NSW, Victoria dump household iso rules in major shake-up

Victoria, NSW poised to roll back almost all COVID rules

Victoria and NSW will drop vaccine mandates, check-ins and most mask requirements, as both states reveal a major shake-up of remaining virus rules.

Close contacts of people who have COVID will also no longer have to isolate for seven days, although they will still have to use rapid tests for a week.

The major rollback of vaccine rules in Australia’s most populous states were announced almost simultaneously on Wednesday by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, in Sydney, and Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley, in Melbourne.

“This is not the end of the pandemic, we will always tailor our restrictions – as we have said from the outset over the last two years – from the circumstances that we find ourselves,” Mr Perrottet said.

“But today is a day where the people of our state in NSW can be incredibly proud, to be in a position  – we have had an incredibly low death rate, we have put downward pressure on our health system and that is because of the efforts and sacrifice people have made.”

COVID-19 cases in NSW dropped to 10,856 on Tuesday but jumped by more than 4000 to 15,414 on Wednesday.

Victoria had 8976 cases on Tuesday, jumping up to another 10,528 on Wednesday. Despite the rise, Mr Foley said Victoria’s Omicron peak had passed.

“Based on that, we’re seeing that reflected in our steadying of case numbers, particularly the lowering of the seven-day average,” Mr Foley said.

“That’s why we’re in the position of being able to take some important steps over the coming days.”

Changes take effect in both states from midnight Friday. They also include:

  • All visitor restrictions in hospitals will be removed, except for mask rules. Health services will be able to tailor their own settings as required;
  • Events with more than 30,000 people will no longer require public health pre-approval;
  • No masks required in schools or retail settings;
  • Symptom-free overseas travellers will be recommended, but not required, to undertake PCR or rapid tests on arrival;
  • Unvaccinated travellers will no longer have to go into quarantine. Pre-departure tests for unvaccinated aircrews will also be dumped;
  • People will be exempt from testing or quarantining for 12 weeks if they’ve previously had COVID-19 (up from the current eight weeks);
  • Individuals will be required to notify their workplace contacts, in addition to social contacts, if they test positive;
  • All workplaces will require COVID-safe plans;
  • More information for NSW and Victoria.

“These are sensible measures and they can be taken based on our very high vaccination rates,” Mr Foley said.

“We know that there will be a long plateauing and tail to this BA.2 Omicron sub-variant wave. But what we know is that we’ve passed the peak and we are able to look to this group of sensible measures being able to take us into a still-challenging winter.”

More than two-thirds of eligible Victorians have had three doses of a COVID vaccine – with rates as high as 90 per cent for some vulnerable older residents.

Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, described the vaccination rates as “astonishing”.

“The phase that we’re in now is only possible because of the very
high vaccination coverage that we’ve achieved, really astonishing protection for our population,” he said.

“That collective effort has safeguarded our community and saved literally thousands of Victorian lives.”

Vaccine rates are similar in NSW, where 65.7 per cent of the eligible population has had three vaccine shots.

“That has taken effort and sacrifice from many people across our state and put us in a good position,” Mr Perrottet said.

“It’s a good decision, whether it was through Alpha, Delta and Omicron, to open up and stay open as much as possible. That kept people in jobs and business.”

NSW will also move to finally end hotel quarantine. Mr Perrottet said it had been successful but “from the position we are in now” it would cease from April 30.

Business leaders have called for the end to the seven-day isolation rule, saying it will ease staff shortages for businesses trying to recover from the pandemic. Earlier, clinical epidemiologist and head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Nancy Baxter, sounded a note of caution on the planned changes. She said up to 50 per cent of people who had a household contact with coronavirus would likely also contract the virus.

“We need to protect people from those households contacts if we’re allowing them to leave home without isolation,” she told ABC TV on Wednesday.

“You’d want them to do RATs, you’d want them in masks and not just in any mask, in a high-quality mask like a P2 or N95,” she said.

Employers should be required to keep those people isolated or physically distanced from other workers “because there’s going to be a high-risk of getting it into the workplace for these people”, she said.

“It is [politically] expedient for all of these things to be relaxed because it signals that COVID is over.

“The problem is COVID hasn’t gotten the memo …. and what we’re seeing in Australia right now is … one of the world’s highest rate of new cases of COVID per day.”

Australia’s latest 24-hour COVID data:

NSW: 15,414 cases, 15 deaths, 1639 in hospital, 72 in ICU

Victoria: 10,628 cases, 14 deaths, 437 in hospital, 34 in ICU

Queensland: 8995 cases, six deaths, 594 in hospital, 25 in ICU

-with AAP

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