Victoria records 1622 COVID cases, nine deaths as shops reopen to the unvaccinated

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Victoria has recorded 1622 cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths as non-essential retail reopens to unvaccinated shoppers for the first time in almost a month.

Victorians no longer need to show proof of vaccination against coronavirus to shop for retail, visit places of worship or attend real estate auctions and home visits under new health orders announced by the state government on Wednesday.

Masks will remain mandatory for retail settings under updated health orders.Credit:Wayne Taylor

People under the age of 18 will no longer be required to show their vaccine certificate to enter venues, including restaurants, bars, and pubs.

However, mask rules will remain in place for retail settings until at least January 12 amid fears the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 could lead to a big surge in case numbers.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton expects Victoria to follow a similar trajectory to NSW, where new modelling suggests Omicron could send case numbers soaring to 25,000 a day by the end of January.

On Thursday, NSW recorded 1742 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths. It is the highest daily total recorded for the state since the pandemic began, after a peak of 1599 cases on September 11.

COVID-19 cases could initially double every two days as a result of the new variant, but authorities remain confident the surge will not lead to eleventh-hour domestic border closures and gathering restrictions before Christmas.

Health authorities are still waiting for the test results of hundreds of close contacts of a confirmed Omicron case who visited two popular nightspots in Melbourne’s inner north while infectious.

The person, who caught the variant interstate and was fully vaccinated, visited Sircuit Bar in Fitzroy and Peel Hotel in Collingwood between 9pm and 3am on December 10. There were more than 800 patrons across both venues at the time.

There are currently 10 confirmed cases of the strain in Victoria, including seven linked to international flights, one from interstate, and two close contacts of other cases.

The changes to Victorian’s vaccination requirements have been welcomed by retailers, who are bracing for a bumper holiday season.

The Australian Retail Association estimates Victorians will spend $15.4 billion in the pre-Christmas sales period, an 11.5 per cent increase on pre-pandemic levels. The increase in demand will continue through to the new year, with Victorians poised to spend $5.6 billion in the three weeks from Boxing Day.

Association chief executive Paul Zahra said the move would also improve safety for staff following a spike in customer aggression towards retail workers checking vaccination certificates.

“With the vast bulk of the population now fully vaccinated, it makes sense to remove this impediment on businesses and customers, allowing people to move freely in and out of stores,” he said.

“Retailers will welcome the easing of tensions in this area, and we look forward to these unsavoury incidents now being a thing of the past.”

There are now 384 Victorians with the virus being treated in hospital, including 122 in intensive care, with 49 on a ventilator. Thirty-five of the patients in intensive care have been cleared of the virus.

More than 10,816 Victorians were vaccinated against COVID-19 at state-run clinics on Wednesday. That takes the total number of doses administered at state facilities to almost 5 million, which means more than 92 per cent of Victorians aged 12 and over are now fully immunised against the virus.

Doctors turn away COVID booster patients

Doctors are turning away patients booking COVID-19 booster shots and a scheduled vaccination program at an aged care facility has been delayed as the country’s peak medical association warns Australia’s booster program is already falling dangerously behind.

The Australian Medical Association claims the nation risks a repeat of mistakes made overseas where a slow rollout of vaccine boosters led to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Emerging international research indicates that a third vaccine dose is critical to providing optimal protection against the coronavirus strain.

Nearly 443,000 Victorians were overdue to receive their COVID-19 booster shot on Wednesday, with 6274 appointments available in state-run clinics over the coming week, Professor Sutton said.

As of Tuesday, a total of 96,440 people nationwide received a booster shot, according to federal Health Department data.

With Timna Jacks and Melissa Cunningham

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