New South Wales businesses have been warned they will be fined if they provide services to unvaccinated people in the early reopening stages, while Victoria is overhauling contact tracing to keep up with growing case numbers.
Victoria recorded 950 new cases of Covid on Wednesday, topping NSW for the second day, which reported 863 cases and 15 deaths, the worst daily death toll for the state.
Eight men and seven women died in NSW, including two in their 40s and two in their 50s. Only one was fully vaccinated. Nine were not vaccinated and five had had one dose.
The premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the state was fast approaching a 70% double dose target, with 62% of the eligible population fully vaccinated and more than 86% having at least one dose. Health authorities are confident they will hit a 90% first dose target next week and the state is expected to begin easing restrictions for its vaccinated residents within two weeks.
Berejiklian also announced on Wednesday that aged care residents would be able to welcome two fully vaccinated visitors per day from 11 October.
But attention is now squarely on how the government will enforce continued restrictions for the rest of the population. The peak group for the state’s cafes and restaurants has told Guardian Australia many businesses are “confused and bewildered” about how rules barring unvaccinated people from venues and businesses would be enforced.
The health minister, Brad Hazzard, said on Tuesday it was unlikely businesses would be fined for allowing unvaccinated patrons in, and the hospitality sector has to this point been working on the assumption that the onus would be squarely on the individual.
But Berejiklian on Wednesday indicated that larger businesses could face fines.
“Businesses, there are fines from $5,000 all the way up to $11,000 and closure for a period of time if businesses flagrantly disregard the Covid safety plans and that might mean not even displaying a QR code or not having done the basics,” she said.
“For a large venue with hundreds of people in there, we would expect a staff member to be checking that as people come in. For very small premises, that expectation is less and I want to stress, we have worked together in the last nearly two years now and I am confident that will continue to be the case.”
Berejiklian also said she hoped to discuss reopening the Victorian-NSW border with premier Daniel Andrews, but only “in a couple of weeks”, noting she wanted to leave him to manage the “delicate situation” in the state.
Later on Wednesday, NSW Health announced the Oberon LGA would re-enter lockdown from 6pm for at least seven days, after new Covid cases were discovered in the community.
Contact tracing changes
In Victoria, the state recorded its highest number of new daily cases, with 950 reported on Wednesday and seven deaths.
On Tuesday evening, the Victorian government announced a seven-day lockdown in the Latrobe council area in Gippsland after four more cases of Covid-19 were detected in the area. The four cases were among 30 reported in regional Victoria on Wednesday.
The Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, said there was little choice but to lock down due to the situation “deteriorating rapidly”. Extra testing sites have been set up and testing and vaccination clinics will run extended hours in the area.
Foley said 5,000 extra Moderna vaccines will also be delivered into state-run clinics and pharmacies in the area to boost people getting vaccinated.
Due to the rising number of cases, Victoria will overhaul its contact tracing system, with positive cases required to fill out quick questionnaires to triage based on transmission risk.
Victorian health department deputy secretary Kate Matson said although national benchmarks on contact tracing were being met, with 97% of cases contacted within 24 hours, the department needed to focus on cases that present the biggest public health risk – such as workplaces and places most frequented by a positive case.
The phone interview that follows will be prioritised based on those answers, Matson said, but everyone will still get a call.
Close contacts will continue to be managed as normal, but the initial interview will focus more on immediate households, rather than interviewing every primary close contact.
“The risk is different and helping to protect Victoria is what the system is about, and preventing illness and death. Should case numbers increase further, although it is in our collective will and efforts to contain them, we will adapt the approach again and again and refine it based on risk,” she said.
The Victorian government is still waiting on confirmation of supply of the Pfizer vaccine in the last weeks of October before announcing state-run clinics can shorten the gap between doses from six to three weeks.
Foley said the decision could be made by the end of this week, which would help Victoria speed up when the 70% and 80% double dose for over 16s targets are reached and Melbourne can exit lockdown.
Victoria is set to reach its 80% single dose target on Wednesday.
Foley said the state would face “unprecedented challenges” over the course of the next month with cases and hospitalisations expected to peak in October.
There are currently 371 people in hospital, 81 in intensive care and 55 on a ventilator.
He said there was room to move, and hospitals would free up capacity to treat not only Covid patients in intensive care, but also other patients such as heart attack patients, road trauma patients and cancer patients.
“It is all of the normal ICU capacity, which flexes up and down in the normal capacity, management issues having to be extended to a whole new level for Covid hospitalisation patients, as well as caring for those Covid patients in the community as well,” he said.
In the ACT, there were 22 new locally acquired cases, with at least seven infectious in the community.
In Queensland, one new case of Covid was reported – a close contact of an aviation worker previously identified as a positive case.
In Western Australia two men were charged for entering the state illegally to attend the AFL grand final. The men allegedly claimed to have spent the previous 14 days in the Northern Territory, but were found to have been in Melbourne 11 days earlier.
Both men were tested once they were taken into custody, with one of them returning an inconclusive result. The other tested negative.
They were charged with three counts of failing to comply with a directive and were refused bail. They were set to appear in the Perth magistrates court later on Wednesday.