Experts say dropping pandemic declaration is ‘an appropriate step’

Experts say dropping pandemic declaration is ‘an appropriate step’
Experts say dropping pandemic declaration is ‘an appropriate step’

Epidemiologists have backed Premier Daniel Andrews’ decision to end the pandemic declaration, the legal instrument used to enforce rules intended to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Andrews on Friday afternoon announced that the declaration would end next Thursday, a day earlier than isolation rules are lifted Australia-wide following last week’s national cabinet meeting.

The effect of the change means Victoria will not have a framework in place to easily reintroduce COVID-19 rules if faced with another wave. The premier could declare a new pandemic to allow the health minister to reintroduce public health rules if needed.

The prime minister, premiers and chief ministers last week agreed to abolish isolation rules for positive COVID-19 cases from next Friday, October 14. The decision left few rules for Victoria to enforce.


But Victoria will now remove the mandate a day earlier, from Thursday, when the state’s pandemic declaration was due to expire.

“To continue mandatory isolation until [Friday], Victoria’s pandemic framework would have required an extension of the pandemic declaration for 24 hours – therefore, the decision has been made to conclude these requirements at 11.59pm on 12 October, in line with the expiry of the pandemic declaration,” the government said in a statement.

Workers in the health, aged care, disability and Aboriginal sectors are still required to isolate under nationally consistent rules to protect vulnerable people. Targeted financial support will still be available to those workers to help them isolate.

In Victoria, workers in those settings will still need COVID-19 vaccinations once the pandemic declaration ends.


Powers exist under occupational health and safety laws to allow government departments and employers in particular industries to enforce vaccinations.

“Mandates remain important for our health workers, for our disability workers, for our aged care workers; the last thing we want is our health workers contributing to making people sick,” Andrews told reporters in Geelong on Friday.


“They’re going to continue to be vaccinated, and they want to be vaccinated.”

The premier on Friday said “COVID exceptionalism” needed to end, and congratulated Victorians for their “amazing job”.

Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Roderick McRae, did not believe the state was ready to remove all public health orders.

“But equally, one has to recognise the circumstances and the community opinion,” McRae said.

Victorian AMA branch president Roderick McRae.
Victorian AMA branch president Roderick McRae.CREDIT:JOE ARMAO

More people still needed to get their boosters and fourth doses, he said, adding that the government should be alert to cracks in the health system. McRae said the government should consider a trigger to reintroduce the framework.

“We are relying on people being sensible and smart,” McRae said.

Monash University epidemiologist, Associate Professor James Trauer, said the premier’s decision was justified.

“I think it’s fine,” Trauer said. “I think it’s an appropriate step at this stage.

“We never know which variant is just around the corner, but we obviously can’t just keep restrictions indefinitely.”

Professor Catherine Bennett, from Deakin University, said it was time to deal with COVID-19 for the long-haul.

She said infections would probably go up again at some point and the risk still remained for vulnerable people.

“It’s really important to recognise that living with the virus doesn’t mean it’s gone away,” Bennett said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier.CREDIT:JUSTIN MCMANUS

Both Trauer and Bennett said the Department of Health needed to keep monitoring COVID-19 to ensure the government could react appropriately if necessary.

The removal of the pandemic declaration allows Labor to campaign for the November state election with clear air after 2½ years of rules, which were sometimes unpopular and could still pose a threat to government MPs in key outer-urban seats at next month’s election.

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the premier had made a political decision before the election.

“Make no mistake, this decision isn’t about public health but about a state election in 50 days’ time,” Crozier said in a statement.

“Victorians won’t forget the last 2½ years under Labor and the cruel decisions to impose seven harsh lockdowns, vaccine and mask mandates, curfews, playground, school and business closures.”

The government will need to publish advice provided by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton one week after the declaration is lifted.

Crozier called for the chief health officer’s advice to me made public immediately, and said the Coalition would continue fighting for greater transparency.

Following last week’s national cabinet meeting, senior health sources told The Age that a meeting of the nation’s chief health officers was cancelled, with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) not directly consulted on the isolation change.

Chief executive of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Paul Guerra, said the decision to place the onus on individuals to manage their own health was outstanding news.

“It is time for us to get back to life as normal, focus on our post-pandemic recoveries and get on with it,” Guerra said.

Victoria has recorded 9230 new COVID-19 infections this week, and 43 deaths. The caseload was down slightly on last week’s total of 9458.

Close contacts are still strongly recommended to use rapid antigen tests, and wear masks indoors. The government said businesses and organisations with onsite operations still needed to keep a COVID-safe plan.

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