Victoria Covid update: more than 40 police stood down for refusing coronavirus vaccine

More than 40 Victoria police staff have been stood down and face losing their jobs after refusing to have the Covid vaccine.

Victoria police on Monday confirmed 34 police officers and nine protective services officers had not complied with the vaccination order by the state’s chief health officer and by a specific chief commissioner instruction.

Exemptions from having the mandatory vaccine only apply if an employee is unable to be vaccinated due to a medical issue, the force said.

Those refusing the jab have been referred to Professional Standards Command for failing to abide by an instruction of the chief commissioner and face subsequent disciplinary action, which may result in their sacking.

They have been stood down and directed to take accrued leave.

The Police Association backs mandatory vaccinations and has been contacted for comment.

Meanwhile, hospitality venues have been warned to prepare for Covid outbreaks when Melbourne begins to open up on Friday, as the state government faces criticism for keeping retail shut.

The state recorded 1,903 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths on Monday and almost 90% of Victorians over the age of 16 have now received their first vaccine dose.

Melbourne’s sixth city-wide lockdown is ending at 11.59pm on Thursday after the state hits the 70% fully vaccinated milestone.

From Friday, 10 people will be allowed to gather at homes, the 9pm curfew will be scrapped and there will be no travel limit within metropolitan Melbourne.

Pubs and restaurants will open their doors for the first time in more than four months, with hospitality venues allowed 20 vaccinated people inside and 50 outside.

Victoria’s Covid commander Jeroen Weimar on Monday said businesses needed to take their safety measures seriously as there would probably be outbreaks.

“Maintain those important Covid-safe principles, the segregation or bubbling of your workplaces and workforces, so you can manage the impact, because there will be positive cases in circulation,” he said.

“There will be cases in hospitality settings and it will be down to those systems to [minimise] the imposition on people around them at the time.”

But the opening of hospitality venues before retail has drawn criticism from the retail sector, which is desperate to open its doors in the lead up to Christmas.

Tim Piper, the Victorian head of the peak employer association Ai Group, said the government should have opened both at the same time.

“Retailers are hanging out to open properly and to have people in their stores, so are surprised that limited indoor dining is allowed but retail stores can’t allow people in store,” Piper said.

Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall is seen empty on Sunday during the city’s lockdown. Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

“In the lead up to Christmas, every day counts for manufacturing, retail, event management and other industries. We need to be both optimistic and pragmatic with our reopening and open further at the earliest opportunity.”

The state government has been cautious to open everything at the same time to avoid overwhelming the hospital system.

On Monday there were 851 Victorians in hospital, and of those 155 were in ICU.

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Almost 70,000 Victorians got tested on Sunday and more than 32,405 vaccine doses were administered at state hubs. That’s on top of those administered at GP clinics.

Of Monday’s cases, 592 were in Melbourne’s south-east and 590 were in the western suburbs. There were 1,635 active cases in regional Victoria.

Changes to isolation period

From Friday there will also be changes to the state’s isolation rules.

Primary close contacts who are fully vaccinated and do not live at the same house as a confirmed Covid case will only have to isolate for seven days, down from 14.

Weimar said the fact two-thirds of adult Victorians are now fully vaccinated meant the isolation period could be changed with little risk.

“I’m delighted to minimise the impact on individuals, with over 60,000 primary close contacts caught up in these positive cases,” he said.

Weimar said the change would help businesses.

New funding for businesses

The government also announced a $54.5m funding package to help businesses set up outdoor street trading.

Under the scheme more than 7,000 Victorian businesses, community organisations and traders will be able to access $2,000 grants when they spend at least that amount to support outdoor dining or entertainment.

Victoria’s small business minister Jaala Pulford said the government wanted to keep the scheme open for businesses outside hospitality.

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