Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

Transcript
30 Jul 2021
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: Good evening. Thank you for joining me. Last month, I outlined a pathway, together with my National Cabinet colleagues, a pathway that would take us to where we want to go. Tonight, we have agreed in plan, tonight we have agreed in principle the plan that will get us there and the targets that will get us there. And, I'll take you through those very shortly.

Before I do that, I just want to note that we have very much welcomed the news today that we've had another record day on the vaccination program - more than 210,000 vaccine doses delivered in the past 24 hours from yesterday. Twelve million doses, 12 million doses have now been reached. We are hitting these extra millions now within the week, and indeed in as few as six days. 125,000 vaccines delivered by GPs who continue to do the lion's share of the lifting when it comes to delivering these vaccines all around the countries, and I want to thank those GPs for the tremendous job they're doing, and all of those working in the vaccination hubs and clinics that are run by our state governments all around the country for getting this job done.

We are now at 40 per cent of Australians, who are eligible for a vaccine, on a first dose. One in four over 50s are now fully vaccinated. And, for those who are over 70, over 40 per cent, or around 40 per cent, are now fully vaccinated, and over 80 per cent have had a first dose.

We agreed today in principle the national plan to chart the way back. That plan, I confirm has four phases. The current suppression phase where we are vaccinating, where we’re preparing and piloting the tools that we’ll be using in subsequent phases. The transition phase as it is now known, which is phase b, which we’ll move to when we hit the first vaccination target. The third phase is the consolidation phase, and then the final phase that follows beyond that. The plan that we've agreed in principle today, this plan, recognises the different starting points of states and territories in terms of where they are right now. And, we've agreed that no state, under the current suppression phase and beyond should be required to lift restrictions and or increase restrictions, I should say, beyond where they currently are right now. All states have their settings in place to deal with the circumstances they are currently facing, be they the lockdown restrictions that we're going through currently in Sydney and New South Wales, the easing out of lockdown in Victoria and South Australia, or indeed the less restrictive settings that are in place in Queensland and Western Australia and so on. So, under this plan, no state or territory is required to increase the restrictions beyond where they are right now. They are a matter for them to set based on the balance of risk that they see in their state and territory.

This plan, I should also stress, as we've learnt all the way through COVID-19, is subject to the rules that indeed COVID-19 writes itself. New variants that can emerge. If this were to occur, then of course, we would look at those very carefully. We would undertake further scientific analysis of that. But, the work that we've done, the plan that we've agreed in principle this evening is based on our full knowledge of the Delta variant as it is available to us, the excellent work that has been done by the Doherty Institute to inform these decisions, as well as by the Commonwealth Treasury, working with the state treasuries all around the country.

At each stage, I want to be clear about what the vaccination targets mean for Phase B and Phase C. States and territories move into the next phase when one, the national average for the vaccination program, as a percentage of eligible adults, is achieved nationally, and then that state itself has achieved the vaccination threshold in their own state. So, it's like a two key process. To get to that next phase, all of Australia has to get there together, on average. And, then beyond that each state and territory will pass into that second and third phase based when they reach those thresholds. And as I stressed, they are expressed as a percentage of the eligible population.

The thresholds which we are announcing tonight are completely 100 per cent consistent with the scientific modelling and advice provided together by the treasuries and the Doherty Institute. Phase B will be achieved, and I'll go through these, each of these phases in some detail to assist you, but we will get to the next phase when Australia reaches 70 per cent of the eligible population who are double dose vaccinated. We will get to Phase C when we hit 80 per cent. Now, these are targets for all Australians to achieve. States, territories working together, communities working together, individuals, GPs, pharmacists. Australia will get this done by working together. The targets are there for us all to achieve and for us all to work towards.

Let me tell you what the targets entail, and I might need that light, given the lateness of the hour. In the first phase, the suppression phase, it's important to note that early and stringent and short lockdowns will be necessary to deal with outbreaks in this Delta strain. That is a clear learning of the events of recent weeks and months in terms of the activity of the Delta strain and the work we have looked at around the world to inform that decision. So it is important that in that first phase we continue to strongly suppress the virus for the purpose of minimising community transmission. And, a very big, and the most important tool in that arrangement, is if we do see outbreaks occurring then we need to clamp down on those extremely quickly. Now, more broadly than that, the restrictions that you're seeing, as I said before, in states and territories around the country, will continue at those settings and there is no requirement to make them more stringent based on the current settings around the country. If there was an outbreak that were to occur though, then of course, states and territories would need to take the necessary action.

Phase B, which is achieved by the whole country reaching 70 per cent, and then each state and territory reaching 70 per cent, is to seek to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of COVID-19, with low level restrictions. Now, what that means is we will continue to maintain those high vaccination rates and continue to increase them, encouraging uptake through incentives and other measures. We will minimise cases in the community through ongoing low level restrictions and effective track and trace. So track, trace, isolate and quarantine remain very important parts of the program of keeping pace with any potential outbreak that may occur in the country at that time. When you reach 70 per cent, the advice is that you've built up a much more significant level of protection, which enables the usual settings and levers that we have to deal with an outbreak, particularly if Delta, are able to be more effective. Against current rates, that is not the case, and I note there is only two countries, significant countries, that have reached a 70 per cent level of vaccination double dose of their eligible population, the United Kingdom and Israel.

Moving on, lockdowns in Phase B are less likely, but they are possible. They are less likely, I wish to stress, and in targeted cases, in more targeted cases, they may be necessary in those circumstances. But, they are not something that you would normally expect because of the much higher level of vaccination and protection that exists within the country. International border caps will remain and low level international arrivals will be able to be undertaken under controlled settings with safe and proportionate quarantine to minimise the risk of COVID entering. We will ease restrictions in Phase B on vaccinated residents. The details of that are still to be worked through, they’re still to be determined. So, those matters have not been settled and we've established a small working group involving the Northern Territory, Victoria and Tasmania, and they will lead the work on that process with their officials and those premiers, bringing back to the National Cabinet a set of recommendations as to what the options will be for those different arrangements for vaccinated residents in Phase B. So, if you get vaccinated, there will be special rules that’ll apply to you. Why, because if you’re vaccinated, you present less of a public health risk. You are less likely to get the virus. You are less likely to transmit it. You are less likely to get a serious illness and be hospitalised, and you are less likely to die. And so, that principle of easing restrictions on vaccinated residents, details of which are still to be worked through, is an important one that has been agreed in principle tonight.

We will restore in-bound passenger caps at previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers and larger caps for vaccinated returning travellers coming to Australia once we hit Phase B. So, that’s Australians returning. We will allow capped entry of student and economic visa holders, subject to quarantine arrangements and availability, and will introduce new reduced quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents. As I noted last week, South Australia is already in the process of setting up their trial on home quarantine arrangements.

When we reach 80 per cent, that is, first again, nationally an average of 80 per cent, and the state or territory has reached 80 per cent, we will move into Phase C, and that is to seek to minimise - the consolidation phase, seek to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatalities as a result of COVID-19, with baseline restrictions. Now, in this phase, the measures may include maximising the vaccination coverage, of course. Secondly, minimum ongoing baseline restrictions adjusted to minimise cases without lockdowns. Highly targeted lockdowns only. What I mean by that, you should not expect broad based metropolitan wide lockdowns in Phase C. That should not be the expectation. But, where there are vulnerable communities, they may be in remote communities, they may be in particular communities within a, within a city, where there may be cultural elements that may be involved in this, it might be a particular vulnerable population, then you need to leave available to yourself, and the states and territories for public health reasons, will need to leave themself that option. As long as COVID is with us, then that is an option and a tool that may be necessary to use, but only in a very surgical way, as opposed in the way that it is now being applied. And so, getting to that level is very important so we can see a big change building on the changes that we’d achieved in Phase B.

In that phase also, we will continue to bolster the vaccine program. We will exempt vaccinated residents from all domestic restrictions. We will abolish caps on returning vaccinated Australians. We will also increase the capped entry of student, economic and humanitarian visa holders. We will lift all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated Australians, and we’ll extend travel bubble, the travel bubble, for unrestricted travel to new candidate countries and as you know we're already working with Singapore to that end, as well as Pacific countries but there may be others that present in the course of moving towards that phase. There will be a gradual re-opening of inward and outbound international travel with safe countries. Safe countries, those that have the same sort of vaccination levels that Australia has, and proportionate quarantine and reduced requirements for fully vaccinated inbound travellers.

Now phase, the final phase, there is not a vaccination target set at this point. One was not recommended by the Doherty Institute. The reason is, is it is too hard to say what the situation will be down the track. That may be the passage of time and ensuring that we are operating very successfully in Phase C. It also will depend on the, the booster program, which we have ample vaccines for, but the durability and the proof of those vaccines over time. There are too many unknowns before we can understand life as normal. But, that is certainly where we're heading. And every single jab, every single vaccine will take us closer to achieving each of these steps. And Australians, we have to take each step together. And that starts with walking in the door of that vaccine clinic and seeing that GP, that pharmacist, the state hub, and getting that vaccine. Each step you take towards that is a step that Australia takes to where we all want to get to.

So, they are the four phases. The final phase of course, involves opening international borders. Quarantine for high risk inbound travel only. Minimising cases in the community without ongoing restrictions or any lockdowns. Living with COVID, because once we get above those 80 per cent marks, the, the scientific evidence shows that we’re largely then in a place where COVID can be managed, consistent with other infectious diseases. And of course, we don't apply those types of restrictions to the flu or many other things like that.

But I want to thank the Doherty Institute and Treasury for the excellent work. This is still a plan that we've agreed in principle once we finalise the plan and the other elements to it that I've noted to you this evening that we will be releasing further information at that time. That won't be happening tonight or over the course of the next week or so. We will wait to finalise the plan, we'll be circulating to you for now, a summary of what I've just provided to you  and what was on that sheet, and that should enable you to enquire into those matters further. I want to thank Australians for getting vaccinated. The vaccination programme is really hitting its marks, and that's because of a resounding effort all around the country. We keep doing that every day, every week, then we will get there Australia. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: PM, all the targets that you've set out, the eligible adult population. 

PRIME MINISTER: Correct. 

JOURNALIST: Other countries like Singapore and Canada are already including younger people say from the age of 12 plus, who, does this plan mean that children will not be included at all until next year? What's the reasoning behind not including younger people in the targets? 

PRIME MINISTER: It does not mean that children won't be included in the vaccine programme at all, the evidence presented tonight, or this afternoon, this evening at our meeting was that the transmissibility amongst young children, while they can contract it, the transmissibility levels amongst those age groups are different to those of the eligible adult population. But vaccinating 12 to 16 year olds, there was, I believe, I think some ATAGI advice that was soon to be released on that, if it hasn't been released already today, I've been caught in a meeting all day, so you'd be in a position to tell me. 

JOURNALIST: Not so far. 

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I think there is some ATAGI advice pending soon on that matter. And I think that will inform that issue a lot more going forward. We've been waiting on that. And then, of course, Lieutenant General Frewen will incorporate that into his programme. But in terms of the vaccination thresholds, those targets, it was not the advice that we should be including those in those figures at this time. But if that were to change, then obviously we would refresh the plan to reflect that. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, two points of clarity if I may. You've talked about this in-principle plan. Is there anything stopping individual states from taking a more conservative approach? And even if the trigger is delayed, delay going to that next stage and implementing slightly different measures [inaudible]. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think, the population, the residents of those states would be very disappointed if they were held back along those lines. And there was certainly a good consensus today that this has to be a national plan. And that we had to move together, hence why we took the decision that the whole country has to get there on average first before any individual state can move into that next phase. But I can tell you, there's no state or jurisdiction in the country that wants to apply a lockdown or hold Australians back should it not be necessary. And what the modelling and the work done by Doherty and Treasury showed us today was that when you get to that 70 per cent level, you have achieved a level of coverage which enables you to then ease into that process. This is not about freedom days and things like that. We've always been in Australia taking our own path to this. We've made our own Australian way through this. Sure, we've acted with a lot of caution. That's why there are 30,000 Australians today who are still alive because of that and the decisions that we've taken. But being cautious means we move into this. We don't go from shut one day, open the next. That is a very, in our view, dangerous path. What we need to do is take steps towards that - sensible, cautious steps. We get to 70 per cent. So let's get there. Then we get to 80 per cent and we make that work and then we get to the next level. 

JOURNALIST: And the second point of clarity, you said there was a clear learning about the importance of short, sharp lockdowns in tackling Delta. Do you now regret applauding Premier Berejiklian for resisting a full lockdown last month when case numbers were rising.

PRIME MINISTER: People were acting on the advice that they had and the information they had.  I mean, I'm glad everyone else has got perfect hindsight. No one in the world has perfect hindsight over these issues. The Delta strain is a strain that we've sought to understand and learn, and react to and respond to. So those who have had to make those decisions have made decisions, I think in the best interests of their state and on the best possible advice they had available to them. I'm in no different situation to that. But I'll tell you what, we all humbly learn from these things. We all humbly learn from these things. And then we make the adjustments and we get on with it. I’ll keep going round to others who haven’t had questions.

JOURNALIST: Just on the timeframes, 70 per cent is a big number, at around 200,000 a day that would be around three months [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: We haven't put timelines on this because the timelines are now in the hands of all Australians, together with state and territory governments and the Federal Government. We get there when we get there, and I hope we get there as soon as we possibly can. And the more people who go forward and get those vaccinations. For example, the walk-in AstraZeneca clinics, I've been greatly encouraged by seeing the increase in the take up of the AZ vaccine, particularly over this past month. We have seen those rates, particularly under the age of 40, and particularly in New South Wales, but we've seen it in other states and territories as well. And seeing an increasing rate of vaccination with the AZ, AstraZeneca vaccine in those aged over 50. So we welcome that. We think that's great. You want to get vaccinated, the AZ vaccine is there for you. It's a highly effective vaccine, as we've seen all around the world. It's how the United Kingdom have got to their 70 per cent, substantially, and so many other countries as well. But it is the most recognised COVID-19 vaccine in the world and it is there and available to boost the vaccination efforts right across the country. 

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] Would you be hoping to get to Phase B by the end of the year?

PRIME MINISTER: We're not going to set a timetables on it. I would hope so, but that is entirely up to how the nation responds to this challenge we're setting for ourselves, each and every one of us. And there will certainly be the supply and the distribution and the opportunity to do that. But whether that is achieved is up to all of us. 

JOURNALIST: The US Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention says vaccines are not likely to stop transmission of the Delta variant. Are you hearing the same kind of information from Australia’s own medical experts and considering this, what kind of restrictions do you think will be effective if vaccines aren’t the sort of silver bullet that we were hoping.

PRIME MINISTER: Vaccines do reduce transmission and they do reduce the likelihood of you contracting the virus. And that is true against the Delta variant, and that is our advice. And so by achieving these vaccination rates, we are vaccinating the nation that enables the nation to be able to move forward in a way that I’ve outlined for the types of the freedoms that they’re seeking. And so no, the advice we have does not concur with what you’ve put forward. The medical advice we have and backed up strongly by the work that Doherty has done, is vaccinations make the difference and they make the difference to protect Australians. Of course, they take some time to have effect once you’ve had the vaccinations, several weeks, and then you need your second dose. So they're not an overnight answer, but they are certainly the answer to help us meet these thresholds to take us in the direction. So if you get vaccinated, you are taking Australia a step closer to where we all want to be so I encourage Australians to take that step to be vaccinated immediately. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why is it that Howard Springs hasn't yet been fully utilised even though you said it would a couple of months ago. And secondly, with returning Australians you said that there'd be perhaps lifted for Australians that are returning, who have been vaccinated. What happens if they've been vaccinated with a vaccine that Australia hasn’t approved?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, when I talk about people who are vaccinated in Australia, they would have to be vaccinated with a vaccine that is recognised in Australia. 

JOURNALIST: What about someone from India for example or from America who's been vaccinated? Do they have to get a second vaccine when they come over to Australia? 

PRIME MINISTER: No no, our intention would be that we'd be able to recognise vaccines so obviously, vaccines like Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, the Novavax vaccine, which we expect at some point would be recognised here as well, when it goes through that process, it hasn't done that yet. The vaccines that are recognised in Australia and have been administered in the same way as they would have been here in Australia and I think for most nations, by the time we get to that stage, digital vaccination certificates for many nations will already be in place. Indeed for Australia, they will be in place, the digital vaccine certificates, we're making great progress on. It already exists for those who are getting vaccinated now but for it to be able to, in the next phase, and we're only days away from this. For it to be able to be dropped into an Apple Wallet, or dropped into a Google Wallet, and then to be actually caught up in the whole border control process where other countries are recognising. We will have that in place before these arrangements will be enacted as a result of reaching those thresholds. And I can tell you that up at Howard Springs, it is, it's utilisation is based on all the flights we're bringing through, and we have many of those. We've increased the number of flights and yes, its capacity certainly would be utilised. And that's why it’s there to support those commercially facilitated flights.

JOURNALIST: This weekend we’re going to start to see the army helping with that compliance effort, particularly in the west of Sydney. While in other parts of the city, residents say in the eastern suburbs enjoy bit more freedom in terms of being allowed to go to the beach. What's your message to those people who are being more locked down in areas who are watching this unfold, do you expect that it could cause some, some distress and distress. 

PRIME MINISTER: Operation COVID Assist is there to support the efforts of New South Wales right across the city and where they’re deployed, that is being done under the direction, I should stress, of the Police Commissioner, Mick Fuller, in New South Wales and they work in under their command. And they are supporting the effort of the authorised officers. I want to be very clear about this, ADF personnel, support authorised law enforcement officers in New South Wales, the sworn officers and those who are in New South Wales. ADF are there to support and assist, as they successfully did during the lockdown in Victoria over many months last year. And they did many tasks, from driving vehicles to supporting logistics to assisting communities by checking on the welfare of people, checking in on people's isolation. They do a vast array of tasks and New South Wales will get as much ADF assistance as they request. And I'm very pleased that that request has finally been made by the New South Wales Government. And they're moving very quickly to have those ADF officers and others involved as quickly as possible. 

JOURNALIST: You said, you know, there’s no timeframe but do you think that it’s realistic we can reach 70 per cent even with the struggles of other countries [inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: Well the last part I don’t even intend to respond to. It’s got nothing to do with vaccinating the country, but in terms of the other matter that you raised, then I believe we can get there, in my view, to 70 per cent. The UK has got here, Israel has got there, we've actually delivered and administered more vaccines than the state of Israel now, in volume terms. So I believe we can get this done. But it's not something that any one government, any one vaccination clinic, any one Australian can achieve on their own. It's done as a team effort. We are seeing our Olympians show that team spirit over there in Tokyo. And we will hit these targets with what I will believe, what I believe, will be a gold medal run to the end of the year.

JOURNALIST: Sorry one more on the modelling if that’s ok? You, you mentioned, obviously the Burnet Institute’s done this modelling, but you talked about how Treasury also had some input into it.

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, there were two separate, there were two exercises that came together.

JOURNALIST: The question I wanted to ask is, are those kind of exactly what Burnet sort of set out, or was that …

PRIME MINISTER: Doherty, you mean?

JOURNALIST: Sorry, oh sorry, Doherty, I apologise, sorry.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

JOURNALIST: After, is that exactly what Doherty outlined ...

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, yes.

JOURNALIST: I have a supplementary, PM. I wanted to ask also about the Treasury modelling because I know that was a big part of today's meeting as well, can you just discuss briefly what that outlook is and what some of the concerns from Treasury are about the state of the economy or the importance of getting to 70 per cent and what that means for the economy and related to that is there any update from Treasury on concerns about going into a recession. 

PRIME MINISTER: No. The consistent advice I have from the Treasury and from my discussions with the Reserve Bank, is Australia comes through the lockdowns, Sydney comes through the lockdowns, we get out of those arrangements this quarter then we expect the December quarter to recover strongly. That is the consistent economic advice and opinion that has been passed on to me and not only by the Treasury, but also by the Reserve Bank, and that is my expectation also. Because that's what we saw. I mean, there is no fundamental problem with the economy in New South Wales or anywhere else. As before, this latest outbreak hit, unemployment fallen to 4.9 per cent, the economy was larger than it was before the pandemic hit, more people employed than before the pandemic hit, indeed, a million people had got back into work. What we're seeing is that the COVID disaster assistance payment is proving to be highly effective. It is keeping people with their businesses, even though that their hours are reduced and the supports that will be rolling out through Services New South Wales, most of which have been shared 50/50 with the Commonwealth Government, will be ensuring those businesses can come through and remain whole and to recover strongly at the end of the lockdowns. In terms of the broader point, their advice today, when you're in the suppression phase, going hard and early, as it's often referred to, that ultimately results in less cost on the economy. And we're seeing that played out of course, in New South Wales compared to what has occurred in those other states. It's not a criticism. It's just a simple fact. And so the lessons there is that in this phase of the suppression phase, that it is the best economic outcome, not just the best health outcome. The health and the economic advice are aligned when it comes to the suppression phase of ensuring that we avoid going to lockdowns, if that's possible, i.e. by there not being outbreaks. And people generally during the course of the suppression phase with the Delta strain continue to exercise that caution and care and social distancing, because if an outbreak were to occur, if they were a mass gathering event like indeed we saw in Victoria at the G, then that has the potential to lead to an outbreak. So people need to exercise caution in this, but if there is an outbreak, then you can expect a short lockdown. We have adjusted, as I've already announced, our fiscal and economic support. So our disaster, individual payments and the business supports to reflect that approach. So that eligibility as it already occurs now, starts from day one and it is paid after one week and two weeks in arrears, whether it's an individual payment, or it's a business payment. So that's important to know. Once we get into Phase B into the B phase, then the calculus does change and lockdowns do cost a lot. And when you get to a phase where you have that higher level of protection, then there is more discretion exercised when it comes to something like that is necessary. That's why that phase is referred to as less likely, but possible. As opposed to in the first phase we're in now is you've got to go there and you've got to go straight away because otherwise the cost will end up being greater.

So I think that pretty much summarises their advice, David, but I've got to stress they are aligned together. And this process started back in February. In February I set up the task force under the leadership of Phil Gaetjens, and I want to thank Phil and all the Directors-General from around the country. And they began that work. And this is the second round of modelling that we've had from Doherty as part of that process, and we sent them back in late June to do this work now because of the impact of the Delta strain and for us to understand it. So what we've all agreed, premiers, chief ministers, and I is on the road back, the targets that will get us there. And we've agreed that the way we get there, is Australians one by one, family by family, community by community, going out there, getting vaccinated, getting the job done. Thank you very much.