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Scott Morrison has revealed the triggers for moving to the next two phases of Australia’s opening-up plan, aimed at reducing the reliance on lockdowns and increasing freedom for vaccinated international travellers.
But the moves are conditional on dramatic increases in Covid-19 vaccination rates and the timing remains up in the air. Morrison declared there was an “in principle” agreement at a national cabinet meeting on Friday but at least one state leader subsequently warned that lockdowns may still be necessary in later phases. Here is a rundown of the latest version of the reopening plan.
Phase A: where Australia is now
Morrison said we are currently in phase A, known as “vaccinate, prepare and pilot”.
The aim is to strongly suppress the virus for the purpose of minimising community transmission. That includes ramping up vaccination and deploying “early, stringent and short lockdowns if outbreaks occur”. The plan also stresses the importance of effective test, trace and isolate capabilities.
As already announced at the beginning of July, the cap on international arrivals has been halved, as premiers expressed concerns about the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant and the need to “reduce pressure” on the hotel quarantine system. These reduced numbers will remain in force throughout this current phase.
At the same time, phase A allows for some states to trial and pilot the introduction of alternative quarantine options, including home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers. Morrison said South Australia was “already in the process of setting up their trial on home quarantine arrangements”. There may also be an expansion of commercial trials for limited entry of student and economic visa holders.
As for domestic travel restrictions, they should be “directly proportionate to lockdown requirements”, according to the one-page overview released by Morrison on Friday.
Phase B: when 70% of over-16s have been vaccinated
The planned trigger for moving to phase B is when 70% of the eligible population (meaning those aged 16 and over) have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. The test is based on yet-to-be-released modelling by the Doherty Institute.
Morrison described the trigger as “a two-key process”. First, the entire nation would need to reach this 70% target overall. But each state or territory would actually move into the phase when it individually achieved the same 70% target.
Morrison wouldn’t give a firm timetable for moving to phase B but said he hoped it could be achieved by the end of 2021.
Under phase B, called the “vaccination transition phase”, authorities would aim to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of Covid-19 “with low-level restrictions”.
The international arrivals cap would be restored to previous levels for unvaccinated travellers, and then on top of that, there would be additional capacity for vaccinated travellers to return. The plan also calls for the introduction of new reduced quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents.
On 4 July, when he first foreshadowed the four-step opening-up plan, Morrison said the second phase would see lockdowns occur only in “in extreme circumstances”. But the language has changed in the document released on 30 July, with lockdowns described as “less likely” but still “possible” in phase B.
The plan says phase B aims to minimise Covid-19 cases in the community through “ongoing low-level restrictions and effective track and trace”. It says there will be an easing of restrictions on vaccinated residents, but those details are still to be decided.
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Phase C: when 80% of over-16s have been vaccinated
The planned trigger for moving to phase C is when more than 80% of over-16s have received two doses of a vaccine – but Morrison has not given an indication of when this benchmark is likely to be achieved.
Under phase C, called the “vaccination consolidation phase”, leaders would only ever pursue “highly targeted lockdowns” and they would continue with a vaccine booster program.
That phase would also see vaccinated residents being exempted from all domestic restrictions, the abolition of caps on vaccinated Australians returning from overseas, and the lifting of all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians.
There could also be an increase in the capped entry of student, economic, and humanitarian visa holders.
The document suggests Australia would look to extend the travel bubble for unrestricted travel to new candidate countries (including Singapore and in the Pacific). It foreshadows a “gradual reopening of inward and outward international travel with safe countries and proportionate quarantine and reduced requirements for fully vaccinated inbound travellers”.
Phase D: yet to be decided
Phase D is the final phase, and it’s called “post-vaccination”. Morrison said it was still too early to set a trigger for this phase. There were, he said, “too many unknowns” before leaders could specify the benchmark for a return to relative normality.
The last phase would involve managing Covid-19 “consistent with public health management of other infectious diseases” such as influenza.
Measures may include the full opening of international borders, albeit with quarantine “for high-risk inbound travel”. All vaccinated people would be able to travel to Australia without being subjected to inbound arrival caps or quarantine.
This phase would also allow for the uncapped arrivals of non-vaccinated travellers, but such travel would be conditional on pre-flight and on-arrival testing for Covid-19.
Authorities would aim to minimise cases in the community without ongoing restrictions or lockdowns. Booster shots would be provided as necessary.