'Confusing' loophole for unvaccinated Victorians could lead to case surge

·3-min read

There are concerns Victoria’s Covid-19 cases could continue to soar thanks to a "difficult and confusing" loophole that will allow unvaccinated residents to shop at non-essential retail stores starting tomorrow.

The state government said this week unvaccinated people will be allowed to enter retail stores as of 6pm on Friday as Victoria hits 80 per cent fully vaccinated, triggering the easing of more restrictions.

Unvaccinated people will still not be able to enter bars, cafes and restaurants, Premier Dan Andrews said on Sunday, The Age reports.

However, shoppers who have not been double jabbed won’t be allowed into non-essential retail stores when Victoria reaches 90 per cent fully vaccinated for residents aged 12 and up, which the state is predicted to hit on November 24.

 A view of a crowded Bourke Street mall with people going through a shopping day. Source: Getty
Shoppers crowd Bourke Street mall last year. Source: Getty

A 'grace period' for the unvaccinated in Victoria

On Wednesday, Victoria’s Covid-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar called the loophole a "grace period".

"We are sending out a very clear signal that says if you are going to be active in these kinds of retail environments post-90 per cent, you will need to get vaccinated," he said, News.com.au reports. 

"That gives everybody, the few hundred thousand people we have left who are eligible and not yet vaccinated – you can start that journey today and you will be fully vaccinated in time for the 24th of November."

The move has attracted criticism, with epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws, a UNSW professor and World Health Organisation advisor, telling Yahoo News Australia the decision is "difficult and confusing".

"It could lead to an increase in cases for the unvaccinated if they’re allowed into retail and given unrestricted retail access, even with a mask on," she said, adding that some people may remove their masks while in changing rooms and that air filtration systems could not be up to par.

Patrons celebrate with a drink outside Big Esso at Federation Square in Melbourne, Friday, October 22, 2021. Source: AAP
Fully vaccinated Victorians have been enjoying new freedoms and more are to come on Friday. Source: AAP

"Those retailers are going to have to be vigilant to make sure everyone has a medically-graded mask and that it’s pinched at the top of the nose.

"It’s a very bold move and I think it’s a move that may confuse people, but the confusion is ok, what I’m concerned about is the inappropriate misunderstanding that people are no longer at risk.

"I would prefer that unvaccinated people are not in retail stores for some good therapy until Victoria reaches 90 per cent double vaccinated, then those who are not need to fully understand they are still at risk of acquiring Covid."

'Being unvaccinated is a lottery'

From Friday, masks will no longer be required outside — a decision Professor McLaws said she’s also wary of because the state still has a high level of circulating virus.

Victoria announced 1,923 new Covid cases and 25 deaths on Thursday.

"There’s this confusing visual message that outdoors is completely safe," she said.

"It is but it's not safe when you have a high level of circulating virus."

People are seen canoeing at Albert Park Lake in Melbourne, Thursday, October 7, 2021. Source: AAP
A maskless man excercises outside in Melbourne. Source: AAP

Only 62 per cent of the state's population aged 12 and up are fully vaccinated, she said.

"That is very low. Not quite one in two people you’ll come across may be unvaccinated and unprotected," adding that it puts those with medical conditions in harm's way.

"It’s all about the co-operation, I understand that Victorians are all very tired of this but you need to encourage them to get their vaccines.

"Being unvaccinated is a lottery about whether you’re going to catch an infection and another lottery about if it’s going to be severe."

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