The mask mandate for Victorian schoolchildren is expected to be scrapped when students return to the classroom on April 26, as health authorities review vaccine mandates, QR codes and household isolation rules.
Health Minister Martin Foley said his public health team was monitoring and reviewing all COVID-19 settings and restrictions to ensure a nationally consistent approach in line with health advice.
Mask mandates for school children are expected to be dumped when term 2 resumes. Credit:Wayne Taylor
If case numbers continue to decline as forecast, students in years 3 to 6 will no longer be required to wear a mask when they return for term 2, the government announced on Tuesday afternoon.
Premier Daniel Andrews had earlier said he would “leave it to the [chief health officer] and the minister to speak about trends and things, but we do seem to have some stability come to these [COVID] numbers.
“Once we get past the peak, once we start to see those numbers coming off, we will have options that are not available to us now. That’ll be options … like household contacts and iso rules for them, vaccinated economy, QR coding, all sorts of different things will – it’s our hope – fall away.”
The Age on Saturday revealed the Andrews government was preparing to scrap some lingering pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates for hospitality workers, students and public transport users, once Omicron case numbers began to subside.
The current wave of the Omicron BA.2 subvariant is expected to peak in late April before a “long tail of a slow decline”, according to modelling provided to the government.
The government also announced new rules for cruise ship passengers that would come into effect when the Commonwealth’s ban on cruise ship ends on April 17. In a statement, the state government said it had been working on an approach in line with NSW and Queensland.
Under the new rules, all passengers over the age of 12 must be double vaccinated and crew triple vaccinated; unvaccinated children and adults with a medical exemption can travel, but not account for more than 5 per cent of the ship’s passengers; passengers must receive a negative PCR result; and crew must wear masks at all times while passengers need to wear masks when embarking and disembarking and in indoor settings where they are unable to socially distance.
The pandemic orders have also been changed to state vaccination requirements will not apply to any polling venues for the May 21 federal election.
“We currently have the fewest restrictions in place since the beginning of the pandemic, and the sensible settings that are in place can be reviewed following the peak in cases,” Foley said in a statement.
“The return of cruise ships later this year is great news for our visitor economy, and our COVID-safe protocols will protect workers, passengers and the communities and attractions that will host cruise ship excursions.”
After plateauing around 5000 for about a month following the Omicron wave in summer, daily COVID-19 cases began to rise again in mid-March and reached a high of 11,830 on April 5. Since then, daily new cases have remained steady at around 10,000 a day, with the state reporting 10,293 infections on Tuesday.
Victoria had earlier intended to relax remaining restrictions, but a spike in cases of the Omicron variant prompted the government to reconsider its plans and reimpose some rules in January, and keep those restrictions in place because of the BA.2 subvariant.
The Victorian and NSW governments had been working for months on a plan to ease household contact rules, but officials cooled on the move in early March after receiving new modelling on caseload trajectories.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee recently warned against watering down seven-day quarantine rules for household contacts “at this time”, concluding “the escalation in case numbers is likely to increase, rather than decrease, any disruptions to broader societal functioning”.
“Making changes, including changes to quarantine settings, that will result in increased transmission in the community at a time when cases are already increasing or are at their peak, may result in further disruption to the health system,” the committee advised.
One senior government source said one of the options the Andrews government could consider after the current wave eases, was to reduce the number of days household contacts are forced into isolation, or require them to take daily rapid antigen tests for a period of time.
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