Scott Morrison has encouraged states to administer AstraZeneca at mass vaccination centres and boost vaccination rates on weekends, in a sign that Australia is shifting away from its GP-led rollout model.
National cabinet met on Friday as Delta strain outbreaks of Covid in greater Sydney and Melbourne placed 10 million Australians into lockdown.
Despite agreeing on the details of new commonwealth-funded Covid-19 disaster support payments for lockdown, national cabinet did not agree on uniform rules for restrictions, allowing states to continue to pursue their own model of hard or soft lockdown.
After weeks of soft lockdown in which retail is still open and essential work has not been defined by the government, New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, on Friday signalled that the state may need further restrictions to reduce Covid numbers.
The Australian Medical Association president, Omar Khorshid, warned that on current numbers the Sydney lockdown will “continue indefinitely” and called for all stores except those selling essentials to be shut.
Morrison told reporters in Sydney that despite the outbreaks, Australia’s four-stage plan to ease Covid restrictions is “on track” with advice expected from the Doherty Institute soon regarding the vaccination rates required.
By Friday, 12.95% of the eligible population over 16 years had been vaccinated, which Morrison said was the result of 2m doses being administered in July and 500,000 in the past three days.
Morrison said leaders had discussed “what is working” in the vaccination rollout, including Tasmania’s initiative of advice and bookings at shopping centres.
“In particular we noted that those states that have been taking on additional AstraZeneca vaccines and putting them into their state-based clinics are achieving higher rates of vaccination,” Morrison said, singling out Victoria for praise.
“And so we would encourage states and territories to continue to do that.”
Morrison noted that despite a record day of 175,000 vaccinations in the past 24 hours, Australia’s vaccination rate lags on weekends because “you don’t have as many GPs’ offices and clinics open on the weekend”.
“The state clinics are open in many places, but both the states and the commonwealth are going to be looking at ways in which we can increase the rate, availability and points of presence for people to get their vaccines on the weekend.”
Morrison confirmed plans to bring more pharmacists on board to administer vaccines, but said this would occur in coming months because “there is no point having more points of presence with a static amounts of [vaccine] supply”.
Earlier on Friday, the Labor leader Anthony Albanese weighed into the debate about Victoria’s “hard” and New South Wales’ “soft” lockdown by arguing Australians need “certainty”. He criticised the “failure to define essential workers” in NSW, which he said was creating confusion.
Albanese told reporters in Canberra that he would follow health advice. Medical experts say to lock down heavily to reduce the time it takes to get virus spread under control.
But Morrison refused to weigh in to the controversy, indicating that Berejiklian would be the one to announce any changes in the NSW lockdown rules.
“I believe that states need to take the best possible health advice and do what is right for the interests of their citizens and the broad Australian population and I believe all states and territories are always trying to do that,” he said.
Late on Thursday Morrison reached agreement with Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, to extend new Covid-19 disaster payments of up to $600 for individuals to lockdowns of less than one week.
Under the plan, workers who have lost more than 20 hours of work a week will receive payments of $600 a week and those who have lost eight to 20 hours will receive $375 a week for lockdowns, even if the lockdown lasts less than seven days.
On Friday Morrison confirmed that recipients of jobseeker and other social security payments are not entitled to the disaster payments.
He said the absence of the financial supports had “no bearing” on the New South Wales government’s decision not to go into lockdown sooner.
Earlier, Albanese outlined four planks of government policy that he said need to be “achieved” for Australia to reopen: the vaccine rollout, national quarantine, a public ad campaign for vaccination, and the ability to produce mRNA vaccines onshore.
When pushed, Albanese clarified that progress against these only needed to be recorded, and his comments were not intended to suggest Australia could not reopen until it could produce mRNA vaccines.