Third dose mandate for critical workers, new restrictions set for Victoria

Restrictions incoming: Victoria's Health Minister Martin Foley has announced a series of new rules to mitigate the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Photo by AAP Image

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley and acting chief health officer Ben Cowie have announced a new set of rules designed to address a dramatic spike in cases and a “profound increase” in COVID-19 hospitalisations.

Mr Foley said the percentage of Victorians who had received a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine needed to increase urgently.

Under the new pandemic orders that the health minister signed on Monday, some critical workers will be required to receive a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

This includes those employed in healthcare, aged care, disability, emergency services, correction facilities, hotel quarantine and food distribution — including manufacturing, warehousing, transport, both freight and port workers — and abattoir, meat, poultry and seafood processing workers.

Mr Foley said supermarket and retail workers were exempt from the mandate for the time being, and he would have “more to say about other groups shortly“.

The third dose deadline for specified workers varies depending on the sector they work in, because different sectors adhered to different second dose deadlines.

Any critical worker from the specified sectors who is eligible for a third dose on January 12 has until February 12 to get their third dose.

Workers not yet eligible for a third dose will be required to get it within three months and two weeks of the deadline to receive their second mandatory dose.

Additionally, indoor dance floors within hospitality and entertainment venues must close from 11.59pm on Wednesday, January 12, although those venues can still operate and there are no changes to the density settings currently in place.

This change emulates settings already in place in other states, such as NSW.

Indoor dance floors at weddings will be permitted, however hosts and guests should still consider the risks and are encouraged to place dance floors outdoors where possible.

Victorians are strongly encouraged to work from home if they are able and to opt for seated service in hospitality and entertainment venues.

People heading out to a hospitality or entertainment venue should consider using a rapid antigen test before attending if they have access.

Further visitor restrictions will also be applied to hospitals and aged care settings.

Residents at aged care centres will continue to be permitted up to five visitors a day, but visitors must return a negative RAT result before entering.

If no RATs are available at the facility, residents will be permitted no more than two visitors.

Visitors in hospitals must have received two doses of the vaccine or return a negative RAT result before entering and adult hospital visitors who are not fully vaccinated must wear an N95 mask during their visit.

Standard face masks continue to be mandated for children aged eight and above who are visiting hospitals.

International arrivals will no longer need to get a second PCR or RAT five to seven days after their arrival.

New isolation exemption rules will come into effect to protect food supply chains across Victoria.

If it is necessary for continuity of operations and other options have been exhausted, workers in the manufacturing, distribution or packaging of food and beverages, including retail supermarket workers, may be exempted from close contact isolation requirements in order to attend work from 11.59pm on January 12.

Exempted workers must be asymptomatic, undertake daily RATs for five days and return a negative result before attending work and adhere to several other safety precautions.

Similar isolation exemption arrangements are already in place for critical healthcare workers.

Information on updated restrictions and third dose vaccination requirements will be published at when the orders come into effect at 11.59pm on Wednesday, January 12.