MELBOURNE, AAP – Children aged three to five will be able to take free rapid antigen tests, with Victoria expanding its voluntary school COVID-19 testing program to early childhood services.
While Victorian primary and secondary students have been asked to take twice-weekly RATs since the start of term one last week, the same recommendation only applied to staff in early childhood settings.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday announced the voluntary testing program will be rolled out to children aged three to five who attend childcare services.
In the next two weeks, 1.6 million rapid antigen tests will be delivered to services, beginning with sessional kindergartens and then early childhood services, including long day care, family day care and occasional care.
“It’s all about giving parents peace of mind, it’s all about trying to support every family,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.
The program is voluntary but highly recommended, in line with school settings.
Jay Weatherill, chief executive of advocacy group Thrive by Five, welcomed the move but said state and federal governments must do more to minimise impacts of outbreaks in the sector, including clearer isolation protocols and income support.
“We don’t want to jeopardise the ongoing viability of early learning centres and undermine their vital work,” the former South Australian premier said.
Since the regime began in schools last week, 7046 students and 925 staff have tested positive.
“That’s 0.7 per cent of students and 0.84 per cent of staff,” Education Minister James Merlino said.
Victoria’s schools surveillance testing regime was scheduled to run for at least the first four weeks of term one and involve the use of 14 million free RATs.
Mr Andrews says supply from the state’s RAT stockpile won’t be a limiting factor in whether the schools testing scheme will be extended, but whether the caseload justifies it.
The state government will also consult with the commonwealth on a potential extension, as the costs of the tests are being split 50/50.
It comes as Victoria recorded 20 COVID-related deaths and 9785 new cases on Tuesday, as hospitalisations fell below 600.
The continual fall in patient numbers has the opposition demanding the full resumption of non-urgent elective surgery be fast-tracked after it restarted at 50 per cent of normal levels in private hospitals and day procedure centres on Monday.
“There is nearly an MCG full of Victorians on the public surgery waiting list, and that’s growing by 1000 people a week,” Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said.
Health Minister Martin Foley told state parliament further changes could be announced in coming days, depending on updated health advice.
Meanwhile, Mr Guy and his MPs were photographed with Essendon legend Kevin Sheedy not wearing a mask inside parliament after he gave a party room motivational speech ahead of the 2022 state election, prompting criticisms during question time.
VICTORIA’S LATEST COVID-19 FIGURES:
* Hospital cases: 575, down 63
* ICU cases: 72
* Ventilator cases: 30
* PCR tests processed: 19,404
* Positive PCR tests: 2569
* Positive RATs: 7216
* Active cases: 58,449, down 1352
* Vaccine doses administered at state-run sites on Monday: 15,870
* Vaccine booster rate for Victorians 18 and over: 45.9 per cent