Victoria has lifted its ban on non-urgent elective surgery after the number of COVID-19 hospital patients in the state hit a four-week low.
Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed non-urgent elective surgery would ramp up to 50 per cent from Monday in private hospitals and day procedure centres.
Category two and three elective surgery was paused earlier in February before a “code brown” declaration was instituted in hospitals as Victoria’s ailing health system prepared for an influx of COVID-19 patients amid the Omicron wave.
“It’s clear that Omicron has put a huge pressure on our healthcare system,” Mr Foley said on Friday.
“Whilst we regret having to delay all non-urgent category one surgery, we are now in a position … to cautiously and carefully get that system back on next week.”
While COVID-19 hospitalisations were predicted to peak as high as 2500, numbers fell to 707 on Friday – the state’s lowest figure since January 7.
There are 79 people in intensive care, three fewer than the previous day. They include 29 on a ventilator.
The Victorian government also announced a $1.4 billion funding package to help the healthcare system cope with ongoing costs stemming from COVID-19.
Victoria had another 36 COVID-related deaths and 11,240 more cases on Friday, as more than 1000 students and staff remain home after testing positive.
Of Friday’s cases, 3889 were positive PCR tests and 7351 positive rapid antigen tests. The total number of active cases in the state is 65,968, down 680 from Thursday.
It comes as Victoria’s school surveillance testing program continued to pick up cases among students and staff in the first week of classes resuming.
About 1000 students and 79 staff returned a positive test from 4pm on Tuesday to 4pm on Wednesday, up from 682 students and 63 staff in the previous 24-hour window.
But the numbers aren’t comparable because students are not required to use rapid antigen tests on specific days under the twice-weekly recommendation.
No schools have closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks or staff shortages, in line with the state government’s pledge that a return to remote learning would be a last resort.
Air purifiers were a key element of the state’s back-to-school plan, with 51,000 delivered to public and low-fee independent schools before the start of term one.
But two were stolen from Mentone Park Primary School in Melbourne’s southeast some time between 7pm on February 1 and 8.30am on February 2, police say.