THERE has been a slight easing in the number of active cases of COVID-19 in Bass Coast and South Gippsland on Thursday, January 13 as the government announces an expansion in the types of workers who don’t need to isolate as close contacts.

Where the number of new cases in Bass Coast had risen 107 on Wednesday this week, there were 84 new cases on Thursday for a total active number of 646 (down from 706).

By postcode, Wonthaggi recorded the highest increase, up by 39 new cases to 201 officially active in the community.

South Gippsland also reported slightly fewer cases, down from 35 to 33 more but active cases were down from 267 to 253.

There are however likely to be more active cases in the community with rapid antigen tests in desperately short supply and PCR testing stations still busy.

Gippsland’s number of active cases eased overall from 2959 on Wednesday to 2888 on Thursday this week, but there were 605 new cases up from 431 on Wednesday with Latrobe City, Wellington and Baw Baw experiencing spikes in new cases.

Thursday’s local COVID numbers

There was an increase in the number of new infections across Gippsland on Thursday, January 13 with a total of 605 new cases across the six local government areas, down from 431, but it resulted in an overall decrease in active cases, down from 2959 to 2888 active cases as a result of more people recovering in recent days.

The spread of active/new cases by postcode is as follows:

* Bass Coast 646 active, 84 new

* Baw Baw 391 active, 133 new

* East Gippsland 358 active, 76 new

* Latrobe City 881 active, 172 new

* South Gippsland 253 active, 33 new

* Wellington 359 active, 107 new

Cases by postcode on Wednesday, January 12:

Mirboo North (3871): 18 active, 4 new

Cowes (3922): 122-7

San Remo/Cape Woolamai (3925): 93-9

Korumburra (3950) 36-7

Leongatha (3953): 73-6

Fish Creek (3959): 13-1

Foster (3960): 30-4

Corinella (3984): 84-10

Nyora (3987): 2-0

Wonthaggi (3995): 201-39

Inverloch (3996): 112-14

Which work groups are exempt

With the number of COVID-19 close contacts continuing to grow, Victoria’s public health team has provided more essential workers with an exemption from close contact home isolation requirements to attend their workplace.

From 11:59pm, Tuesday 18 January, workers in emergency services, education, critical utilities, custodial facilities, transport and freight will join workers in the food production sector as being eligible for the exemption. Under the conditions of the exemption, the worker may return to work if it is necessary for continuity of operations and if other options have been exhausted.

The exemption will apply to attending work only, not any other settings. In order to be eligible, the worker must first notify the employer of their status as a contact, and critically, both parties must consent to the worker returning to the workplace.

They are already required to be fully vaccinated. Strong measures will be required to reduce the risk of a contact attending work while infectious:

  • The worker must undertake a daily Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for five days and return a negative result prior to attending work each day
  • They must wear a face mask at all times, with exceptions in the case of eating or drinking, or safety reasons, and a P2/N95 respirator is preferred
  • The worker cannot enter shared break areas and the employer must try and facilitate solo break time. The employer must also take reasonable steps to deploy the worker in areas where transmission risk is lower
  • If at any time the worker develops symptoms or tests positive on a RAT, the exemption no longer applies – they are a case, must isolate for 7 days, and must notify others including their employer.

The exemption order is identical to that granted by Victoria’s public health team for key food and beverage workers, and is designed to protect the state’s essential workforce during the continuing Omicron wave.

This exemption also currently applies to hospital workers, disability workers, residential aged care facility workers, and ambulance workers, but the use of an N95 mask at the workplace is a requirement, not a preference.

Close contacts, otherwise known as household and household-like contacts, are people who have spent more than four hours with a case inside a house, accommodation or care facility.

The Department of Health has also updated its contact management guidelines to require workplaces to notify the Department when five cases have attended the work premises within seven days. Previously, workplaces were required to advise the Department and Worksafe of single cases.

“This is about helping Victorians keep food on the table, lights on in the house and staff on in our hospitals,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“It’s safe and sensible in the eyes of our public health team, but to further protect themselves and the community, workers will have to use a rapid antigen test every day and wear a mask at all times.”

More information on the conditions of the exemption and applicable cohorts of workers will be published at www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/isolation-exemptions when they come into effect at 11:59pm, Tuesday 18 January.

List of applicable workers now exempt from isolating as close contacts:

  • Emergency Service such as police, fire services and the SES
  • Prisons and custodial services
  • Critical utilities such as gas, electricity, water and waste disposal
  • Freight and transport operators, including at ports and airports
  • Primary, secondary and early childhood education
  • Critical care services that support our most vulnerable.

See also local testing arrangements