcing the use of masks.

“In many states in America, school mask mandates have been introduced and they have helped reduce transmission,” he said.

“It has really been shown that where there are multiple layers of risk reduction within schools, one can keep a ceiling on transmission and get children to return safely to that environment.”

Parliament’s vaccination mandate hits legal obstacles

Treasurer Tim Pallas said the government was still working on imposing vaccinations on all authorized workers, but had received legal advice stating that MPs and court staff were not legally bound by the chief health chief’s instructions.

“There is a question of separation of powers here that goes to the courts and parliament,” Pallas said.

Last week, the prime minister rejected the proposal that the mandates could not be enforced for MPs, saying: “It does not matter who you are in Victoria, the law of public health and well-being applies to you.”

On Friday, Mr Pallas said “it has become increasingly clear that there are some restrictions on what can be done”.

But he said “mechanisms” would be put in place to ensure the same rules were enforced for politicians.

“We do not apply a rule to Victorians who are mandated to behave in a certain way and then do not apply the same kind of rigor and responsibility to MPs,” he said.

Boundary bubble change

Several Victorian LGAs have been reintroduced into the inter-communal area with New South Wales, including Benalla, Greater Bendigo, Buloke Shire, Loddon and Yarriambiack.

On the NSW side, the LGAs Hay, Edward River, Lockhart, Murrumbidgee and the town of Wagga Wagga will be reintroduced into the bubble.

Residents who have been inside the bubble for the past 14 days will be able to get in and out without permission.

Victoria Police will reduce its enforcement at the NSW state border in response to the changes.

A spokeswoman for Victoria Police said authorities would then rely on local resources to patrol the border and enforce permit rules.

“The police presence will be gradually reduced over the next few days, and from Tuesday, the dedicated border operation with more than 300 police will cease,” a spokesman said.

It follows the lifting of restrictions in Southeast Australia and the reintroduction of the 70-kilometer-long border bubble with Victoria that excludes the Victorian city of Portland.

The boundary bubble had its radius reduced from 70 km to 30 km on Monday after a woman returning from Victoria tested positive for COVID-19.

No new cases have been detected in the region, but sewage tests have revealed COVID-19 viral fragments between September 29 and October 6 in the Portland area.

The Commonwealth declared all local government areas in Greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shire as COVID hotspots for a further seven days until 14 October.

Victorians living in these LGAs will have access to the COVID-19 disaster payment for the period.

When the state reaches 70 percent full vaccination, recipients must re-apply for payments weekly, while at 80 percent vaccination, payments will be completely scaled down after a period of two weeks.

The CHO says the state is on its way to the top of new cases

Professor Sutton said Victoria was approaching the height of her COVID case numbers.

“I think we’re on our way to the top if today is not the top,” he said.

But he warned that the peak of new infections would come well before the peak of hospitalizations and deaths.

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Epidemiologist James Trauer says vaccination is the key to reducing Victoria’s case number.

Head of epidemiology modeling at Monash University, James Trauer, told ABC News Breakfast that it could be weeks before the number of cases begins to fall in the state.

This is in line with the Burnet Institute modeling, which predicts a peak between October 19 and the end of the month.

Dr Trauer said Melbourne’s difficulties in combating COVID-19 may be linked to structural and climate issues.

He said that although he did not believe Victoria had reached its peak in new infections, it could require encouragement from the course of events in NSW after its vaccination target was reached.

“The clearest indication is what we have seen in New South Wales, and when they reached the vaccination figures, which we are now beginning to reach in Victoria, we saw that cases peaked and began to come down again,” he said.

“I really hope it will happen over the next week or two.”

A woman crosses the street in Melbourne's CBD.
All LGAs in Greater Melbourne have been declared hotspots for another seven days.(

ABC News: Rudy De Santis

)

The state reveals international student plan

The Victorian government has announced its plan for the return of international students by the end of the year.

About 47,000 international students enrolled in Victorian universities remain offshore, while Australia’s borders are closed.

During the first phase of the plan, 120 international students a week will be allowed to enter the state, with priority given to those who need practical work to continue or complete their educations.

It will include health and medical students as well as research students.

An empty street in the Melbourne CBD
Over 55 percent of Victorians are now fully vaccinated, and the state plans to reach its 70 percent goal within weeks.(

ABC News: Rudy De Santis

)

Students arriving under the plan will not be included in Victoria’s existing international arrival cap, and universities will fund the additional quarantine sites.

The second phase will allow students enrolled in TAFEs, English-language courses, private education and colleges to enter Victoria.

Victoria’s trade minister Martin Pakula said the plan would not affect places for returning Australians.

The state government has submitted its plan to the Commonwealth for approval.

Before the pandemic, international education was Victoria’s largest service export industry, with the state hosting about a third of the country’s international students.

Border closures have severely affected the $ 13.7 billion sector, which employed about 79,000 people in 2019.

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