COVID-19

Acting Premier passes buck on restoring restrictions

It comes after the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on Friday recommended that employers consider keeping staff at home to avoid a surge in cases similar to January.But Ms Allan did not say whether the government would consider acting on this advice by adding their own rules or recommendations.This would also include possible mask mandates. “Any measures (will be) considered appropriately by the Health Minister,” she said.“There is no doubt the combination of continuing to be living with the pandemic plus a really tough flu and cold system is causing pressure. “Our approach today is really no different to the approach that we’ve taken throughout this pandemic.“There are constant and consistent discussions, meetings, getting the advice, considering the best way that we as the Victorian government – working with the community, business community and the federal government – can support our community through this really, really difficult period of time.“We’re continuing to do that hard work.“There are very well set out processes for these matters to be considered and that process centres around advice that is given to the Health Minister.“It’s not appropriate for me to speculate.”Ms Allan also stressed there were other measures already in place to limit the spread of Covid.It comes as employers were urged to consider asking staff to return to working from home, as Covid cases and hospitalisations surge across Victoria.Covid deaths are also expected to spike, amid a “new wave” of Covid infections driven by the highly infectious and more vaccine resistant BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub variants.Currently, 671 Victorians are in hospital with Covid, with 32 receiving intensive care. Four Covid patients are on a ventilator.Victoria on Sunday recorded 7934 new cases, along with two deaths.The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), made up of the nation’s chief health officers, said working from home could again be necessary. In a statement on Friday night, the peak health advisory group said: “Employers should review their occupational health and safety risks and mitigations, and their business continuity plans … They should consider the feasibility of some employees working from home and support employees to take leave when sick.”Australian Medical Association Victoria president Roderick McRae said the state was in the middle of a health emergency “and yet everyone is wilfully ignoring the fact that our healthcare system is in crisis today and will get worse tomorrow”.Dr McRae said it was hard to believe health advice handed to the Andrews government hadn’t led to further restrictions.“I find it very difficult to see how any advice they are receiving is any different to what I see happening in front of us on the frontline,” he said.“It seems to me that there’s an overweight influence from the business community that we’ve just got to live with this virus.”Ministers’ contradictory adviceIndustry Support Minister Ben Carroll on Friday declared: “We are not considering mandates or lockdowns.”It appeared to contradict a statement made by Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas a day earlier, who refused to rule out further measures.And asked about the AHPPC advice on Saturday, Andrews government Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said: “I’m not here to respond off the cuff to ideas that may be floated.”Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said “it may again be necessary for employers to make decisions to ensure they are doing everything in their power to minimise the spread”.But some other business representatives warned imposing restrictions could spell disaster for traders.“The city is already on life support. To send back home those who have returned to work will be a death knell for local traders,” Small Business Australia executive director Bill Lang said.“We need to be doing all we can to bring people to the CBD. A return to work from home is one step from lockdown.”Australian Industry Group Victorian head Tim Piper agreed returning to work from home would be a tough blow for businesses. “It would be a retrograde step for employers to once again be requiring people to work from home as it has taken a great deal to return the confidence for workers to be getting back into the office, into factories and hospitality,” he said.“The economy is already struggling. We can’t find enough workers. Requiring people to work from home will exacerbate this problem and take us backwards.” But Dr McRae said the business community had it “completely wrong”. “They have no comprehension of how bad it actually is,” he said.Nearly 800 complaints were made to WorkSafe about return to office demands, potential worksite Covid breaches and other Covid related issues in the first three months of this year. Public health recommendations to work or study from home and indoor mask mandates were removed in late February.Figures supplied exclusively to the Herald Sun show from January 1 to March 31 this year, WorkSafe received 521 Covid inquiries and 263 inspection requests.The 784 Covid inquiries and inspection requests is far higher than the number for the corresponding period in 2021, with 415 inquiries and 108 inspection requests, totalling 523.However, the number of both Covid inquiries and inspection requests dropped dramatically from April 1 to June 30 this year, when compared with the same period in 2021.A staggering 7538 Covid inquiries and 3511 inspection requests have been made to the Victorian workplace safety watchdog since the pandemic began, the figures show.A WorkSafe spokesperson said Victorian employers were obliged to take every reasonable step to protect workers from risks to both their physical and mental health, including any associated with Covid.

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