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Victoria eyes NSW pact on COVID isolation changes

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Victoria is spearheading a push for COVID isolation rules to be further eased before winter to avoid a repeat of the chaotic scenes during this summer’s Omicron wave.

Premier Daniel Andrews has been talking to NSW counterpart Dominic Perrottet and national cabinet about easing isolation protocols for winter.

He suggested the changes could be connected to a person’s third vaccine dose, but would operate as an “honesty” policy rather than a mandate.

“This would be another way of trying to encourage people to go get a third dose,” Mr Andrews said on Tuesday.

“What we know as we head into winter is we’ve got to do everything we can to try and have a better outcome when it comes to furloughing.”

With tens of thousands Australians forced into seven-day isolation amid rampant Omicron cases in late December, national cabinet agreed to change the close contact definition to those who spend more than four hours with a confirmed COVID-19 case in a household setting.

But a raft of essential workers in Victoria identified as close contacts were later allowed to continue working if they were asymptomatic and returned daily negative rapid antigen tests for five days.

Mr Andrews flagged Victoria and NSW could form a unity ticket to expand the exemption to more household contacts if a national approach isn’t brokered.

“It’s a big shift. That’s something our health team are working on and I know that Dom and his people are as well,” he said.

“I don’t know if we’ll get a national position on that. But if we can get a consistent position between Victoria and NSW, then we’ll absolutely work towards that.”

Mr Andrews’ statement followed a report in the Nine newspapers that Victorian and NSW health officials were working separately on similar plans.

The papers reported on Tuesday that the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was close to recommending changes to isolation rules for household contacts – in a major change to Australia’s management of COVID.

Also on Tuesday, Victoria announced plans to relax indoor mask-wearing rules and scrap its work-from-home recommendation, while also restoring all elective surgery.

Under the changes from 11.59 pm on Friday, masks will no longer be required in offices and most indoor workplaces but remain mandatory on public transport, in taxis and ride shares, on planes and in airports and at hospitals and care facilities.

The changes bring virus measures in Victoria broadly into line with those in NSW.

Queensland also announced a major easing of its COVID rules from next week on Tuesday.

Hospitality, retail, court and corrective services workers must continue to wear masks, as do primary school students in year three or above, and teachers.

Asked about the ongoing mask requirement for primary schools, Mr Andrews cited lower vaccination rates among students in years three-six.

“We’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” he said.

“I look forward to the day when we don’t need masks anywhere.”

In addition, the state government confirmed Victoria’s remaining elective surgery caps will lift on Monday and announced a deadline extension for education workers to get their mandated third COVID-19 jab.

Victoria had a further 14 COVID-related deaths and 6786 more cases on Tuesday, taking the state past one million total infections since the pandemic began.

NSW also had 14 deaths, and  8752 infections – its sixth consecutive day with fewer than 10,000 cases. There were five deaths and 5583 cases in Queensland on Tuesday.

-with AAP

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