Morrison admits states at different points in reopening ‘journey’ but must reach same destination

Scott Morrison has declared it will be up to each state and territory to decide how to ease restrictions once vaccination rates lift across the country, after warnings from the states that it will be unsafe to open borders with only 70% coverage.

But the prime minister, who announced on Tuesday that Australia had secured an extra 500,000 dosis of Pfizer vaccines from Singapore to distribute next week, also suggested that if states kept hard domestic borders in place once vaccination rates lifted, some Australians would be free to travel overseas while others were not.

For weeks, the government has been arguing about the importance of sticking to the national cabinet plan, which was signed off by state and territory leaders and commits to a gradual easing of restrictions once vaccination rates reach 70% y 80% of the adult population.

But in the face of sustained pushback from the states about how the plan will be implemented, particularly in the zero-Covid states of Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, Morrison has shifted gear. He said each state is “starting from different places” and caution would be needed.

The four-phase national plan is based on work by the Doherty Institute, which points to the conditional easing of harsh restrictions, like lockdowns, when vaccination rates hit 70%.

“All states and territories are on this journey of the national plan, but they’re starting from different places,” Morrison said.

“There isn’t a common Covid position across the country … but the place we’re heading to is the same.

“And that place is bringing us all together again, connect us again as Australians, and to connect Australia to the world. That is the objective of the national plan. So for wherever we’re starting, the destination is what we share.”

Morrison said national cabinet was working out the “short strokes” of precisely what would change between the vaccination rates of 70% y 80%, and said some states would ease restrictions ahead of others.

He also said ending state border closures – which are not explicitly addressed in the national cabinet plan – were a “state matter”. But he warned there could be two tiers of Australian travellers if some states refused to open up while others allowed home quarantine for people returning.

“In states that aren’t locking others out … there will be the opportunity for people to go and travel and return to Australia and quarantine at home, and that people in those states who are overseas can come back to Australia,” Morrison said.

“The caps that are on flights coming into those places … that aren’t locking others out, they will be able to receive more and more, and that will be a big change.”

Más temprano, the West Australian premier, Mark McGowan, warned that the state would not reopen its borders at a 70% vaccination rate nationally, and suggested WA could be “a few months” behind the rest of Australia.

“As I’ve said many times we will reopen our borders to Covid-infected states when it is safe to do so but that is not at 70 per cent vaccination,” McGowan told The West Australian.

“The difference in timing would only be a matter of a few months if we get our fair share of vaccines from the Commonwealth.

"A 70 per cent vaccination to deliberately introduce Covid into WA would cost hundreds of lives and potentially result in the shutdown of many businesses, including parts of the mining industry.”

Morrison told Perth radio that WA needed to remain “outward looking”, pointing to the resumption of flights to Bali as an example of the freedoms that would come once vaccination thresholds were met.

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he was committed to the national plan, but would be discussing some details with Morrison on Wednesday.

He also said that until at least 70% of people were vaccinated the state had no choice but to pursue an aggressive suppression strategy of the Delta variant, saying he wanted to help make it the best plan possible.

“The central fact of the national plan is this: you can manage a pandemic of the unvaccinated when the unvaccinated is a small group," él dijo.

“Today as I stand here now, Victoria and the nation has only 35% people double dose covered – 35%, no 80% vaccinated.

“The notion of trying to cope with a pandemic when you are open with very few rules, when so few people are vaccinated, we know what that would mean. That would mean not hundreds of cases, it would mean thousands of cases.”

El primer ministro de NSW, Gladys Berejiklian, said her state would “stick to the plan” and said she would be disappointed if other states “walked away”.

“We need to think of ourselves not just as citizens of a state but citizens of Australia and accept that we have friends and relatives, work colleagues that live in different states, that we have Australians wanting to come home and if not at 80% double dose then when?

“We also have to accept is that every state in Australia needs to learn to live with Covid.”

NSW has been rapidly ramping up its vaccination coverage since the Delta outbreak first emerged in late June, and is on track to reach a first dose coverage of 70% esta semana. Por el contrario, WA, Queensland, the NT and SA will not mark the milestone until the middle of October.

The federal government’s announcement of the extra Singapore doses comes after months of sustained pressure from the federal opposition and state and territory leaders about supplies of the mRNA Pfizer vaccine.

Morrison and the health minister Greg Hunt also backed calls from the Australian Medical Association for states to follow NSW’s lead and mandate vaccines for the entire health workforce as the country braces for increased pressure on the health system once restrictions are eased.

The prime minister said with a vaccinated health workforce the ability for the system to manage Covid outbreaks was “significantly strengthened”.

Hunt said the issue was “very high on the agenda for state and territory chief health officers”, and noted that aged care workforce vaccination rates had “skyrocketed” following a similar mandate for that sector.

But the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, suggested on Tuesday that the aged care sector would struggle to meet a 17 September deadline for all staff to have received at least one dose, saying he was “not at all confident that will happen’.

In question time in Canberra, Labor targeted the prime minister over the mandate to ensure that all aged care workers would receive a vaccine by 17 septiembre, saying he needed “to protect them but also to protect the people in their care.”

Morrison also responded to Labor’s criticism that NSW had spaced out Pfizer doses by eight weeks because the state “did not have enough Pfizer”, and due to concerns about the rollout in aged care and delays in vaccinating Indigenous Australians.

The minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said vaccine hesitancy had been a problem among indigenous communities that the government had tried to overcome, but conceded there was “more work to do”.

Morrison also reacted angrily to suggestions from Labor that the government was not prepared for the load on the health system 18 months into the pandemic, saying the question was a “deliberate attempt by the Labor Party to undermine public confidence in the Covid response.”

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the secretary of the federal health department, Brendan Murphy, wrote last week to the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society asking for information about the pressures on the system.

The information will be presented to national cabinet this week as part of an update on the preparedness of the country’s health system.

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