The consensus among Australian leaders over the national Covid plan has fractured further with the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, warning children could be at risk if state borders reopened.
Palaszczuk, talking ahead of Friday’s national cabinet meeting, said she expected the Doherty Institute to provide updated modelling on how children would be impacted by the relaxation of border restrictions.
“Unless there is an answer on how these young people are going to be vaccinated you are putting this most vulnerable population at risk,” Palaszczuk said on Thursday. “You open up this state and you let the virus in here and every child under 12 is vulnerable, every single child.”
The premier pledged to “stand strong” on Queensland’s border controls “until I can get every child vaccinated”.
Australia’s vaccination program will include children aged 12 a 15 desde 13 septiembre, but there are no plans for children under the age of 12, and this age group is yet to be vaccinated anywhere in the world.
The ACT’s chief minister, Andrew Barr, backed the call for more modelling. He said he was “very concerned” about transmission among children even though experts say they are extremely unlikely to suffer severe illness from contracting the virus.
Palaszczuk’s remarks led Australia’s chief health officer, Profesor Paul Kelly, to use a press conference in Canberra to outline the very low risk profile of Covid cases in children.
Drawing on the most recent national health data, Kelly said that while there had been 3,815 cases of Delta in children under the age of 12, sólo 134 had been hospitalised. Most of these were because of social reasons – such as parents not being able to care for them – not illness.
Kelly said that three children under the age of 12 had been admitted to intensive care – a less than one-in-1,000 chance.
“The disease in children is very different from what we’re seeing in adults,"Kelly dijo. The Delta variant was more transmissible but there was “very little evidence anywhere in the world that severity has increased”.
The Queensland senator, Amanda Stoker, called Palaszczuk’s demand “unreasonable” and argued the premier was setting a mark that could not be met.
“That exposes her real agenda here and that’s to keep Queenslanders living in a state of perpetual anxiety and uncertainty rather than a path towards living safely alongside the virus,” Stoker told ABC.
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, claimed that the national plan was “predicated on protecting children.”
He also took aim at Palaszczuk for using figures from the Doherty Institute on the likely number of deaths that would occur if other states had similar outbreaks to what was occurring in New South Wales.
Palaszczuk claimed that 2,240 people a month would die if 70% of the adult population was vaccinated but this is not supported by the Doherty model.
Hunt said that “selectively misusing the Doherty modelling breaches good faith and damages public confidence”.
Palaszczuk had also suggested that the initial Doherty report had omitted children, but Hunt said this was not the case.
The Doherty report – which uses a range of modelling scenarios – suggests there could be 80 deaths a day at a 70% vaccination rate when the peak of an outbreak is reached at the 180-day mark, but this is only if the testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine (TTIQ) system is “partial”.
At a 70% vaccinate rate, the cumulative death estimate nationally over the first 180 days is 1,457, but this drops to just 13 deaths if the TTIQ regime is optimal.
For children, the Doherty Institute modelling suggests there would be zero deaths for vaccinated kids under 16, y 46 for unvaccinated kids in the same age group in circumstances where TTIQ was partially effective at national vaccination rates of 70%.
If TTIQ is optimal, then Doherty says there are zero deaths in that age group at 70% coverage.
El primer ministro de NSW, Gladys Berejiklian, said the national figures used by Palaszczuk were similar to the deaths each year from the flu, as she again pushed for state leaders to adjust to the reality of living with Covid.
“I know this is a very difficult conversation to have. This is what will get us through, this is the light at the end of the tunnel, accepting Covid is part of our lives, accepting that unfortunately people will die, but they will be less likely to die if everybody is vaccinated and this is the reality,” Berejiklian said.
NSW recorded 1,288 new cases on Thursday and passed the 70% first vaccination dose for its over 16 población.
In Victoria, the health minister, Martin Foley, announced the state would halve the wait between AstraZeneca doses to try to fast track its double dosage rates as it recorded 176 new case. The ACT reported 12 new cases on Thursday.
The federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said parents were worried about their children but he did not back the Queensland Labor premier’s claim that children were at risk.
“Parents are very worried about their children," él dijo. “But we need to follow the health advice. At the moment, there aren’t vaccines that have been approved for those people under 12. And we do need to open up when it is safe to do so.”
In federal parliament, Labor again targeted Morrison over the vaccination program, seizing on remarks he made in a press conference this week about state border closures when he said “everything is a state matter”.
Morrison faced a barrage of questions about the shortcomings of the vaccination program, including the low rates of vaccination among the indigenous population, and failures in hotel quarantine.