IVF treatments to resume as Victoria records 21,966 coronavirus cases, 15 deaths

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Victoria has recorded 21,966 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 deaths as the Victorian government bowed to pressure and reversed its decision to pause IVF treatments in the midst of the state’s Omicron surge.

Some IVF treatments will restart from Thursday, with hospitals gradually scaling up their operations to enable procedures to resume completely from next Wednesday.

The Victorian government has reversed its decision to pause IVF treatments in the state’s hospitals.Credit:istockphotos

Authorities halted most IVF procedures on January 6 in response to the rising number of COVID-related hospitalisations. That number is expected to peak in coming weeks.

The move attracted criticism from Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said national cabinet had agreed early in the pandemic that IVF should only be halted as a last resort.

State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy also called on the government to resume the procedures, saying cancelling the treatments showed a lack of preparation.

In his advice to the government, Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said the specialist nature of the workforce and equipment used in the procedures meant its resumption would not affect the pandemic response.

In a statement, Acting Health Minister James Merlino apologised for the distress the cancellation had caused families.

“IVF is a challenging journey for anyone to go through, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic and we’re deeply sorry for the distress caused by affected services in recent weeks,” he said.

“We thank Victorians for their patience … we’ll keep working to have other services rostered as soon as we can.”

The Department of Health will work with the Royal Women’s Hospital to prioritise urgent patients.

Provisional approval given to COVID-19’s first oral treatments

Australia’s drug regulator has granted provisional approval to two oral treatments for COVID-19.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration says it has given the tick of approval to:

  • Paxlovid, tablets produced by Pfizer; and
  • Lagevrio, capsules produced by American pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co.

This means both brands will provide the first oral treatments for coronavirus approved for use in Australia. However, the TGA says the pills and tablets are not substitutes for vaccines.

The treatments are designed for people who have coronavirus and are at risk of hospitalisation or death (but don’t require oxygen).

The TGA says either medicine “should be administered as soon as possible after diagnosis” and “within five days of the start of symptoms”. In both cases, the treatment is taken twice a day for five days.

Neither medicine is recommended for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It is recommended that people with childbearing potential use contraception during the course of their treatment. Paxlovid must also not be used with a number of other commonly used medicines, according to the TGA.

The drug regulator says the federal government has secured access to 500,000 courses of Paxlovid and 300,000 courses of Lagevrio so far this year.

The first shipments of both medicines are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Back-to-school plan in spotlight

State and territory leaders meet to finalise a pandemic safety plan for schools ahead of the start of the 2022 school year.

The Omicron surge has forced politicians and health authorities to consider introducing new measures into schools to keep students and staff safe.

NSW and Victoria are working together to develop a shared back-to-school plan to present to national cabinet, sources from both states said on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

National cabinet will finalise return to school plans including on testing and mask wearing for students on Thursday.Credit:iStock

National cabinet is expected to reveal details on how schools should manage staff absences caused by COVID-19 infections isolation requirements, and access to rapid antigen tests.

Almost one in three secondary school teaching jobs in Melbourne’s north and west are going unfilled and teachers warn the situation will grow worse amid expected staffing shortages forced by the Omicron wave.

The Department of Education and Training report revealed specialist subjects including languages and technology are chronically short of qualified teachers, with roughly three in 10 advertised roles resulting in no appointment, while 20 per cent of advertised maths and science roles go unfilled.

Andrew Dalgleish, president of the Victorian Principals Association, said staff shortages were “definitely a concern should infection rates among staff rise once back at school”.

“Unless there are consistent supplies of rapid tests to test and monitor infections for students and staff, I’m not sure how successful a return to full-time face-to-face teaching and learning will be.”

State’s active cases hit 246,894

There are now 246,894 active COVID-19 infections across Victoria. There are 1206 patients in hospital, with 122 in intensive care and 40 on a ventilator.

Of the new cases announced by health authorities on Thursday, 11,693 were diagnosed through PCR testing and another 10,273 were self-reported results from rapid antigen tests.

More than 22,266 Victorians received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at state-run sites on Wednesday, increasing the state’s vaccine coverage to more than 93 per cent for people aged 12 and over. To date, 27 per cent of eligible Victorians have received a booster shot.

Victorians made 115,000 bookings to get a dose of the coronavirus vaccine over the past week. About 77,000 of those were for booster shots and 36,000 for children getting their first dose.

With Broede Carmody, Madeleine Heffernan and Adam Carey

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