Victoria COVID LIVE updates: First day of state-wide lockdown begins as authorities rush to contain COVID-19 outbreak

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Tough on the little ones

While we are on the subject of children, it could be because I’m a parent to little ones myself but the thought of these little kids who missed birthday parties last year and now are set to miss another one this year was just really sad.

While Carolyn Webb spoke to some kids in the same boat including little Zoe Davidson who stoically told her mates that the “government had cancelled the party”.

Mandi Davidson with daughter Zoe, 4, who will miss out on a birthday party for the second year.Credit:Eddie Jim

You can read Carolyn’s story here.

Our arts editor Nick Miller described it really well in this piece about his own little Miss 5 whose Saturday party copped a COVID-19 cancellation.

Lottie has loved it all, and for months has anticipated her turn. Asking several times a week exactly how many days to her birthday. Looking forward to seeing her grandmother and uncle and aunt who’d booked to fly down from Sydney.

She’s been drawing individual pictures on all the party bags, which are ready and packed with treats.

She’s discussed, at length, her desire for a monkey-shaped cake, to team with the jungle theme, and she’s chosen which jungle animal face mask to wear.

I don’t know how she’s going to take the news. I hope she buys the spin, that the party will happen, just not quite yet. And, after all, that’s true.

Expert blasts school closures

Right across around the state today there’ll be a lot of parents granting extra screentime to children as they juggle working from home and warily eyeing next week’s resumption of remote schooling.

The Age education editor Adam Carey reports this morning that the government’s move to have most children learning from home has sparked sharp criticism from an expert who lead a review of last year’s closures. Here’s a bit of what his story says:

An expert on school closures and child mental health has lambasted the Andrews government for imposing a blanket return to remote learning, arguing it is a disproportionate approach that risks doing long-term emotional harm.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute group leader Fiona Russell led a study of COVID-19 school closures last year that recommended a traffic light system that would permit schools to stay open in areas where community transmission is low.

Remote learning is back for five-year-old Estelle (left). Her mother Alex Kirby thinks her daughter is well-placed to cope.Credit:Jason South

The report found that of 1 million enrolled students in Victoria, 337 or 0.03 per cent had a coronavirus infection linked to a school outbreak last year, while 1635 infections were linked with childcare and schools in some way.

It recommended that schools be closed “as a last resort” and a staged mitigation strategy be adopted to open where safe, through measures such as physical distancing, masks and class bubbles.

Professor Russell said she was extremely disappointed that the report’s recommendations had not been adopted, suggesting chief health officers had failed to put in place a COVID plan for schools six months after the last extended lockdown.

“In terms of a blanket closure of all schools in Victoria, I do not understand why that is happening at all,” she said.

Schools should be opened or locked down based on their proximity to community cases, with priority given to keeping primary schools open given the low rate of infection among young children, Professor Russell said.

You can read the full article here.

Reshaped vaccine rollout could be considered

Health authorities are ready to give all adults under 50 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine or change advice on who can get AstraZeneca if Victoria’s growing coronavirus cluster makes an overhaul of the national vaccination strategy necessary.

Amid growing calls to speed up the vaccination program, Premier James Merlino announced Victoria’s mass COVID-19 vaccine centres will administer Pfizer shots for anyone aged 40 to 49 as the state’s coronavirus outbreak spread to 26 people and swelled to more than 10,000 close contacts and more than 150 exposure sites.

Associate Professor Chris Blyth, co-chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, said the group’s advice has not changed on the use of AstraZeneca for under 50s, or the spacing between vaccine doses. However, the panel was actively monitoring the outbreak in Victoria and may update its advice as the situation changes.

“With the situation in Victoria, it appears that risk is increasing,” he told this masthead. “ATAGI will be watching the unfolding situation in Victoria very closely.”

The associate professor supported Victoria’s move to make Pfizer available to people aged 40 to 49, and said the state could lower the age of vaccination even further depending on supply.

“The real challenge at the moment is trying to make sure that we’ve got sufficient supply. And as of today, clearly, we don’t have sufficient supply to vaccinate the whole adult population,” he said.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said it was possible the government could stop holding back second doses and focus on getting first doses into more younger adults.

“That’s worth consideration,” he said. “We haven’t changed that approach, which has generally been for every person that has a first dose, a second dose is in reserve to give to them after three weeks. But let’s see how it goes over the next week in terms of cases and numbers.”

You can read the full story here.

Catching you up

So this is a summary of the news you need to get across this morning:

  • The state has entered a seven-day lockdown featuring tough social distancing rules including a requirement to work at home, a 5km limit on leaving the home (with some exceptions) and the widespread closure of most retail, leisure and commercial services;
  • The move was taken after there were 12 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed on Thursday taking the latest cluster, which was seeded in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, to 27 cases;
  • The situation has sparked some tough thinking on the nation’s vaccination strategy and our health reporters Rachael Clun and Melissa Cunningham report this morning that there could be new rules on who can get the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines and when;
  • There’s also fresh scrutiny on our quarantine system. State political reporter Michael Fowler has the news this morning that there could be movement on the impasse between Victoria and the federal government over a dedicated quarantine facility in Melbourne. The thinking is now that Avalon is the preferred site over the Mickleham facility put forward by Victoria.

Good morning

Good morning, I’m Mathew Dunckley, digital editor at The Age.

I’ll be kicking off our live coverage of the coronavirus crisis in Victoria on this the first day of what is, hopefully, a week-long lockdown.

We have made this blog free for all readers in recognition of the health and safety benefits of bringing swift and accurate information to the public.

I have to say that I did not expect last winter that I would be in my shed blogging another lockdown again a full year later. I’m sure many of you reading are having similar thoughts.

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