Victoria records 20,769 COVID cases, 18 deaths as hospitals activate emergency code
18th January 2022

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Victoria recorded 20,769 COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths on Wednesday as the state’s hospitals, buckling under the Omicron wave, prepare to activate “code brown” emergency protocols.

The state government declared the emergency code on Tuesday morning after a record number of coronavirus patients and widespread furloughing of staff threatened to overwhelm Victoria’s struggling health system.

A “code brown” emergency has been declared for several Victorian hospitals.Credit:Kimberey Nichols

Under the code brown alert – normally reserved for shorter-term emergencies like bushfires – hospitals can cancel the leave of healthcare workers to plug staff shortages. It will apply to all metropolitan hospitals and six regional hospitals.

Announcing the news in a press conference, Acting Health Minister James Merlino said hospitalisations would peak in the coming weeks, with more than 2500 patients in hospital at once and up to 100 new admissions per day.

“Our hospital system is under extreme pressure, and the risks we’re now seeing in COVID hospitalisations is testament to that,” Mr Merlino said.

There are now 253,827 active COVID-19 infections across Victoria. There are 1173 patients in hospital, with 125 in intensive care and 42 on a ventilator.

Of the new cases announced by health authorities on Wednesday, 10,726 were diagnosed through PCR testing and another 10,043 were self-reported results from rapid antigen tests.

The latest cases come as shortages of at-home rapid tests continue to pose a major challenge across the nation. A survey released by Professional Pharmacists Australia on Tuesday revealed more than 90 per cent of chemists were struggling to secure a steady supply of the sought-after kits.

Meanwhile, Australia’s health watchdog is investigating reports retailers are selling repackaged rapid antigen kits for a premium, despite warnings of multimillion-dollar penalties for companies that breach labelling rules.

The probe follows reports petrol stations, convenience stores, and supermarkets are selling the sought-after kits inside zip-lock bags, sometimes missing crucial components for their correct use.

Readers who contacted this masthead reported instances where tests had been sold inside individual envelopes without the testing tube used to hold the chemical solution into which the swab should be dipped to obtain a result. Others spoke of purchasing kits inside sandwich bags and being asked to photograph the instructions.

More than 22,121 Victorians received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at state-run sites on Tuesday, increasing the state’s vaccine coverage to more than 93 per cent for people aged 12 and over. To date, 26 per cent of eligible Victorians have received a booster shot.

Victorians made 115,000 bookings to get a dose of the coronavirus vaccine over the past week. About 77,000 of those were for booster shots and 36,000 for children getting their first dose.

As of Tuesday, there were more than 175,000 vaccination appointments available across Victoria over the next month, including 44,000 slots for children.

What is a code brown?

  • Code brown is a measure to relieve pressure on hospitals.
  • The measure is typically reserved for sudden, short-term emergencies, such as a train crash or bushfire (for example, a code brown was called during the 2016 thunderstorm asthma event).
  • During a code brown, hospitals can cancel their staff’s leave to ensure an adequate workforce is on hand.
  • They can also defer less urgent services.
  • This code brown starts at noon on Wednesday. It’s expected to last for between four and six weeks.
  • It will apply to all metropolitan public hospitals. In regional Victoria, Geelong’s Barwon Health and the Grampians, Bendigo, Goulburn Valley, Albury Wodonga and Latrobe Regional health groups are also included. Private hospitals have the option of calling their own code brown.

New regulations introduced on Wednesday mean crucial workers in the emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities, transport, and freight sectors no longer need to quarantine if they come in close contact with a confirmed virus case.

The change brings these workers in line with those in healthcare and food distribution, who do not need to isolate after spending more than four hours with an infected person.

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