Booster waiting times cut down to three months as hospitals activate the emergency code

More than 100 GPs and pharmacies across the state will also provide additional appointments during vaccine blitz.

To date, nearly half of Victorians aged 70 and over have received a third dose of the vaccine, compared with 37 percent of those in their 60s and 33 percent of those in their 40s and 50s.

Professor Rhonda Stuart, an infectious disease expert who runs the Ministry of Health’s south-east public health unit, said intensified patients were less likely to become infected with the virus and showed fewer signs of symptomatic infection.

Professor Stuart said less than 5 percent of patients in intensive care units across the state had received a third dose.

“We’ve learned a lot over the last two years. We’ve learned how to handle COVID, and we’ve learned a lot about how to control COVID,” she said.

“I think the most important lesson that we are here to discuss today is immunization and the importance of booster vaccination.”

Professor Stuart also warned people against “getting COVID and getting it over with” and said that immunity after infection diminished faster than that given by vaccination.

“My advice would be that this is not the way to go,” she said. “We see young, healthy, healthy people being admitted to hospital with Omicron, we see people being admitted to the intensive care unit with Omicron.

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“But we also see that people who are very ill in society are bedridden, have high fever, tremors, chills, terrible muscle aches. I would not wish that on anyone.”

She urged people to get their booster shots as soon as they recovered from illness. “We now know that Omicon is 10 times more likely to reinfect someone than Delta.”

Victoria recorded 20,769 COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths on Wednesday as state hospitals, bending over the Omicron wave, activated “code-brown” emergency protocols.

The state government declared the emergency code Tuesday morning after a record number of coronavirus patients and widespread firing of staff threatened to overwhelm Victoria’s fighting health care system.

Below code brown alarm – usually reserved for shorter lasting emergencies such as forest fires – hospitals may cancel leave for healthcare professionals to remedy staff shortages. This will apply to all metropolitan hospitals and six regional hospitals.

Acting Health Secretary James Merlino said Tuesday that admissions will peak in the coming weeks, with more than 2,500 patients expected to be admitted at one time and up to 100 new admissions a day.

Premier Daniel Andrews provides a COVID-19 update

Premier Daniel Andrews provides a COVID-19 updateCredit:Simon Schluter

“Our hospital system is under extreme pressure, and the risks we now see in COVID admissions testify to that,” Mr Merlino said.

There are now 253,827 active COVID-19 infections across Victoria. There are 1173 patients in the hospital, of which 125 in intensive care and 42 in respirator.

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Steven McGlouglin, intensive care director at The Alfred Hospital, told radio station 3AW that his ward felt the strain of the Omicron wave.

Associate Professor McGloughlin said about half of the patients admitted to the ward had been diagnosed with COVID-19, and a small number of them were fully vaccinated against the virus.

“There are people in the intensive care unit who have received two shots, even a few people were shot three,” he said. “But when you look at … millions of people who have been vaccinated in Victoria and the proportion of people who come to the intensive care unit, it is extremely clear that vaccination is protective.”

Associate Professor McGloughlin welcomed the statement on the code brown and said it would help the system as a whole. But he added that further action was needed to prevent the cancellation of operations in the future.

“This has been going on for a long time now, and we really need to address that.”

Of the new cases announced by health authorities on Wednesday, 10,726 were diagnosed through PCR testing, and a further 10,043 were self-reported results from rapid antigen testing.

What is a code brown?

  • Code brown is a measure to ease the pressure on hospitals.
  • The measure is typically reserved for sudden, short-lived emergencies, such as a train accident or bushfire (for example, a code brown was called during the 2016 thunderstorm asthma incident).
  • Under a code brown, hospitals can cancel their staff leave to ensure that adequate workforce is present.
  • They can also delay less urgent services.
  • This code brown starts at noon on Wednesday. It is expected to last between four and six weeks.
  • This will apply to all the capital’s public hospitals. In the Victoria region, Geelong’s Barwon Health and Grampians, Bendigo, Goulburn Valley, Albury Wodonga and Latrobe regional health groups are also included. Private hospitals have the option of calling their own code brown.

The latest cases come as the lack of rapid tests in the home continues to pose a major challenge across the country. A study published by Professional Pharmacists Australia on Tuesday revealed that more than 90 percent of chemists struggled to ensure a constant supply of the coveted sets.

Meanwhile, Australia’s health watchdog reports that retailers are selling repackaged fast antigen sets for a premium, despite warnings of multi-million dollar fines for companies that violate labeling rules.

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The study follows reports, gas stations, grocery stores and supermarkets sell the coveted sets inside zippered bags and sometimes lack the essential components for their proper use.

Readers who contacted this masthead reported cases where tests had been sold inside individual envelopes without the test tube used to hold the chemical solution in which the swab had to be dipped to obtain a result. Others talked about buying kits in sandwich bags and being asked to photograph the instructions.

More than 22,121 Victorians received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at state-run sites on Tuesday, increasing state vaccine coverage to more than 93 percent for people 12 years and older. To date, 26 percent of eligible Victorians have received a booster shot.

The Victorians made 115,000 reservations to get a dose of the coronavirus vaccine over the last week. About 77,000 of them were for booster shots and 36,000 for children who received their first dose.

As of Tuesday, more than 175,000 vaccination appointments were available across Victoria over the next month, including 44,000 places for children.

New rules introduced on Wednesday mean that crucial workers in emergency services, training, critical utilities, detention facilities, transport and freight sectors will no longer have to be quarantined if they come into close contact with a confirmed virus case.

The change brings these workers in line with those in health care and food distribution, who do not have to isolate themselves after spending more than four hours with an infected person.

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