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First-year healthcare students and retired nurses will be recruited to Victoria’s COVID-19 vaccination workforce as part of a new government program.
The Andrews government announced on Wednesday there would be a recruitment drive to secure another 1000 vaccinators. The announcement came after the state recorded 40,127 new COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths and cases nationwide topped 100,000.
The official number of active coronavirus cases in the state now stands at 209,715, but health officials warn there are likely many more with the virus. Deputy Premier James Merlino emphasised the strain on the healthcare system by revealing there were more than 6600 workers off-duty on Wednesday.
The Acting Health Minister said some workers were unavailable because they had tested COVID-positive, and some because they were close contacts of a coronavirus case.
“The premier was up yesterday talking about more than 4000 workers on leave. I can tell you today it’s more than 6600 health service workers who are unavailable to work right now, so this is a system under strain,” Mr Merlino said.
Of the state’s new active cases, 21,693 were detected through PCR testing, while 18,434 were self-reported from rapid antigen tests.
The government said the 1000 new vaccinators would be trained to expand the workforce. They would only administer vaccines to adults, and would work alongside nurses and pharmacists in state-run vaccination clinics for up to six months, and be supervised by experienced clinicians.
The workers would be known as “limited scope COVID-19 vaccinators”, and have to complete mandatory vaccination training, along with a coronavirus clinical skills and competencies assessment.
Applications for the program open on January 17.
“With comprehensive training and supervision, we’re helping 1000 Victorians in relevant fields get the training they need to join our vaccination efforts,” said Mr Merlino, who as the state’s Education Minister emphasised his desire for the school year to start, as scheduled, on January 31.
He said the remaining 30,000-odd air purifiers promised to schools across Victoria would be delivered in the coming weeks, “even if I need to get in a truck and deliver them myself”.
“More than 20,000 have been delivered. We’ve got the next three weeks where we will deliver the remaining component of that 51,000,” Mr Merlino said. “That’s the commitment we made.”
Department of Health deputy secretary Naomi Bromley said complex technical or clinical elements would be reserved for professionals at vaccination sites.
Mr Merlino said authorities were looking at “system-wide approaches” to deal with the strain on the healthcare workforce.
He said Victoria’s Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority would recruit an additional 43 full-time-equivalent staff to strengthen its ranks.
Ambulance Victoria has had two “code red” alerts in the past week. At least seven of every 10 calls to Victoria’s triple-zero service during some shifts in recent weeks were not answered on time. It’s suspected the deaths or serious injuries of up to a dozen people in recent months could be linked to delays answering calls.
Wednesday’s figures showed there were 946 people in hospital with COVID-19, an all-time daily high for Victoria after the previous record, 861, was set on Tuesday.
There were 112 people in the intensive care unit, and 31 people on a ventilator.
Health authorities were notified of the deaths of 21 Victorians aged 40 and over on Tuesday, taking the total number of COVID-related deaths in the state to 1614.
Wednesday was among the nation’s deadliest days since the start of the pandemic, with 49 deaths recorded nationwide. Some fatalities occurred earlier in the week, but were officially reported in Wednesday’s figures.
The last time Australia recorded such a high number of fatalities in a single day was on September 4, 2020, during the country’s second wave, when authorities registered 59 deaths. However, most of those related to the delayed reporting of 50 aged-care related deaths that had occurred in the prior two months.
The national tally of reported new cases also rose from more than 90,000 on Tuesday to top 100,000 on Wednesday, including 34,759 in NSW.
New pandemic orders coming into effect in Victoria at 11.59pm on Wednesday will significantly change COVID-19 protocols for critical workers, visitors to aged care facilities and hospitals, and hospitality venues.
Coronavirus booster vaccines will be mandatory for critical workers including those in health and aged care, disability, emergency services, correctional facilities, hotel quarantine, and food distribution.
Workers already eligible for their booster shot will have until February 12 to receive it, while those not yet eligible will have three months and two weeks from their second-dose deadline.
Workers in food and beverage manufacturing, packing, and distribution – including retail supermarket workers – will be allowed to keep going to work after becoming a close contact of a COVID-19 case under the new orders.
Farm groups have called for workers in food supply chain companies to get priority access to the rapid antigen tests, which remain in short supply.
Under the new orders aged care centres will need to request RAT results from those who visit their residents. A cap of five daily visitors per resident remains in force, but if a visitor does not provide a negative RAT result their host will be limited to two visitors.
Visitors to hospitals will have to prove they have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine before they enter, or, if they are not fully vaccinated, return a negative rapid antigen test and wear an N95 mask.
Indoor dance floors at hospitality and entertainment venues will also close at 11.59pm, with the exception of those at weddings.
Authorities continue to encourage Victorians to receive their booster doses as soon as possible. The proportion of the state’s population who are over 18 and have received the shot stands at 18 per cent.
Another 24,547 Victorians rolled up their sleeves to get a COVID-19 vaccine at a state-run clinic on Tuesday, while 61,630 coronavirus tests were processed at PCR sites.
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