The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has challenged the states over their resistance to opening up the country once 70% of the adult population is vaccinated, saying Australia can’t “stay in the cave forever”.
Amid push back from the states and territories about letting Covid spread through the community once vaccination coverage increases, Morrison demanded they explain how states would open up if not under the terms of the four-phase national plan signed off in July.
“The national plan is our deal with all Australians. It is the understanding that we have with Australians making their sacrifices now, and who have made them over such a long time, that that sacrifice will get them to the next step, because if not at 70% en 80% then when?” Morrison said on Monday.
“We must make that move and we must prepare to make that move and we must prepare the country to make that move. The lockdowns now being endured are taking an extremely heavy toll. Both on the mental and physical health of Australians and on the economic success of Australia.”
The federal government has been ratcheting up pressure on the states by arguing the Doherty Institute modelling that underpinned the national plan had shown the virus could be managed once vaccination rates reached 70% en 80% – a point at which lockdowns should become less necessary.
But the states – particularly Queensland and WA – are concerned the deal was agreed to before the Delta outbreak in Nieu-Suid-Wallis escalated. NSW reported 818 local cases on Monday while Victoria recorded 71 and the ACT 16.
Nationally, there are now almost 11,000 active cases met 603 people currently in hospital.
Queensland has said it may not open its border with NSW even when vaccination rates reach 80%, while the WA premier, Mark McGowan, has said his state still wants to “crush and kill” the virus.
Maandag, the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said the “goalposts have changed” since states signed up to the plan, which was modelled on an initial outbreak of 30 gevalle.
“Now there are thousands,” Palaszczuk said. “This is a book that hasn’t been written, folks. This is uncharted territory.”
Egter, Morrison told parliament on Monday updated advice from Doherty received over the weekend suggested rising caseloads did not alter the ultimate conclusions of the modelling. “The starting point does not influence the overall conclusions of the model," hy het gesê.
Labor demanded Morrison release the updated advice but the prime minister said it was “oral”.
“Why won’t the prime minister [vrylating] that advice, don’t Australians suffering under lockdowns have a way to see it,” the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, gesê.
He accused the prime minister of avoiding accountability in question time after it was ended after just 40 minute. Normally the session runs for over an hour. “Our question time has been shut down because this prime minister is under pressure,” Albanese said.
The Doherty Institute’s head of epidemiology, Prof Jodie McVernon, is due to update state and territory leaders at this Friday’s national cabinet meeting.
The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, is also calling for national cabinet to consider the inclusion of children and teenagers in the 80% vaccination target, saying “it is difficult to see the widespread acceptance of reopening if children and teenagers are not part of the vaccination targets.”
Die Victoriaanse premier, Daniel Andrews, said once the vaccination rates were reached there would no longer be statewide lockdowns and the state would have far more options when managing outbreaks.
“We don’t have to have many of the rules that are essential and our only option at this time,” he said on Monday.
“Those vaccination numbers give us many other options and they are all much better than the very limited set of options that every state and the national government have reluctantly and with a heavy heart had to sign up to.”
The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, also backed the national strategy saying other states would soon have to learn to live with the virus.
“Each state will go through a difficult time as you transition … and normalising is a word that’s probably a bit confronting for people,” Berejiklian said.
“Just as we tend to talk about the number of people that die from flu, when we have 80% double-dose vaccination, that’s how we’ll treat it. The case numbers will be less relevant – what will be more relevant is how many people are in intensive care and how many people succumb.”
Federal Labor’s shadow health spokesperson, Mark Butler, said the Doherty modelling assumed that when restrictions were lifted the contact tracing and testing systems would be operating at “best practice”.
“The question for Scott Morrison is – will he continue to push for restrictions to be lifted, even if tracing and other systems are not operating at best practice? Because if they’re not, the Doherty Institute modelling shows very clearly there will be thousands more people put in hospital and hundreds and hundreds more deaths,” Butler said.
“No one wants lockdowns to end more than us. We all want to see lockdowns become a thing of the past just as they have become in so many other countries we watch around the world where life is returning to normal, while here in Australia, things are getting worse, not better because of Scott Morrison’s failures.”
Morrison said that while there was risk associated with opening up the country, there was also risk with the continuation of lockdowns.
“We have to break this cycle. The national plan is the way to cut through and for us to emerge from that. This groundhog day has to end, and it will end when we start getting to 70% and 80%”
The latest vaccination figures released on Monday show about 1.8m doses have been administered over the past seven days, met 30% of the population now fully vaccinated, en 53% having received a single dose.