Victoria extends rent relief, 25,526 cases

More than 25,000 new COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths have been reported in Victoria.
More than 25,000 new COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths have been reported in Victoria.

Victoria has recorded 25,526 new COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths, as the state government's rent relief program is extended for businesses struggling amid the latest wave.

Small Business Minister Jaala Pulford on Saturday announced an extension of the relief scheme to March 15 for commercial tenants and landlords experiencing hardship.

Businesses with an annual turnover of $10 million or less that have suffered a decline in turnover of at least 30 per cent due to coronavirus will be eligible for support.

Under the scheme, landlords will be required to provide continued proportional rent relief in line with a reduction in turnover.

It means a business with a turnover at 40 per cent of pre-pandemic levels can only be charged 40 per cent of its rent. Of the balance, at least half must be waived, with the remainder to be deferred

The freeze on rent increases and a moratorium on evictions will also continue.

"Overwhelmingly, businesses are able to trade. The announcement we're making today is a recognition of not the impact of restrictions but the impact of staff absences and the impact of a diminishing of confidence," Ms Pulford told reporters.

"We are very hopeful this will be a short period, albeit an acute period for the Victorian community."

Eligible commercial landlords that have provided rent relief to their tenants will continue to receive support through the government's commercial landlord hardship fund.

A similar scheme in NSW was also extended on Saturday.

Many retail and hospitality businesses in Victoria and NSW have been forced to close their doors or reduce operating hours because staff have COVID-19, are close contacts of a positive case, or are awaiting test results.

Restrictions have also been reintroduced in both states, including density limits and a ban on indoor dancefloors, in a bid to slow the growing spread of the Omicron variant.

The Victorian health department confirmed on Saturday the new infections include 12,857 from rapid antigen tests and 12,669 from PCR tests.

The state is managing 227,105 active cases, including a record 1054 patients in hospital, up 78 from Friday.

There are 115 Victorians in intensive care, of whom 30 are on ventilation.

COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar said of those in ICU, 74 per cent are unvaccinated.

"There is nobody in ICU who has had a third dose of vaccination," he said.

Mr Weimar said it was too early to say if case numbers in the state had stabilised.

Meanwhile, private pathology labs have sent out notifications to thousands of Victorians whose PCR tests have been deemed invalid because they are more than seven days old.

The move comes after four private pathology providers suspended operations across 54 Victorian testing sites earlier this month to allow their labs to catch up on the test backlog.

Melbourne Pathology, one of the four labs, last week decided not to process week-old samples from 7000 tests taken over the busy Christmas and new year period.

Mr Weimar defended the decision not to process the latest backlog of PCR tests.

"Processing very old tests where people have already been waiting for more than seven days before the test is even processed is not a practical way of spending our critical lab resources," he said.

"Those results, when they are that out of date, become increasingly meaningless to the individuals receiving them."

Australian Associated Press