States are continuing to push back against the terms of a nationally agreed plan to open up the country once vaccination rates hit 70% en 80%, warning the worsening Covid crisis in NSW could yet be a dealbreaker.
As a pared-down federal parliament prepares to sit in Canberra on Monday amid the ACT’s lockdown, die premier Scott Morrison is insisting that growing case numbers are not a reason to abandon the national plan agreed to by all states and territories.
Under the four-phase strategy signed off in July and based on modelling from the Doherty Institute, restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of disease are relaxed once 70% of Australians aged over 16 are vaccinated, with stringent lockdowns “unlikely” to be required at this stage.
Once vaccination coverage reaches 80% only “highly targeted lockdowns” would be necessary and vaccinated Australians would be free to travel interstate.
National cabinet has requested updated advice from the Doherty Institute that takes into account the current caseload – which jumped by 917 on Sunday – but Morrison insisted that the outcome would remain the same.
“The starting point doesn’t ultimately change the ultimate conclusion point of where case numbers arrive,” Morrison told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“As we go forward, once you get over 70% and particularly over 80%, lockdowns do more harm than good.
“Lockdowns are not a sustainable way to deal with the virus and that’s why we have to get to the 70 en 80% marks so we can start living with the virus.”
After Friday’s national cabinet meeting, Morrison warned state and territory leaders not to abandon the commitment made to the Australian people to ease restrictions, while the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has said the commonwealth won’t financially support the states locking down once vaccination targets are reached.
Op Sondag, egter, the Queensland deputy premier, Steven Miles, said the states had agreed to the national plan before the NSW outbreak, and Queensland could still close the border to NSW even when vaccination rates reached 80%.
“We may,” Miles said about the potential border closures.
“It will depend on the situation here and the situation in NSW.
“We’re signed up and committed to the plan that national cabinet endorsed, but that was a plan that was endorsed before the NSW outbreak.”
The WA premier, Mark McGowan, also cast doubt on whether WA would be prepared to abandon its elimination strategy, saying the state wanted to continue to try to “crush and kill” the virus.
He also said that lockdowns could still be used by states and territories to contain the spread under the agreement signed off by the states.
“I think what’s happened in NSW is obviously tragic, and very difficult and very difficult for the people there, but there’s an Australia outside of NSW, and we’re all doing our best to keep the virus out, and we are following the national plan,” McGowan said.
“Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, we’re all pretty much now Covid free. Victoria is doing everything it can to crush and kill the virus using measures that have been proven to work.
“The ACT is doing everything it can to crush and kill the virus, New Zealand is doing everything it can to crush and kill the virus. It’s only NSW that is not, they are letting down the entire country.
“It’s very, very debilitating for the federation, and for everyone else that’s trying to do the right thing.”
But the chief medical officer, professor Paul Kelly, said there was no jurisdiction in the world that had eliminated Covid-19, with the Delta strain now also upending the New Zealand government’s success to date with the virus.
“Western Australia have done extremely well up to now, mostly relying on the very strong border controls both external to the rest of the world and to the rest of Australia,” Kelly said.
“The matters of how WA see themselves working through the pandemic over time is really a matter for them, but I will say that the whole of national cabinet, including the West Australian premier, did sign up to the plan only a couple of weeks ago.”
The Doherty Institute’s director of epidemiology, Prof Jodie McVernon, also said pursuing a Covid-zero strategy would be difficult with the Delta strain.
“We have seen how contagious this virus is, we have seen how difficult it is to keep out, and even [in] jurisdictions that have had highly effective public health responses and contained outbreaks it has been getting away,” Professor McVernon said.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said the Doherty modelling had not advised that the country could reopen once the vaccination target was reached with hundreds of active cases.
He said if the prime minister had information that showed rising case numbers need not impact our plan to reopen, “then he needs to release that advice”.
“No one wants to be locked down for a day more than necessary,” Albanese said.
Labor is expected to continue its assault on the government over the vaccine rollout when parliament sits on Monday, having said half the country would not be in lockdown if the Morrison government had secured more vaccines earlier.
Minder as 50 MPs are expected to sit in the House of Representatives, and the Senate chamber is expected to be half empty under strict conditions governing the final two sitting weeks of the current session.
The merit of Australia’s 20-year mission in Afghanistan is expected to be debated in the lower house on Monday, while the government has prioritised national security laws, disability support reform and changes to the way elections are run on its legislation program.
– with Australian Associated Press