Department of Health

Health alert

Alert number:
Date issued:
07 Jan 2024 - update to Alert issued on 27 October 2023
Issued by:
Dr Clare Looker, Chief Health Officer
Issued to:
Health services, health professionals and the Victorian community

Key messages

  • Community transmission of COVID-19 is increasing across Victoria.
  • Recent weeks have seen a rapid increase in hospitalisation of COVID-19 cases.
  • This increase in community transmission is linked to a new variant, JN.1 which is causing similar impacts internationally. During this time, it is especially important that those at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 are protected against catching COVID-19 – this includes people aged 65 and above, people with a disability or chronic medical condition and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • These six steps can help you stay ahead of COVID-19:
    1. Wear a mask: a high-quality and well-fitted mask can protect you and others from the virus.
    2. Get vaccinated: stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccine. There are new monovalent vaccines available that are highly effective at preventing severe disease. You should get a booster if you are over 75 and haven’t had one for 6 months. Other groupsExternal Link are also recommended to get a booster. Vaccines are available at your GP or local pharmacy.
    3. Let fresh air in: open windows and doors when you can – it reduces the spread of the virus. Meet outside when possible.
    4. Get tested: if you have symptoms, take a rapid antigen test. If you test positive and are eligible for antivirals, take them as soon as possible.
    5. Stay at home: if you have COVID-19, you should stay at home for at least five days and until you have no symptoms. Speak to your GP if symptoms worsen.
    6. Take antivirals if eligible: if you are at risk of falling very sick, you may be eligible for COVID-19 antiviral medicines. You must take these within 5 days of developing symptoms - the sooner the better. See your GP for more information.
  • The Department of Health will continue to monitor surveillance indicators and keep the public informed of when COVID-19 transmission returns to a low level of activity.

Sensitive settings

  • If you have symptoms, you should not visit people at risk of severe illness or sensitive settings such as hospitals and aged care facilities.
  • Sectors providing housing, care, or other services to people at increased risk of severe disease (senior Victorians, those with medical comorbidities or disability) should consider activating policies to reduce transmission during this wave. This is particularly relevant to health services (including primary care), aged care, disability care and ACCHOs.
  • These actions may include the use of N-95 masks in clinical care settings and use of recommended surveillance testing for patients, staff and/or visitors.
  • For more information, visit COVID-19 infection, prevention and control guidelines.

What is the issue?

  • Key indicators of COVID-19 infections are showing increasing levels of COVID-19 activity in Victoria due to a new variant, JN.1. These include:
    • 7-day average hospitalisation figures (377) have increased over the past few weeks following a period of high levels of COVID-19 hospitalisations in November but remain below the peak levels from the May/June wave (488).
    • JN.1 has quickly become the most prevalent single subvariant in Victorian wastewater samples. The quantitative wastewater measures were indicative of high levels of COVID-19 activity Victoria.
    • Antiviral prescriptions increased in December to levels not observed since January 2023.

Symptoms and transmission

COVID-19 symptoms vary from mild to severe and may appear between 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. They include:

  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fever, chills and/or sweats.

Some people may also experience headache, muscle soreness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, loss of smell and taste, loss of appetite.

If you have any of the symptoms listed, however mild, you should seek advice and take a rapid antigen test immediately.

If you test positive for COVID-19, see Checklist for COVID-19 casesExternal Link for a step-by-step guide to support you through to recovery.

You should speak to your GP if you have any concerns. Dial Triple Zero (000) if you are having trouble breathing or have chest pain.


For the general public

Protect yourself and at-risk Victorians by:

  • wearing a face mask if you have symptoms or in high-risk settings
  • staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccination
  • taking a test if you have symptoms
  • staying at home if sick
  • meeting outdoors or letting fresh air in when indoors
  • talking to your GP about COVID-19 medicines, especially if you are at-risk.

For health services and health professionals

  • Health services and other settings where the risk of COVID-19 transmission and impact is particularly significant are recommended to take actions based on local risk assessment and as outlined in updated COVID-19 guidance.
  • DH will continue to monitor surveillance indicators and keep the public informed of when COVID-19 transmission returns to a low level of activity.

Reviewed 08 January 2024


Was this page helpful?