'No guarantees': Victoria's lockdown lifted for now
Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the state's snap five-day lockdown will end at midnight tonight, as planned, after recording zero new cases.
"Can I say I am very proud of every single Victorian for the work they have done," he said.
Earlier the health department also confirmed no new infections were recorded in hotel quarantine today.
A staggering number of Victorians were tested with almost 40,000 swabs taken in the past 24 hours.
That is significantly more than the 24,000 from the previous day - as the total number of locally acquired active cases remained at 16.
The number of active cases in Victoria is 25, made up of 16 locally acquired cases and nine cases in hotel quarantine.
The total number of COVID-19 cases linked to the Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn - the cluster that send Victoria back into a third lockdown - remains at 19.
There are 3400 close contacts, the Premier said, adding without the lockdown the number of infections would have been much higher.
"We have avoided that," he said.
"This is not over, there are still nine days to go of the 14 days for the (infection period)".
Victoria will return to similar restrictions to those put in place before the "circuit breaker" lockdown, with masks required indoors and some tougher rules on household gatherings to remain. Only five people will be allowed to visit a home - down from 15 previously - until at least next Friday. Only 20 people can gather together outdoors. Fifty per cent of the workforce can return to a workplace.
Weddings and funerals can go ahead but the crowd size will depend on the density capacity of the venue. Students will return to classrooms.
He also wouldn't rule out further lockdowns in the state is needed.
"I can provide no guarantees because I'm not prepared to pretend to the Victorian community that this is over, there can be some notice period but we don't have the luxury of giving people a month's notice," he said.
"I'm just not in the business of ignoring advice, or shopping around for advice that suits me.
OLDER AUSSIES URGED TO GET ASTRAZENECA JAB
Older Australians are being urged to take the newly-approved AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as the government plays down fears over its effectiveness in people aged over 65.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) granted the AstraZeneca jab approval for use in people aged 18 and above, placing no upper age limit on its recommendation.
European regulators had butted heads over whether to approve the vaccine to people aged above 65 amid concerns over its effectiveness in that age group.
But the TGA quelled those fears, announcing approval on Tuesday and saying there are "no safety concerns in this age group" arising from clinical trials.
The TGA's John Skerritt said the jab's rollout in the UK, where there was no upper age limit, showed a strong immune response among the elderly.
"Our analysis of the data gives us no reason to suspect that the vaccine would not be fully efficacious in older groups," he said.
Various Europeans countries have put an upper limit of 65 for the AstraZeneca vaccine, while Italy restricted its use to people under 55.
The TGA recommended a "case-by-case" assessment before administering the jab to people aged over 65.
But Professor Skerritt clarified the only time the jab should not be recommended was when administering it would be futile.
"If someone only has a few weeks to live, you won't give them a hip replacement and may not give them a vaccine," he said.
"That's what we're talking about, but the vaccine is recommended for use in all ages."
He also said those who've had COVID-19 should also receive a vaccine.
Prof Skerritt added it is not known how long the vaccine remains effective.
"We don't have a crystal ball and we don't know … and maybe the vaccines provide two or three years of protection, but not life," he said.
"Maybe people will need a booster. No one knows that yet".
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton reacted to the news by saying: "Who wouldn't be delighted at the prospect of another vaccine, especially one locally manufactured, that will deliver millions of doses to Australians.
"I can't wait to be vaccinated when my time in the queue comes.
"And looking forward to seeing it roll out across the country. I hope it lifts spirits. The mental health anguish of this pandemic has been extraordinary."
AUSTRALIANS WANT COVID-19 JAB ASAP
Seven out of 10 Australians say they will choose to be vaccinated by October, with half wanting the jab as soon as possible.
A poll by research firm RedBridge revealed in the Herald Sun on Tuesday found more than half the country was not ready to agree to be vaccinated.
But new federal government research shows 64 per cent of adults will definitely be vaccinated, while only nine per cent say they will not.
About 1.2 million AstraZeneca doses are due in Australia early next month, allowing the rollout to be expanded in combination with the Pfizer vaccine.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it showed the vaccination program was on track.
"Our vaccination program has the backing of Australia's best medical experts and that means that we can proceed along the path that we have set out and I look forward to working with all the states and territories and medical health professionals across the country, those involved in logistics supply chain, to ensure we can get this out right across the country and it's going to make a huge difference to how we live here in Australia this year, and in the years ahead," he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the vaccine had been "cleared for lift off" as the second vaccine approved to fight COVID-19 in Australia.
The approval initially only applies to the AstraZeneca vaccine produced overseas, with further checks needed to ensure doses produced by CSL in Melbourne meet the same quality and safety standards.
CSL will deliver 50 million doses this year, starting with one million doses per week from late March.
Under the terms of the TGA approval, the AstraZeneca vaccine will require two doses, with the second to be administered between four and 12 weeks after the first dose.