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Victorians are likely to be sent back into lockdown on Thursday after senior cabinet ministers met late into the evening to decide how to contain Melbourne’s growing COVID-19 outbreak.
A source close to the government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the confidential decision, said cabinet was set to confirm final details of the lockdown on Thursday morning before announcing the public health measures.
The source said top cabinet ministers weighed up the merits of a lockdown last night and two ministers confirmed to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that a lockdown would be the probable course of action.
Acting Premier James Merlino is expected to announce a lockdown to contain a growing COVID-19 cluster in Victoria.Credit:Justin McManus
The core ministry group – which includes Acting Premier James Merlino, Treasurer Tim Pallas, Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan – will meet again on Thursday morning to finalise the plans.
As of Thursday night, the group was resolved to implement a lockdown of no less than three days. This was expected to remain the plan unless unexpected events resulted in a change to health advice.
The likelihood of a lockdown firmed as cases reached 15 and exposure sites hit 70 late on Wednesday night.
Acting Premier James Merlino said on Wednesday morning that tougher measures could be introduced, beyond new rules introduced on Tuesday on household gatherings and mask-wearing. “I cannot rule out taking some further action,” he said. “The next 24 hours are going to be critical.”
Tuka Tahir prepares a jab at the Melbourne Showgrounds vaccine hub on Wednesday.Credit:Eddie Jim
Federal MPs and senators from Victoria considering returning home this weekend have been told to consider staying in Canberra over concerns that “ACT entry conditions may change without notice”.
In federal Parliament, Labor’s deputy leader Richard Marles attacked the Morrison government’s vaccination program, saying it had been too slow to protect Australians. “This country is dangerously exposed,” Mr Marles said.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, though, in question time said 104,000 people were vaccinated across the country on Tuesday. “Australia has just had a record vaccination day,” he said. “More Australians are being vaccinated every day.”
Dozens of eligible people were queuing outside the Showgrounds vaccination hub in Ascot Vale on Wednesday as the centre prepared to give out more than 850 jabs in one day.
The nurse in charge of the hub, Allison Lamb said the spike in coronavirus cases was motivating people. “The community thought they could put it off and have waited with a false sense of security and [are] now realising another outbreak could happen at any time.”
Ms Lamb said the mass vaccination hub was still operating at a fraction of its capacity; the centre can immunise about 2200 Victorians a day.
The number of vaccine doses spiked in the wake of Melbourne’s latest outbreak with official figures showing that the number of doses delivered via the state government rose from 8269 on Monday to 15,858 on Tuesday.
Despite this, doctors in Melbourne’s northern suburbs warned on Wednesday that consistently high vaccine hesitancy had put people living in the area at heightened risk of COVID-19, with GPs concerned public health messages about the importance of being vaccinated were still failing to reach culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
Mr Merlino repeated his pleas for Victorians to get vaccinated.
“There are millions of people eligible already right now. And as I said yesterday, don’t wait for tomorrow. Don’t wait for next week. If you are eligible, call the hotline and get vaccinated,” he said.
Mr Merlino said the government was hoping to expand vaccine eligibility for Victorians, and that they were working through the details of what that looks like.
Also on Wednesday, the AFL began contacting Victorian clubs to order them into a “COVID supplementary program”.
Players, coaches and club staffers will only be allowed to leave home for food shopping, caregiving, exercise and work.
Teams will still be able to train together, but meeting sizes will be significantly reduced. The league regulations come as the AFL tries to mitigate the risk of any staff member contracting COVID-19.
With David Estcourt, Rachel Clun, Madeleine Heffernan and Erin Pearson
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