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COVID spikes to two-month high in Victoria

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Victoria has reported 2005 COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths, as residents wait to learn if indoor mask mandates will be strengthened across the state.

Thursday’s daily case figure is the highest in Victoria since October 22 when the state had 2160 cases, and has pushed up active infections to 14,801.

A total of 398 patients are in hospital, including 72 who are actively infected with the virus and in intensive care, with 39 on ventilators.

The seven-day hospitalisation average is steady at 391.

Testers processed 85,112 results on Wednesday, while 16,758 people were vaccinated in state-run hubs.

Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly “highly recommended” wearing masks indoors and other places where social distancing is difficult at Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting, but did not call for blanket mandates.

Before the meeting, Acting Premier James Merlino said officials would consider his advice and described mask wearing as a “small inconvenience for a significant public health benefit”.

The Victorian government had flagged it would relax mask requirements last week but instead kept mandates in retail settings, for hospitality workers and on public transport, citing the spread of the Omicron variant.

On Wednesday night, senior state government officials met to review the state’s restrictions, including current mask settings, The Age reports.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s testing system continues to strain under the weight of holidaymakers seeking a swab for interstate travel, with at least 20 sites across Melbourne temporarily closed by 9am on Thursday after reaching capacity.

COVID commander Jeroen Weimar said on Wednesday more than a quarter of total tests in recent days were for people needing a negative result to travel to Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

He blamed the long queues and waiting times on the “bureaucratic” requirement, and hoped other jurisdictions would move to a “more sensible arrangement”.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee will report back to states and territories on whether PCR tests should be required for interstate travel, or can be replaced by rapid antigen tests.

-AAP

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