The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response and changes to the Australian COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy.
National Cabinet continues to work together to address issues and find solutions to the health and economic consequences of COVID-19.
There have been 29,602 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 910 people have died. More than 16.4 million tests have been undertaken in Australia.
Globally, there have been over 143 million cases and sadly over 3 million deaths, with around 1.2 million new cases and more than 16,000 deaths reported in the last 24 hours. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in many countries around the world.
Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine roll out continues to expand. To date, 1,785,698 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia. The number of administration sites has expanded, with 4,500 general practices as well as general practice respiratory centres and Aboriginal health services now administering COVID-19 vaccinations.
Today, National Cabinet received a briefing from Professor Brendan Murphy, Chair of the Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group, the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, Ms Caroline Edwards, Associate Secretary, Department of Health and Commodore Eric Young, CSC, RAN, Operations Coordinator, Department of Health Vaccine Operations Centre on the Vaccine Rollout Phases Implementation.
Australian COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Strategy
National Cabinet agreed the imperative to work together to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to Australians as quickly as possible.
National Cabinet agreed to recalibrate the delivery model for the COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout Strategy, taking into account the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) medical advice on the use of AstraZeneca vaccines, and COVID-19 vaccine supply arrangements, by:
Limiting access to the Pfizer vaccine to:
- People aged under 50 years eligible in phases 1a and 1b (pending commencement of subsequent phases);
- Residential Aged Care Facility (RACF) residents (through completion of the Commonwealth’s existing in-reach program):
- Disability care residents with complex needs who require in-reach vaccination services;
- People in remote and very remote communities where it makes sense to use a single vaccine for all or most of the community; and
- In very limited circumstances, quarantine, border and frontline health care workers who are 50 years of age or over and not already vaccinated, where the relevant state or territory determines the worker should be fully vaccinated and protected as soon as possible.
Better utilising the available stock of AstraZeneca doses: by bringing forward access to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for phase 2a eligible people aged 50–69 years commencing with General Practice Respiratory Clinics (GPRCs) and state and territory COVID-19 vaccination sites from 3 May 2021 and General Practice (GP) clinics from 17 May 2021. Individual GP clinics who have the capacity to and wish to commence earlier than 17 May can apply to the Department of Health for access to this cohort earlier.
Increasing access to the Pfizer vaccine: by immediately opening state and territory-operated sites to eligible people, including under 50 year old aged care and disability care workers; and establishing a Pfizer mass vaccination plan, which includes state and territory mass vaccination sites and large GP and GPRC sites, to establish readiness for operations where demand exists and supply is available.
Maintaining the lead role for GPs in administering the AstraZeneca vaccine: as demand exists and supply permits, allocating more doses to GPs (including by re-allocating or re-directing doses allocated to states and territories, where it makes sense to do so).
Supplementing the role of GPs: with states and territories continuing to operate AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination sites and services where required to supplement the primary care network and immediately opening these sites to people aged 50 years and over and eligible in phases 1a and 1b.
Making better use of some vaccination sites: by permitting state and territory-operated vaccination sites (and other sites if clinically safe) to operate Pfizer and AstraZeneca services from one site, provided the site is large enough to allow for complete clinical separation of the two services.
States and territories can choose to incorporate community pharmacies (which were originally due to commence from Phase 2a) into their roll-out plans in rural and remote areas where there are no or limited other points of presence. National Cabinet agreed that the broader role of community pharmacies in the national rollout is deferred.
Revised COVID-19 Vaccine National Rollout Strategy
National Cabinet agreed the revised COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out strategy which, in light of the age-based preferential Pfizer vaccine recommendation, adjusts the age cut-off for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people eligible in phase 1b to ‘50 years and over’ (down from 55 years and over) and expands eligibility in phase 2b to 16 and 17 year olds (now that Pfizer is the preferred vaccine for this age group and is approved for use in 16 and 17 year olds).
National Cabinet agreed to the implementation of the recalibrated delivery model through addendums to the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Implementation Plans, with Health Ministers to finalise and sign the addendums for noting by National Cabinet at a future meeting.
The Commonwealth will further contribute 50 per cent of the genuine net additional costs incurred by states and territories to set up additional COVID-19 clinics after 21 April 2021, where necessary to support the recalibrated delivery model. Funding arrangements will be finalised through the Council on Federal Financial Arrangements.
High risk countries
National Cabinet noted that there has been a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in many countries that are experiencing third and fourth waves.
National Cabinet agreed to place additional restrictions on Australian citizens and permanent residents seeking to enter Australia from high risk countries which are experiencing rapidly increasing COVID-19 outbreaks. The Commonwealth will work to establish a list of high risk countries. Going forward:
- Anyone entering Australia who has been in a high risk country in the last 14 days before entering Australia and is transiting through a third country will need to return a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to entering Australia from the final point of embarkation.
- The Commonwealth will further restrict outbound travel exemptions to high risk countries to strictly essential travel only.
To address the significant increase in COVID-19 positive case numbers in returned travellers from India, National Cabinet agreed to:
- Reducing the number of passengers on Government facilitated flights into the Centre of National Resilience at Howard Springs for all flights departing India, until the rate of positive cases has decreased to acceptable levels.
- An approximate 30 per cent reduction in passenger numbers for Australians returning from India on Government-facilitated flights during May 2021. In addition, four of the scheduled facilitated flights will be rescheduled from May to June 2021.
- A 30 per cent reduction on commercial flights direct from India to Australia, as soon as it is practical.
- National Cabinet will seek advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) regarding the benefits of having aircrew vaccinated as a priority cohort.
- The Commonwealth will seek Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) for Australians returning on direct flights from high risk countries.
National Cabinet will meet again on Friday 30 April 2021.