Push for masks, WFH as Covid peak looms

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said about 800 Victorians were currently in hospital with Covid with 4000 hospitalised across the country. “All of the modelling indicates that case numbers and hospitalisations have further to go over the next four to six weeks,” he told 3AW on Tuesday. “We will continue to see case numbers rise, we will continue to see increased pressure on our hospitals.” Mr Butler said hospitalisation numbers were likely to reach 5000 like it did in January. “The difference between now and January is that we are in winter,” he said. “There is still a substantial flu pressure on our hospitals and all of the other things that happen to the hospital system in winter so it’s not really apples and apples.“5000 (hospitalisations) is going to put very serious pressure on our hospitals.” Mr Butler strongly recommended masking up and working from home if possible. “I think mask wearing in crowded indoor spaces is something we should see return,” he said. “I think we’ve … slacked off a bit of mask wearing in indoor spaces, we know that it is effective.” Mr Butler also said he would be “very surprised if there wasn’t pressure on elective surgery lifts in a number of states over the coming four to six weeks”. NED-5250-Victoria’s Covid-19 statisticsThis comes as the 12-week immunity period that exempts people from isolating or testing if they recently had Covid was reduced to four weeks in Victoria on Tuesday morning. Victorian Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas requested that employers consider working from home arrangements that are “most appropriate for their workplace and employees based on individual requirements”. Ms Thomas also strongly recommended mask wearing in indoor and crowded settings but stopped short of mandating it, admitting she didn’t take the advice of the chief health officer. It’s understood that Acting Chief Health Officer Ben Cowie wanted to mandate masks in schools and early childhood settings, as well as in retail and some hospitality settings. But Ms Thomas said she didn’t accept that recommendation after speaking with the industry who said they would lose staff if such a measure was implemented. “I made a decision based on the advice that I had received that further mandating of masks was not the most effective way to get the message out about the importance of mask wearing,” she said. “We need to empower Victorians to make their own decisions.”Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra welcomed the approach of recommendations rather than mandates. “This puts the decision making back on the individual and businesses,” he said. “We have advocated that mandates should be avoided. This is a common sense approach which enables people to make their own decisions to protect their health, the health of their clients and their family and friends.“The Victorian Chamber is cognisant of concerns over the increase in Covid case numbers, coupled with a difficult cold and flu season. “Business can and will play our part, just as we have throughout the pandemic.”The fresh advice comes after a 53 per cent increase in the number of Victorians in hospital with Covid over the past two weeks. It coincides with a new public health messaging campaign, called “Stay Well in Winter” to run across TV, radio, outdoor and digital channels. It will spruik calls for the community to get their third and fourth Covid doses, as well as flu vaccination. The Government also unveiled another round of its Small Business Ventilation Grant Program to help businesses invest in equipment that will keep their workers and customers safe in indoor settings.Ms Thomas said the government was working with business and community leaders to ensure advice and information was provided to the wider community. “As we’re seeing across the globe and around Australia, winter means more time inside where Covid-19 and the flu can spread. It also means our nurses, ambos and doctors have never worked harder, and we can’t thank them enough,” she said. “Wearing a mask, getting up to date with your vaccinations and ensuring indoor areas are well ventilated are small but effective steps Victorians and businesses can take to manage their own Covid-19 risk this winter.”Positive cases are still required to isolate for seven days from the day they took their test. But they are able to leave their house to provide transport for a household member to obtain food, if essential. The infected person will need to remain in the car and wear a face covering at all times.

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