- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Australia’s vaccine program has received a boost, with a doubling of the number of Pfizer vaccines flowing into the country, after a “dose swap” deal was secured with the UK.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, says the deal will “break the back” of the September supply issues, with his UK counterpart, Boris Johnson, agreeing to send 4m Pfizer doses to Australia, which will be distributed to the states and territories on a per capita basis.
Some 292,000 doses will leave the UK on Saturday to boost the September vaccine program, when 12-to-15-year-olds are included in the rollout, with the remainder to follow. Australia will return the doses from its own supply at a later date when the UK is looking to bolster its vaccination of children.
“I said I would leave no stone unturned and I can tell you I’ve been turning over some stones in recent times to ensure that we can progress the vaccination program as quickly as we possibly can,” Morrison said on Friday. “And it will now build on what is a very strong performance.”
The news of the latest deal, arriving on the heels of a 500,000 dose swap agreement with Singapore, came ahead of a fractious national cabinet meeting. Increased cases in New South Wales and Victoria have put pressure on the timeline of the national reopening plan.
The latest advice on the Doherty Institute modelling, which underpins the national plan for transitioning to “living with Covid”, was debated at Friday’s meeting.
That advice is likely to be released to the public early next week, as leaders continue to discuss what life will look like when 70% of the adult population is vaccinated, and again what happens at phase C, when the nation reaches its 80% target.
With NSW and Victorian cases still not at their peak, no decisions were made, with the leaders instead committing to further consideration, taking into account the capacity of each jurisdiction’s health and hospital network.
Home quarantine was also discussed, with South Australia trialling the measure, although other future quarantine measures were also canvassed. National cabinet will now meet again in a fortnight.
NSW recorded its worst daily case number in 10 weeks, reporting 1,431 locally acquired cases and 12 deaths, including a woman in her 30s who died in her home. Authorities believe daily cases have still not peaked and have warned the community to prepare for higher numbers in the next two weeks.
Victoria recorded its highest daily case numbers since its second wave, with 208 new confirmed cases and one death. The premier, Daniel Andrews, has said the state is focused on suppressing case numbers as much as possible while it increases vaccinations but has conceded Covid zero is no longer possible.
The leaders went into Friday’s meeting at odds over how to move forward with the national plan, with concerns over what the NSW and Victorian case numbers would mean for jurisdictions not currently dealing with outbreaks.
One of the most concerned, the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, toned down her rhetoric ahead of Friday’s national cabinet meeting, insisting she was committed to the detail of the agreed plan but wanted to see more discussion.
“I want to see further, detailed modelling,” she said. “It is only fair and reasonable that we have a constructive debate in this country. And rather than picking fights, and attacks, let’s have a decent educated conversation.”
Palaszczuk denied she had been “scaremongering” on the issue of vaccinating children, despite no Australian-used vaccine having been approved for children under 12. She said more conversations on measures to be included in the plan were important.
“There is a very legitimate conversation, where I am asking questions, about what happens to a cohort of young children, who aren’t vaccinated.
“It is not about being against a national plan. We are all for a national plan.”
Later on Friday, Queensland Health confirmed a four-year-old girl had tested positive in the state, sending hundreds to testing centres and into isolation.
Email: sign up for our daily morning briefing newsletter
Ahead of the meeting, Morrison said while the numbers and the modelling would change, the crux of the national plan did not.
“What doesn’t change is what we have to do,” he said. “We have to keep up record rates of vaccination and continue to prepare for in phase B and C the pressures on public hospitals and systems.
“We have to get home quarantine operational and at scale to get your phases B and C [whereby] people can travel again, move around the country, Australia can be connected again and with the world, people can attend weddings, people can have household gatherings and birthday parties and, sadly, have the funerals, but people will be able to attend them. Worshippers can return to church, picnics can happen in larger numbers if we can do all those things.
“The question about what the numbers are, they change every day, but what doesn’t change is what we have to do. That’s exactly what we will need to focus on.”