The number of people in Victorian hospitals with COVID-19 has surged nearly 30 per cent, triggering a health response that could result in leave being cancelled for health care workers.

The state recorded more than 26,900 new infections in the past week, while the seven-day average of patients in hospital with COVID increased 27.9 per cent to 550, according to Department of Health figures.

Long queues for COVID-19 testing at Bourke Street in January, when the omicron variant hit.Credit:Chris Hopkins

There are currently 625 people in Victorian hospitals with COVID, the highest number since mid-August 14 during the last wave, when the figure peaked at 906 on July 20.

Health officials said the increase in case numbers is being driven by new Omicron subvariants that are more immune evasive and waning immunity in the community.

In response to the increased demand for services, health officials are lifting the system response framework to stage three from midnight.

This could result in leave being cancelled for hospital staff, increased telehealth appointments and additional meetings to discuss case management.

Masks, once ubiquitous across Melbourne, are now rarely seen.Credit:Getty Images

“This is a reflection of both high numbers of people with COVID in hospital, particularly across our metropolitan health services, as well as ongoing furlough challenges at all sites leading into the holiday period,” the department said on Friday.

A Department of Health spokesman said stage three did not automatically trigger changes to elective surgery.

That would fall under a stage-four response, which would include a “code brown” declaration, which pauses elective surgery.

A stage-four response also includes the prioritising of emergency surgeries and the deployment of additional crews to offload patients from ambulances to avoid “ramping” outside hospitals.

However, some hospitals across the state would not need to make any changes to their current systems because they had limited numbers in hospital, according to the department.

It comes as the Victorian Greens called on the state government to promote the use of masks in crowded indoor spaces, including on public transport.

“Asking Victorians to mask up in indoor spaces, use an air purifier or have a COVID booster, is preferable to asking them to wait longer for an ambulance or a hospital bed when they need one,” Greens health spokesman Dr Tim Read said.

Of the 625 Covid patients in Victorian hospitals, there are 28 in intensive care and eight on a ventilator.

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