Kazuo ota

COVID-19 vaccine information and resources

Getting vaccinated isn’t just about ‘not catching COVID’, as critically important as that is.

It’s about reclaiming our old lives; the things we once took for granted.

Meeting grandchildren, hugging your mum, catching up with friends.

It’s about music festivals, first dates and dancefloor introductions.

It’s about an end to home-schooling, and hitting the open road.

It’s about safety, certainty, security and regaining control over your life.

It’s about moving away from ‘crisis mode’, so we can get busy building the future we all want.

 

Video slide

Back To The Good Things

Getting your vaccine booster will help keep us safe, and enjoying the things we love.

 


Vaccine engagement HQ

Original resources produced by VCOSS members to support Victoria’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

 

Video resources

Title Produced Usage
‘Back To The Good Things’ TVC
Open source pro-vaccination video message from Victoria’s community sector
VCOSS No restrictions. Free to use.
Goodbye COVID
Available in 20 languages
North West Melbourne PHN No restrictions. Free to use.
‘Are there vaccine side effects?’
Short video for social media. 
VCOSS No restrictions
‘How to argue with an anti vaxxer’
Short video for social media. 
VCOSS No restrictions
Vaccine explainer
(Dinka/Thuɔŋjäŋ)
BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine explainer
(Dari/دری)
BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine explainer
(Karen/ကညီကျိၥ်)
BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine ‘Q and A’
(Karen/ကညီကျိၥ်)
BCHS No restrictions
‘When you’re ready, VAHS will be ready!’
Video campaign
VAHS Free to share

Printed and online resources

Title Produced Usage
Going to the GP to get my vaccine – social script AMAZE No restrictions
Going to a Mass Vaccination Centre – social script AMAZE No restrictions
7 tips for having ‘the vaccine conversation’ with family and friends YACVIC No restrictions
Vaccine explained (Dinka/Thuɔŋjäŋ) BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine explained (Dari/دری) BCHS No restrictions
Vaccine explained (Karen/ကညီကျိၥ်) BCHS No restrictions

 

Audio resources

Title Produced Usage
Coming soon.    

 

Upcoming events

Please check back later

Video recordings and transcripts of past events (‘Vaccinating Victoria’) are available below.

 

Supported by


Navigating COVID

A rolling briefing series providing critical information about the COVID-19 vaccine program, testing regime and related issues.

Only the most recent session is available. This is due to the speed and frequency of changes in the advice.

This briefing about Victoria’s response to the Omicrom wave was recorded live on Tuesday 18th of January 2022, featuring:

  1. Jeroen Weimar. COVID-19 Response Commander, Department of Health.
  2. Argiri Alisandratos. Deputy Secretary, Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
  3. Belinda Martin. Executive Director, Readiness, Response and Emergency Management at DFFH.
  4. Laura LoBianco-Smith, Acting Deputy Secretary, Readiness, Response and Emergency Management at DFFH.

What's in this video?

00:00 – Intro
02:48 – Remarks and presentation from Jeroen
17:04 – Audience questions with Jeroen
17:32 – My employee is COVID positive or a close contact?
20:25 – Requirement to capture booster vaccination information?
22:14 – Access to Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) – how are orgs prioritised to receive them?
27:11 – RATs on private market are expensive – will orgs be compensated for the spend?
28:50 – Should employers still supply QR codes and ask people to check in?
30:14 – I still have COVID symptoms after 7 days – what do I do?
31:52 – A known COVID case has attended our premises?
33:22 – I can’t afford to pay my employee, they’re isolating with no sick leave/holidays left
34:50 – Jeroen closing comments
35:54 – Remarks from Argiri
43:30 – Audience questions with Argiri, Belinda and Laura
43:42 – Who does the booster vaccine mandate apply to in the community sector?
45:25 – Measures to support loss of volunteers in the sector?
47:10 – What support is there to transition social services to work outdoors?
48:46 – Support for vital community transport services?
49:41 – Latest policy for density requirements?
51:05 – When will community spaces at public housing reopen?
52:02 – Priority of children with disability in the vaccine rollout?
53:08 – Does DFFH have a process to support families in iso?
56:16 – Argiri closing remarks
58:00 – Thank you from Libby and close

Full transcript

Libby Buckingham: Good morning, everybody. And thank you for joining us this morning. Welcome to the latest VCOSS sector briefing about, “Navigating COVID and All That Means in 2022.” I’m Libby Buckingham, the Director of Thriving Communities here at VCOSS. And I’m filling in for Emma King whilst she is still on leave. I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet. In my case, that’s the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. I pay my respects to their elders past and present and to emerging leaders. Some housekeeping first. Today’s event is being recorded and will be fully captioned. We’ll send you the link when it’s ready. Please feel free to share it with your networks. This briefing is the first of 2022, but just the latest in a rolling series of briefings that VCOSS has run in partnership with the Victorian Government since the pandemic began. Sadly COVID is still very much with us and it’s affecting our communities, our workplaces and our families, and it’s finding new ways to challenge us. Today we’ll unpick some of those challenges and the ongoing responses. A big thank you to the more than 100 people who submitted a question when registering. Many of you asked similar questions and we’ll try to get through answering them today. I must note that we won’t be able to get through every question, in the short time that we have. But we do plan to run more of these sessions as the year rolls on. So, let me introduce our speakers. In a moment, we’ll hear from Jeroen Weimar, Victoria’s COVID-19 Response Commander. Jeroen will speak for about 10 minutes and then answer questions. Next we’ll hear from DFFH, Deputy Secretary, Argiri Alisandratos. Argiri will present some prepared remarks before a more substantial Q&A session. For that session, we’ll also be joined by two other senior departmental officials, Belinda Martin and Laura LoBianco‑Smith. When we get to questions, please do not put them in the chat area, or attempt to use the raise-your-hand function. Instead please click on the Q&A button in Zoom and type your question. So let’s not waste another minute. A very big welcome to you Jeroen.

Jeroen Weimar: Good morning. Thank you Libby and thank you everybody. Lovely to be here with you all. Can I also add my recognition of the lands on which we’re gathering and pay respects to elders past, present and emerging. I’m delighted to be on Boonwurrung Country. I thought I would do a short introduction around what it feels like in the COVID pandemic that we’re now going through in very much this Omicron wave, really the fourth wave that we’ve seen here in Victoria. I’ll just talk through what we’re seeing and also what supports and structures are available. And then very keen to be part of the wider conversation with Argiri, Laura and Belinda and the rest of the team. I must just, Libby if it’s okay with you, I’ll just share my screen if there’s an easy way to do that, there is, and we’ll see whether this works. Libby, can you see that?

Libby Buckingham: I sure can.

Jeroen Weimar: That’s great, good. So, if I look back over the start of the pandemic, we’ve all been living with COVID now for, really, going on for two years since the first cases started making their way into Australia. This is the full timeline over the two years and the blue line is the number of tests that we do every day. Actually that’s the less interesting issue. The very small black blob in July and August towards the left‑hand side of the chart that is the second wave. And we all remember the trauma and the horror of the second wave, here in Victoria. That is the total number of cases during that period of time. Now compare that to the cases we’re now seeing at the far right of the chart. I’ve put this in a different way. We saw, today we have around 22,000 cases confirmed in Victoria. That’s the same number of cases today as in all of 2020. We only had 20,000 cases in all of 2020. We’ve had that number in a single day. Today we have around 240,000 active cases of COVID in our community. So today, so people who are active with COVID and who have reported their results either through a PCR test or a Rapid Antigen Test. That is far more, in the total active cases we have today is the bigger than the total number of cases we had in all of 2021, when we lived through that Delta wave and the various other little outbreaks we had during the course of the year. So the numbers we’re seeing now are just an order of magnitude larger than anything else we’ve seen, of course, before with COVID. And although we are a little bit reassured that the severity of Omicron as a variant appears to be less severe than Delta, so there are fewer people ending up with serious complications, there are fewer people ending up in hospital, there are fewer people ending up in intensive care, we are seeing those numbers grow. So now today we have over 1,300 people in hospital with COVID. That’s the largest number we’ve had, again, ever before with COVID, 30% higher than the previous highest peak. We have just over 90 people now in intensive care, again, more people we’ve had before in intensive care with COVID. So although it is a less severe variant there are still a lot of Victorians ending up with serious complications and with serious problems as a result. But of course it’s not just in terms of hospitalizations. We also see the impact on the community of the Omicron wave in different ways. We’re seeing it significantly at the moment in terms of workforces. And I think all of us as organizations will be seeing this. We’re seeing reports of 20, 30% absenteeism of people either because they have COVID or because they’re living with somebody with COVID. And of course we’ve made a lot of changes recently around our definitions of isolation requirements. And we can come on to that in a moment. But we are seeing far, you know, we are seeing significant impacts on workforces, particularly in critical community services. So if I look at obviously healthcare services, we have around 5,000 healthcare workers today who are not able to go to work because either they’re COVID positive or they’re living with somebody who’s got COVID or caring for somebody who’s got COVID. We’re seeing it in police services, we’re seeing it in disability organizations, we’re seeing it all across the board and it’s a real challenge for many organizations. We’re obviously seeing it in the health system. Yesterday I was in Geelong at Barwon Health and looking at the sheer impact not just on the intensive care teams or on the COVID wards, but in every other aspect of hospital operations. So a greater number of people are coming into the emergency department who happen to have COVID, they’ve got a broken arm but they also happen to have COVID. So we’re seeing pressures across aged care, across pediatrics, across the entire healthcare system. It’s having a significant impact, of course, on the availability of care. And we’ve had to cancel all Cat 2 and Cat 3 elective surgery which means that there are now 70,000 Victorians continuing to wait for important operations and procedures, who can’t access the healthcare system at this point in time. We’ve had a pretty hard time with testing. And that’s been a real challenge for us over the Christmas and New Year period. I’m pleased to see it’s now coming back in and we’re getting three‑quarters of our test results back the next day again which is a better place to be, but we saw a huge pressure on our PCR testing system and sites over that Christmas and New Year period and of course the introduction of Rapid Antigen Testing which was now finally starting to come through. And that’s probably been, I would argue, probably two or three weeks late we got into that game. Good to see the benefits of all the Rapid Antigen Testing coming through and we’re starting to see real numbers coming through. So, last week we allocated around 800, 900,000 tests out into healthcare services and into community organizations and into our testing network. This week we’re allocating around 1.5 million tests into various channels. And I’ll come back onto that. And finally a lot of people, not only getting care at hospital, so this is the 1,300 people in hospital today but also about 140,000 people currently receiving care at home or in various other places on what we call COVID positive pathways. So, people who are largely at home, a lot are being supported with medical devices at home to make sure they’re safe and looked after or people who are just on crook, being tracked to make sure that as their symptoms progress that they can be supported with the appropriate clinical care. So a lot of work happening there in terms of managing people in the community, not just in the acute hospital system. We’ve made a number of large changes in the last seven days or so, pretty most significant of which is that, the beginning availability of the Rapid Antigen Testing. We’ve allocated, getting on, I think, now for six, 700,000 just through our testing network. People who return positive on a Rapid Antigen Test are now required legally to report it on to our online system. And that’s given us about, you know, 10 to 20,000 new positive cases every single day that we can now see, and of course people who record their positive rapid antigen test result on our website also get immediate access to clinical support and care. So the SMS messages that following you around, the check-ins that follow you around, the triage work that we do, is all the people able to access it immediately by updating the Rapid Antigen Test with us. So that’s a really important piece and that’s important platform. And we will see more of that in the weeks and months ahead. We’ve also got, we’re increasing requirements again with third doses. I’ll talk about vaccine doses in a minute, but one of the most important things people can do to protect themselves against Omicron is to make sure they have their booster dose when they’re eligible. And today that’s four months after your second dose. So anybody who was vaccinated with a second dose before the middle of September of last year, is today able to get their fourth dose. We’ve seen around a quarter of all Victorians, aged over 18, who have now had their third dose. That’s pretty good. We’re doing about half a million a week at the moment across primary care and across the state system so we’re starting to see that coming through, but we’re now also seeing the return of those vaccine mandates, so workers in critical sectors are now required to get a third dose over the course of the coming weeks. I’ve mentioned elective surgery being cancelled, and of course, we have a significant step as we see intense pressure on our healthcare system, we’re trying to ease as much of the other pressure as possible and that means deferring critical surgery. The other piece of change is being around critical workers quarantine exceptions. And this is something which is somewhat, a little bit of myth and folk lore around all this. Let’s be really clear. The remaining isolation requirements today are if you are COVID positive, whether it’s on a Rapid Antigen Test or on a PCR test, you must isolate for seven days at home. That’s full stop. If you live with somebody who is COVID positive, if it’s your partner or your child or your parent or another family member, who you live with, you must quarantine with them for seven days because the chances of you becoming infected from them are about one in four to one in two. So you got about a 25 to 50% chance of getting positive if you’re living in the same household as a COVID positive case. So that’s the seven-day quarantine requirement. If you have workplace contact or social contacts, if a friend of yours has COVID or a colleague has COVID, you’re no longer required to quarantine. You do not need to quarantine at all. We do ask you to keep a very close eye on your symptoms and to get a Rapid Antigen Test if you can, and you can get those through our system, to make sure you’re okay, but you’re no longer to quarantine. Now for critical workers, so workers in the healthcare sector, in aged care, in disability, in food distribution, people whose jobs are so important to maintain, critical life services, we are allowing them to become exempt from quarantine, so if they are living with somebody who’s got COVID they can break their quarantine under a number of conditions. One is they must be asymptomatic, they can’t have any symptoms. Secondly they must get a Rapid Antigen Test each time they leave the house to make sure they’re okay. And thirdly, they must wear a N95 mask or a good mask at work. As well as social distancing. They are only exempt to come out of quarantine to do their critical job. They’re not exempt to go to the footy, they’re not exempt to go to the shops, they’re not exempt to go to the pub. They’re only exempt to go and do the critical job, by which we need to break that quarantine. So it’s an onerous system. It does require a lot from the employer to make sure they’re creating a safe workplace where they can be distanced appropriately, recognizing these individuals, these critical workers who are exempting from quarantine are still, would likely to become COVID positive, so managing their symptoms is going to be really, really important. Finally. Two or three more things from me. So, I mentioned a third dose booster vaccine, so around 1.2, 1.3 million Victorians so far have had their third dose. Those numbers are coming in well, but we are seeing a lot of people now coming, you know, who are still eligible. So, we have around 2.5 million Victorians today who are eligible for their booster dose, about half of them have had their booster dose so far. So we’re really keen to encourage them to get that booster dose. Particularly those older age people. So about half of over 70s have had their booster dose, much like the other half to get done. Around 40%, 35, 40% of the 40s to 70s have had their booster doses, so we’d really like to get those age groups to come forward and get their booster doses done as soon as they’re eligible which will be for most of them. We will continue to run, both through primary care, through pharmacy and through the state clinics, we’ll run that availability over the weeks and months ahead. Finally, I mentioned previously Rapid Antigen Testing. So we are now making those Rapid Antigen Tests available through our mainstream testing network. So if you turn up at one of our testing sites in Metro or Regional, there’s is a chance you’ll be assessed, triaged by the clinical team there and handed two Rapid Antigen Tests rather than a PCR test. And we’ll discuss that with you at those testing sites. But we’re allocating around 70,000, 60,000 tests a day at the sites at the moment. We are seeing demand drop off a bit and we’re distributing Rapid Antigen Tests directly through partner organizations and key community organizations. And I’m sure Argiri and Laura will talk to this, but a huge thanks to the DFFH team for proactively allocating Rapid Antigen Tests to vulnerable community, vulnerable funded organizations to make sure we can start to get these critical tools out into the community. We’ll continue to allocate those over the weeks ahead and as I said, there’s about 1.5 million going out to various organizations in the course of this week. In terms of how we’re allocating those tests, so clearly, healthcare workers are, and we have a lot of Rapid Antigen Tests used within the healthcare system, the aged care and disability sectors are critically important area, both for the staff, for visitors and people who may be symptomatic and who’ve got concerns. Obviously we’re using testing centers and we’re trying to support critical workers, those people who need to test in order to return safely to work. So those are the areas we’re focusing on. Finally before I hand back to Libby, the Omicron wave and the response for Omicron is very different to previous waves of COVID we’ve seen. Yeah, obviously we are open economy and an open society so there are very few constraints out there in terms of lockdowns or closures of sectors. All these things are open to us. That puts a greater responsibility on all of us as citizens and individuals to protect ourselves, which is about getting vaccinating, and to use Rapid Antigen Tests and other tests to protect others from any symptoms we might be feeling. It’s really important, particularly for many organizations on the call today, to support community members to have a good isolation plan, to look out for those a bit more vulnerable. As we’re seeing the sheer, sheer number of cases, another 20 odd thousand today, people are significantly at risk of getting COVID and having to isolate. We need people to have a good isolation plan so they have the materials available to them, food, medicines, other things that they need to make sure they can isolate safely and that they have their support networks in place to look after them while they isolate. Obviously for those who are becoming positive keep an eye on those symptoms and calling early, working through GPs, NURSE-ON-CALL and our own COVID positive pathways. And still we encourage everybody, in the beautiful summer we’re having, stay outside, avoid indoor mixing and wear a mask when you do so. With that can I finally say before I hand back to Libby, a huge thanks to all the partner organizations on the call. I know this has been an exceptionally difficult two years for all of us and particularly as we lead and support our clients and our partners and our organizations through this, and again we’re going to have to double down on that over the weeks ahead, but I’m strengthened and encouraged by the partnership and look forward to working with you over the weeks ahead. Thank you, Libby.

Libby Buckingham: Thank you, Jeroen. Thank you for sharing so much information. We know how in demand your time is at this point in the pandemic. We have got a lot of questions rolling in. I think broadly the questions fall into two categories, around workforce and how we can best support the workforce and access and supply of Rapid Antigen Tests. So, my first question, “You did mention that employers will have a role “in supporting staff that are close contacts “that are showing symptoms. “Are you able to elaborate on that a bit further “and describing what should employers be looking for, “what steps do they take if they do recognize “that their staff members have symptoms “or potentially could be COVID positive?”

Jeroen Weimar: Thanks, Libby. Look, and I think there’s a general thing for all employers, but also includes voluntary organizations and organization that are working with large numbers of people, I think where we’ve seen strong proactive employers who ensure their staff are well briefed around the symptoms for COVID, what it might look like, the risks of COVID transmission in the workplace, so the importance of wearing masks indoors, the importance of hand high again, all the things we’ve had to do over the last two years, it makes a material difference. You also need to create, employers are creating an environment of trust and confidence within a workplace whereby people feel they will be supported if they are COVID positive. We hear so many stories of people who feel under pressure to go to work, who don’t want to acknowledge a scratchy throat or a loss of taste or smell because they’re worried about losing a shift, they’re worried about losing their job altogether. So employers can be supportive and say, “It’s more important you’re healthy “and we will support you whichever way you can “to isolate and to recover “and to come back to work afterwards” It’s only seven days. “To come back to work afterwards.” Have a much better chance of holding on to people but also minimizing those outbreaks. For a subset of employers, if I take disability organizations for example, where it’s a critical sector, you’re providing critical life services to people and you may need to draw upon your staff even if they’re living with a COVID positive case, so if a staff member comes to you and says, “My partner has COVID, “I now need to go into seven-day quarantine.” It is possible for you as a disability organization to say, “I would like you, if you’re comfortable, “to stay at work, “but you need to access a Rapid Antigen Test every day, “you need to wear an N95 mask “and you can’t mix at all.” That’s a really important conversation for the employer and the staff member to have because the employer needs to provide a safe working environment in terms of enabling that staff member to socially isolate completely at the workplace to provide them with Rapid Antigen Test kits, and you should have access to that through your government contact, and to provide N95 masks where at all possible. So, those are not small things to have to do. It is a burden on employers and the only reason we’re willing to contemplate this is because the nature of that person’s work is so important. So, that doesn’t apply to me. Jeroen can work from home, makes no difference to how effective or ineffective he is, but for people who have got hands-on, critical life services, those options are available.

Libby Buckingham: “And, in terms of vaccination status, “what are an employer’s requirements to collect, “store and record their staff’s booster third doses?”

Jeroen Weimar: So currently no legal obligation for employers to, for general employers, to capture booster dose information. There are a few sectors we’ve now activated for mandatory vaccination and there are some deadlines around that which are mainly into the middle of February, towards the end of February, so they’re a little ways off. But in those mandatory sectors, again, if I take aged care or disability care, those are captured by mandatory third doses. I’ll encourage you to pull out whatever record keeping you did for the first and second dose, back in September, October, and use the same system, to say, I need to now engage my staff and say, “You are required to get a third dose, “tell me when you’ve done so I can record it “in a simple system to say “I’ve done my duty to make sure my staff are all covered.” We think everything we’re hearing from employers and from unions is that where there was a small amount of drop‑out of staff when the first vaccine mandates came in, back in last year, we expect that to be a lot less this year because you’re dealing with people already vaccinated, they’ve already made that vaccination journey. This is a booster, a third dose. We don’t expect much drop‑out at this point. But if you’re in those critical sectors you need to start capturing it. We would encourage every employer to have those conversations with their staff. Because the booster dose protects a staff member. It’s the only reason we’re doing it. We’re seeing Omicron has a breakthrough impact on people who have had a second dose, more than three or four months ago, so getting recharged is really, really important. So as a general constructive employer thing to do, it’s an important conversation.

Libby Buckingham: Thank you, Jeroen. “And on access to Rapid Antigen Tests, “we’re having many reports of community organizations “and our service providers being unable “to access sufficient numbers of Rapid Antigen Tests “and we’re aware that the Victorian Government “has rapidly set up a system to distribute them “to some organizations. “How is the government prioritizing those organizations “and will they be delivered for use by staff and clients?”

Jeroen Weimar: Yeah, great question, Libby. So I went through briefly some of the broad categorization and I know colleagues in DFFH who are on the call, I think I’ve allocated, I’ll steal your line Laura, apologies, I think 50,000 tests have been allocated in the last week to DFFH funded and regulated organizations particularly in the disability and other care type settings. So those tests are starting to come through, those systems. Again, organizations that are supported and funded by the Department of Health, if I look at our First Nations and health organizations and community organizations, again, we’ve got tens of thousands of tests starting to flow through those kind of channels. And finally we’ve got our own community network of organizations, again we’re starting to distribute tests to them last week and we’ll continue to do that over the coming week. So, yeah, as we sit here today supplies are quite constrained but they’re starting to flow through. And I expect them to start to really accelerate in the coming week or two. We will work through, where we’ve got active relationships with community organizations built over the last two years, that will be the natural place for us to go immediately. If there’s organizations on the call now saying, “I don’t know where to go, “I don’t know who to speak to.” Speak to your Vic Government contact and speak to them and say, “How do I get into this “and how do I get access?” Obviously hard, with 600 of us on the call, for me to give a universal answer, but I’ll speak to your Vic Government contact and engage in that particular way. We will, in terms of our order book, we’re expecting, we’re allocating 1.5 million this week. I’m expecting inbound around 10 million Rapid Antigen Tests during the course of the next seven or eight days, that’ll will make a material difference to our stocks. We will be working closely with, as schools come back, as schools return, that will be another big platform for us to enable distribution and allocation of Rapid Antigen Tests. And the reason for us to distribute is partially for sensitive settings where we’re very concerned about not allowing COVID to come in, so, you’re getting aged care, disability care, making sure we get good use into visitors and in the staff cohorts. It’ll also be for other organizations, to be more around the critical workers and protecting the critical workforces and for others it will be around community familiarization, which is supporting community members to use this new tool because it will be something that all of us are going to end up using quite a lot over the months ahead.

Argiri Alisandratos: Libby, can I jump in on the back of that one.

Libby Buckingham: Thank you Argiri.

Argiri Alisandratos: Good day Jeroen, good to see you again. And good morning everyone. For those that don’t know me, my name is Argiri Alisandratos, I’m the Deputy Secretary for Children, Families, Communities and Disability. And just on the back of that question and just to give Jeroen a little bit of a breather, we did distribute a total of about 47,980 tests from last Friday. And specifically what we’ve done is prioritized some of the more critical settings, and as Jeroen mentioned, disability services, accommodation services are one of those critical priority areas. Our children’s residential care services is another one, our high risk accommodation response providers who provide a lot of the response and support of our high risk accommodation settings also are receiving some of those tests, emergency relief providers, family violence providers, housing and homelessness services are the priority cohorts that we’re positioning those early tests to. We’re getting another 20,000 out today as Jeroen says, the more supply builds up, the more we will put more of those tests out to our community service organizations and will look to expand the range of community service organizations that will receive some of those, but for now, given the supply challenges that we have, we are prioritizing those critical bed‑based, largely services that really need that support to ensure that critical delivery is maintained.

Libby Buckingham: Thank you, Argiri and Jeroen. Following on around questions around the Rapid Antigen Tests, I can see a question here that, “Buying Rapid Tests on the private market is expensive. “Will organizations who are required “to provide these be reimbursed “or compensated for the outlay?”

Jeroen Weimar: So Libby, again I won’t be able to give a universal answer, but my position is to be quite straightforward. The only organization that’s required to use Rapid Antigen Tests would be where an organization is going to bring back a worker who is a critical worker and they again, you will be in some form of regulated industry, so in the nicest possible way, organizations can’t self-elect to be a critical workforce or a critical sector. There’s a legislature in place, there audits in place, we issued last week, defining quite clearly which are the critical sectors, which are not. That’s number one, is if you’re in those critical sectors then you’re able to access that quarantine exemption protocol that does require you to have access to Rapid Antigen Tests. If you’re in that situation then you should contact your Vic Government contact to say, “I therefore need to access Rapid Antigen Tests “to keep my sector going.” And in the nicest possible way I would ask you to put pressure on my government colleagues to make sure they become available. We have tests available within my program to allocate to those critical workforces but that is a controlled workout flow, it’s not a kind of an open slather. There is no refund arrangement in place. If people choose to get Rapid Antigen Tests in the private market and I’m aware the private market is not working particularly well at the moment, then there’s certainly no principle of reimbursement around that.

Libby Buckingham: And on a bit of a different topic around the use of QR codes, “Are they still, should employers and organizations “still be providing QR codes “and encouraging people to still use them and check in?”

Jeroen Weimar: Yes, shortly, briefly, yes absolutely. We’re still using the QR code system for a small number of outbreaks, actually ironically, particularly within the vulnerable settings context where, you know, we do occasionally still seeing large outbreaks. And it’s fair to say we are doing a lot less contact tracing than we were four months ago, when the numbers were far lower and this is clearly a different set of dynamics. But we’d ask for you to continue to use QR codes, it also provides that connection back to the vaccination system. We know that vaccines is the best way for us to dampen down the case growth. We’re very keen to make sure I continues. Look, if I look at our case numbers over the last week or so we’ve had to get used to numbers that we never thought we would see in our lifetimes, you know, 20 or 40,000 cases a day, but we’re not seeing them go beyond that at this point in time. So, I think all the measures that are being taken, but recognizing we have an open economy, that we have got people working together, we’re seeing a lot of good mask use, a lot of good social compliance, we’re seeing people making sensible decisions. And yeah, QR codes and vaccination are part of that equation.

Libby Buckingham: Thanks, Jeroen. I’ve got a question here, “What is the advice regarding employees “who have COVID and still have symptoms after seven days? “Can they come back with a negative Rapid Test “or should they stay away until they don’t have symptoms?”

Jeroen Weimar: And this happened to my daughter recently. She caught COVID and she past the symptoms but there was a question around, what do we do after seven days. So if you are COVID positive you are required to isolate for seven days. At the end of your seven-day isolation period you are done with your bit. We do not believe you are likely to be infectious beyond that point. If you can access a Rapid Antigen Test we’d encourage you to use that to benchmark the exit point but you’re not required to go back in. Now clearly if you’re still symptomatic and not feeling great then my view would be, you shouldn’t be at work anyway and we all have to get used to be in a world where if you’ve got flu symptoms and cold symptoms, you shouldn’t be at work, you know, full stop, regardless if you have COVID or not. So as an employer I would say you’re a crook, stay home. And clearly, if your symptoms are carrying on significantly beyond the seven days, that is GP territory, to have a chat with your doctor and say, “I’m not feeling great. “What’s really going on?” I’m not a clinician obviously. I’m aware there are people who are still showing longer‑term symptoms. We know there’s a thing called long COVID around. So I would absolutely, you know, I think, whilst we all have to get used to COVID symptoms lasting three or four days, that’s a thing, if it’s going on you should speak to your GP. And my view would be if you’re not fit you should note be back at work.

Libby Buckingham: Jeroen, I know that you have another briefing to attend, do you have time to take one more question?

Jeroen Weimar: Happy to Libby, yeah.

Libby Buckingham: Oh, thank you. “What are the requirements when a known COVID case “has attended one of our service premises?”

Jeroen Weimar: So, your duty is to ensure that the other people who are accessing those services at that time are aware there was a COVID positive case. That is the extent of your duty. So the individual who is positive must tell their employer or their service provider that they were COVID positive and when they’re their presumed infectious period was and there’s good guidelines around all that. As a service provider you should make sure that the people who you think that individual came into contact with, that they’re advised of that. You don’t need to shut your services, you don’t need to do massive, we would like you to have good cleaning anyway, you don’t have to do massive deep cleans, you don’t need to send everybody home for three weeks. You can carry on with your services, make sure your cleaning standards are in a good place, use it as a reminder that this is real and we’re all coming into contact with COVID positive people in our day‑to‑day activities. That is just a reality of the number of cases that are out there. So make sure the standards are in place, make sure people know. As an individual if I’m told that I had contact with a COVID positive case a few days ago then it’s my job to monitor my symptoms. If I can get hold, if I’m really concerned, I can go to one of our test sites, waiting times are well under an hour, and make sure I get the appropriate tests to check whether I’ve contracted it.

Libby Buckingham: And one final question, Jeroen, before you hop off, “Is there any government support or payments “for isolating staff, “if an employee runs out of their sick leave entitlements “or doesn’t have annual leave “and the employer can’t afford to make payments?”

Jeroen Weimar: Libby, there are still pandemic leave payments available from the Commonwealth. So there’s a pandemic leave payment which essentially covers you for the seven-day isolation period as a COVID positive case, only for a positive case, and you can access that either through your PCR test result or your Rapid Antigen Test report. So if you get a Rapid Antigen Test that’s positive you can access the pandemic leave payments from the Commonwealth on that basis. Again details available on our website. In terms of staff quarantining, there are, I think each employer has a slightly different arrangement. I know in some of the health services we’ve had various other types of leave, those are all getting consolidated now into basic sick leave arrangements and I think that’s what we’ll see going forward. So with the smaller number of people having to quarantine, again, access to some of those funds will become more constrained as it really just relates to people who are dropping through the gaps, but there are various other forms of financial support available through various relief channels.

Libby Buckingham: Thanks, Jeroen. Is there anything else you would like to add that we haven’t covered? We’ve covered a lot of ground in the past 35 minutes.

Jeroen Weimar: No, Libby, look, just to thank VCOSS and all the people on the call for the phenomenal work that we’re doing. I think one of the challenges with the pandemic is it’s made community-led organizations, it’s made it really hard, because it’s actually our volunteer base is finding it hard and the isolation for us has made it really difficult, and all the things we love to do as a community organizations, which is to bring people together has become really complicated. So I just want to recognize how hard and complex the last two years have been, and how important your role has been, and important like never before. Again we have to get used to a different way of playing over the next few weeks and months as we go through Omicron and also start to think about how do we normalize COVID in our community. It will over the course of the coming months become and endemic, or become something we just have to accept as part of our infrastructure and framework and we’ll all have to work together to work out how we best do that. But just a huge thanks to everybody on the call for not only logging in today, but the work you do every day and the work you do with your volunteers. Thank you.

Libby Buckingham: Thank you so much for your time at a very challenging point in the pandemic. And I will now welcome Argiri and our DFFH leaders to give us an overview as to what you’ve been working on recently. Over to go Argiri.

Argiri Alisandratos: Thank you, Libby. And can I begin by acknowledging Traditional Owners of the many lands that we’re all meeting today and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging, and thank you to you and the VCOSS team, Libby, for putting this together and thank you to everyone for joining in today. Given the broad ranging conversation, we just had with Jeroen, I’m not going to cover the same sort of material, but I will pick some elements out that I think is going to be useful for us as the group to talk about, and then obviously to lead into questions and answers, Libby, for the remainder of the time. As Jeroen also mentioned can I take the opportunity to really thank all of our community service organizations right across the state, those who are supporting incredibly many of our clients right across our services and the volunteers that support them and our workforce who obviously do much of the work with many of our service users, and I think it’s been an incredibly challenging period of time that we’ve been in, and who would have imagined that two and a little bit years on we are still in this case, but we are, and it’s a credit to all of you, your services, your leadership, that has got us through to where we are today and we continue to be agile and adaptive in what is a very, very dynamic environment. Jeroen mentioned how transmissible the Omicron variant is and we can see that right across our settings. So if I just go to that, we are obviously seeing high numbers right across our disability residential care settings, our public housing high rise settings, our rooming houses, and by way of numbers, just to give you a sense of it, we’ve probably got about nearly 1,500 active cases across community housing, homelessness settings, public housing, rooming houses and SRSs, and that really affects about 620 or so number of facilities. In our disability environment we’ve got numbers of both participants and disability support workers who are affected by COVID and we’re in the sort of 600 numbers for both participants and workers, the majority being participants, but obviously about 110 disability support workers also affected. And this has been an increase over the last few weeks and one that we’re watching very carefully, one that we’re working closely with the Commonwealth on and making sure that we’re supporting our disability settings as well. Jeroen talked a little bit about the sort of shift in policy approaches to more individualized support, self‑management for testing as we’ve talked about, and more care for positive cases, and communities and organizations clearly receiving messages on the importance of preparedness, on self‑managing and on harm reduction, and that is the focus of the work that we are doing at the moment. In terms of service continuity planning, it is vital for all our services to really start to activate those measures to prevent adverse health and social outcomes for the many Victorians that are experiencing vulnerability, and I know many organizations are right into their own business continuity planning, which as you are, we in the department are also doing a fair amount of work to ensure we have the workforce capacity, that we are managing and mitigating workforce impacts. And Jeroen mentioned 20 to 30% of our workforce being affected and not being able to be at work and that’s a pretty consistent theme right across our environment, both in government and across our funded community service organizations, and obviously that becomes a very, very challenging environment for how we ensure that those critical services can be maintained and people that use them can be supported. So, of course, keep working on your business continuity planning, keep activating those plans, and the work that we are doing, both in terms of furloughing policy, in terms of supporting the Rapid Antigen Testing provision, will hopefully mitigate some of those, but it is a difficult and challenging environment that we are in at the moment. On the furloughing, and I know we touched a little bit on this earlier on, but as Jeroen mentioned, last week we saw critical workforces following policies put in place for both healthcare workers and the disability workforce which enables those exemptions from quarantine. You might hear the words furlough and contact management being used interchangeably, but furlough essentially talks to that workers who are contacts and asymptomatic will be allowed to return to work in disability care settings subject to meeting a set of strict conditions and this is intended to be applied as an option of last resort and relies, as Jeroen mentioned, on both the worker and the provider reaching agreement about that being implemented. And until these were in place, we saw a large number of workers who were close contacts needing to isolate, and of course that resulted in potential service disruption. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to mitigate through that policy change. Now further changes to furloughing policy will be considered by the chief health officer in the fullness of time and in the balancing of public health needs with our service continuity and we are continuing to work with our colleagues in the Department of Health to identify what other critical workforces might be exempt from the policy as well. So more work to be undertaken on that front, Libby, but important for obviously all of our services to keep focused on the critical delivery of our services and to mitigate some of the issues that we’re seeing on the workforce front. Now I might pause there, Libby, and see if we can take some more questions and answers. And I know Laura and Belinda are also in the room and might want to jump in as well.

Libby Buckingham: Thank you Argiri, and thank you Belinda and Laura for joining us today. “Argiri can you please recap “which specific parts of the community sector “are now mandated for the third vaccine and which are not? “Messaging has been confusing “and people are assuming that anyone mandated for two doses “are now required to have three.”

Argiri Alisandratos: Yes, I think Jeroen covered off on this one, Libby, a bit. So, there are only healthcare workers and disability workers that are mandated for the third vaccine booster. That’s not to say that there might not be other workforces that might come into scope, but at this point that is the only, certainly in the community services part of it, our disability workforce is the only one that’s mandated at the moment, age care obviously and healthcare and a number of other industries as well, but for us in the community services settings it is just the disability service sector as well. Belinda, I don’t know if you want to add anything to that.

Belinda Martin: It came off really well, Argiri. So just to recap, healthcare and disability sectors came into mandation from the orders that were published on 12th of January and I expect that there will be consideration down the track around any further sectors that would come into play.

Libby Buckingham: Thank you. And Argiri, “How are you and the department “factoring in the loss of the volunteer workforce “in delivering services across Victoria? “Are there measures to support the reactivation “of volunteering across the state?”

Argiri Alisandratos: Yeah, thanks Libby. Volunteering, as everyone knows, is such a critical element of support that is provided across communities and one that we’re very, very focused on. So lots of work. Some of you will know that we’ve got a volunteering strategy that we’re working on and lots of engagement that we’ve had from Volunteering Victoria and many other stakeholders, but obviously turning our mind to how we support our volunteer base, how we mitigate risks to them, how we look at every opportunity to find ways for how we allocate Rapid Antigen Testing at an appropriate time and how we fine tune our policies to enable the reactivation, full scale reactivation, of our volunteering across the Victorian community. We know this is a challenge, Libby, and I’ve noted a couple of the comments in the Q&A and the chat around how challenging volunteering is and how much more we need to be doing and we’ll work with the key stakeholders to keep addressing those issues, to keep supporting our volunteer base, and to do everything we can to reactivate that important service element right across our community.

Libby Buckingham: I’m reading another question that’s come through the chat. “With the outdoors being a safer environment “to work with our clients, “what support can be given to transition social services “to working in this environment?”

Argiri Alisandratos: Yeah, it’s a good question, Libby, and one that I know other industries, obviously hospitality have really tackled and probably one that we ought to turn our minds more to because I think there are settings that probably could deliver some of their services in outdoor. I know neighborhood houses, for example, have outdoor environments that they can deliver services from. I know some of our outreach services, we need to think more creatively about how we undertake that outreach and rather than undertaking visits in peoples homes. Can we do them outside? And so some of these new ways of working, I think we’re going to have to tackle and we’ll be doing more of that work to expand the range of options and the guidance that we put out across our industries that facilitate more creative ways for how we engage with our service users and how we provide COVID safe interventions and supports to many of those people that are using these critical services.

Libby Buckingham: Reading another question that’s come through, “Community transport services “not only transport older people, “but also people with disabilities “and children in child protection. “We have no access to Rapid Antigen Tests and PPE. “What can be done?”

Argiri Alisandratos: Yeah, I saw that question, Libby, in the Q&A. And so we will take that away and do a little bit more work. Transportation is critical and notwithstanding the challenge that we have around limited supply of Rapid Antigen Tests as the supply channels open up, as we get more supply we will look to make sure that we are able to allocate proportionally to some of those service settings as well in recognition that they are critically important to ensuring continuity of delivery of those services to those people.

Libby Buckingham: “What is the latest policy about density limits “in our sector?” This person that’s asked the question is running a food bank which requires a number of volunteers and staff.

Argiri Alisandratos: I might get Belinda or Laura to jump in on that one and help me out on that one.

Belinda Martin: Yeah, I’m happy to jump in Argiri. So, at the moment we’re working to a two square meter density limit, and that’s a fairly standard measure across the board. So as you can imagine the public health advice is trying to limit the number of people in venues to balance that service continuity with public health and they will track that along and change it as needs be. I’ll just call out that we’ll be publishing some new fact sheets in the coming days and that will cover off a lot of the technical questions around things like density limits, isolation requirements, I’m very conscious that they’re pretty technical at the moment so making sure that we put out advice is absolutely a priority for us.

Libby Buckingham: Thanks, Belinda. A question here from the chat, “When will community spaces “at public housing estates be re‑opened?”

Argiri Alisandratos: Yes, that’s a very specific question. Belinda or Laura, do you have any current information on timelines around that?

Belinda Martin: I don’t have information around timelines, Argiri, I know that public housing has been using a lot of those community spaces to support our accommodation response operations for some time and again trying to balance the public health needs with those spaces but really acknowledge the need from the community as well. So we can take that one away and have a chat with our public housing colleagues, apologies, and come back, Libby.

Libby Buckingham: Great. “Are there any moves to prioritize children with disability “in the five to 11 vaccine rollout?”

Argiri Alisandratos: Laura, was that a head shake?

Laura LoBianco-Smith: Yeah, I think department of public health are doing quite a lot of work to prioritize children with disability in that age group. So there’s already the program around making the state centers very accessible for children and separately making sure that they’re accessible for people with disability. In parallel we have a DLO program, the Disability Liaison Officer program, they are embedded across various health services and in the RPHS. And their role is really to facilitate access to vaccination in particular the focus is children, at the moment, five to 11, that’s absolutely high priority, as well as the booster program. So certainly on the priority list now.

Libby Buckingham: Thank you. I think we have time for one more question before we hand over to you Argiri to wrap up. “Does DFFH have a continuous improvement process in place “to support quarantining families “with food and other support needs? “And if so how is this evolving?”

Laura LoBianco-Smith: Sure, I’m happy to take that one. So we’ve learnt a lot about supporting people in the community over the outbreak with isolation and as the outbreaks evolved, the needs have evolved and we’ve tried to adapt our response to respond to those changing needs. We know as the numbers go up the demand for relief and support will go up. What we learnt early in the COVID outbreak is traditional relief systems don’t work here. So we’re used to floods and fires where it’s a quick response basic needs. We’re talking about people now that have isolation needs for seven days or 14 days earlier in the outbreak, so how we responded to that. So we’ve put in essentially a relief system that triages across a variety of responses. So if someone needs to isolate in place and they need really basic needs because they’ve just been told to isolate, and they need a bit of food, Red Cross will attend to that. So Red Cross will provide relief to families to cover the isolation period just, that really basic stuff. Where you need something a little bit more specific, Local Government will kick in. So if you need culturally appropriate food, you have other particular needs that the Red Cross basic box doesn’t provide for, our local councils have been funded and provide a really good service to families and people isolating. Where that’s not enough we have another escalation point where DFFH have a team called relief and community services. And they respond to those more complex needs. If you need something really immediately, you know we’ve had families call, they need nappies now and council and red cross can’t provide for that, we’ll do that. So they’re the changes we’ve made. What we found in the last week or so is our existing system needed bolstering. We needed more. So we’ve been able to put in place a really responsive team in the last week. That includes establishing another site, a warehouse out at Point Cook so that we can really respond to the increasing demand quickly. So we’re very agile, we’ve got the new warehouse up and running, we’re also planning for increased demand again, where we might build a more regional model so that local councils, Red Cross, or whoever else, whatever organizations we work on, can get the supply out to individuals quicker. So they’re the kind of changes we’re making in the relief response now.

Libby Buckingham: Thanks, Laura. And Argiri, Belinda and Laura, is there anything you would like to say to wrap up or summarize before we finish the forum today?

Argiri Alisandratos: I think, Libby, from all of us, just a huge thank you to all of you for the incredible work that you continue to do out there on a day‑to‑day basis and under very, very challenging circumstances and environments as we face at the moment. So I know that we, along with VCOSS, along with many of our stakeholders, are very committed to engaging frequently through these forums as we did, as we have done over the last couple of years, Libby, so as you said earlier on in your introductory comments, if we need to have more of these sessions, if people find them useful, then I think we should absolutely maintain these engagements and provide opportunity for people to pose their questions, to provide a range of information, and I know it’s not always possible to give absolute clarity, given the dynamic environment that we are in, but I think having these opportunities and these conversations are incredibly important, both for us and hopefully for you as well. There are a number of questions that have been posed today, we will take those away and do some work on providing some responses as well, Libby. And I know we’ve got a number of people who are capturing some of these questions and the themes so that we can convey those back to those participants that have been unable to join us today. So thank you to all of you, thank you to you Libby and the VCOSS team for putting this together.

Libby Buckingham: Wonderful. Thank you Argiri. And that is a wrap for today. I’d like to just give a big thank you to our presenters, Jeroen Weimar, Argiri Alisandratos, Belinda Martin and Laura LoBianco‑Smith. Fully captioned and transcribed recording of this event will be available within a few days. We’ll send you the link when it’s on our website. Thank you so much for all of your excellent questions. And we’ve hoped that you’ve found this a useful briefing. Goodbye.

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