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COVID claims 20 more Victorian lives as schools staffing crisis looms

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Victoria has recorded 16,016 new COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths, as the state attempts to beef up substitute teacher reserves ahead of expected disruptions when classes resume.

The new infections, confirmed by the health department on Saturday, include 8432 from PCR tests and 7584 from rapid antigen tests.

It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 217,505, which includes 1029 people in hospital, a decrease of 67 on Friday’s figures.

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The number of Victorians in intensive care sits at 120 and there are 39 people on ventilators.

It comes as the Victorian government calls on inactive or retired teachers, education support staff, retired principals and staff with administrative experience to put their hands up to fill COVID-related vacancies in state schools.

Workers who join the pool will be sent to local schools to replace teachers and other education support staff at short notice, if and when they contract COVID-19 and need to isolate.

“Every sector is under pressure from the Omicron variant and education will be no exception – but we’re taking action early to make sure staff absences don’t mean huge disruptions for students’ learning,” Education Minister James Merlino said in a statement on Saturday.

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The Victorian government is yet to detail its back-to-school plan other than vowing students will return to classes when term one begins on January 31.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Victorian public sector workers are being offered half a day’s paid leave to get their booster vaccine.

More than 300,000 full-time, part-time and casual teachers, paramedics, police officers, firefighters and other public sector workers will be eligible under the arrangement, which was also used for first and second doses.

Employers will foot the bill, unless the payments amount to a “significant additional cost”.

Treasurer Tim Pallas urged the private sector to “do the right thing” and match the state government’s half-day leave pledge for its workers.

Victoria’s third dose rate has risen to 29 per cent.

-AAP

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