Vic eyes NSW pact on COVID-19 iso changes

Callum Godde |

Victoria is pushing for COVID-19 isolation rules to be further eased before winter to avoid a repeat of chaotic scenes during this summer’s Omicron wave. 

As the state announced it would relax indoor mask rules and scrap its work-from-home advisory, Premier Daniel Andrews revealed he had spoken to NSW counterpart Dominic Perrottet and at national cabinet about easing isolation protocols.

He proposed the changes could be linked to a person’s third vaccine doses and potentially operate under an “honesty” policy rather than a mandate.

“This would be another way of trying to encourage people to go get a third dose,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.

“What we know as we head into winter is we’ve got to do everything we can to try and have a better outcome when it comes to furloughing.”

With tens of thousands Australians forced into seven-day isolation, national cabinet in late December agreed to change the close contact definition to those who spend more than four hours with a confirmed COVID-19 case in a household setting.

A raft of essential workers in Victoria identified as close contacts were later allowed to continue working on site if they were asymptomatic and returned daily negative rapid antigen tests for five days.

Mr Andrews flagged Victoria and NSW could form a unity ticket to expand exemptions to other workers if a national approach isn’t brokered. 

“It’s a big shift. That’s something our health team are working on and I know that Dom (Perrottet) and his people are as well,” he said.

“I don’t know if we’ll get a national position on that. But if we can get a consistent position between Victoria and NSW, then we’ll absolutely work towards that.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has indicated support for the NSW and Victorian stance, saying the measures had been successful for essential workers.

Meanwhile, Victoria is preparing to repeal some indoor mask mandates and its work-from-home recommendation.

Under the changes from 11.59pm on Friday, masks will no longer be required in offices and most other indoor workplaces but remain mandatory on public transport, in taxis and rideshares, planes and in airports, and at hospitals and care facilities.

Hospitality, retail, court and corrective services workers must also continue to don a mask, on top of primary school students in year 3 and above as well as teachers.

Mr Andrews cited lower vaccination rates among students in years 3 to 6 for them having to keep wearing masks in classes.

“We’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” he said.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, a father of kids in grades three and six, said the partial primary school mask mandate didn’t make “any sense”.

“How’s that going to work in … a grade two/three composite? Half the class is going to wear a mask and half won’t,” he said.

In addition, the state government confirmed remaining elective surgery caps will lift on Monday and granted a deadline extension for education workers to get their mandated third COVID-19 jab.

Victoria reported a further 14 COVID-related deaths and 6786 new cases on Tuesday, taking the state past one million total infections since the pandemic began.


* Hospital cases: 345, down 16

* Intensive care cases: 48, down one

* Ventilated cases: eight, down three

* Positive PCR tests: 1744

* Positive rapid tests: 5042

* Active cases: 47,464, up 2186

* Victorians 18 and over with three vaccine doses: 55.9 per cent.