Transcript - Press Conference - Australian Parliament House, ACT

02 Jul 2021
Australian Parliament House, ACT
Prime Minister
National Cabinet; COVID-19

PRIME MINISTER: Many Australians today will be listening on in their home cities or where they live, while they are subject to COVID restrictions, and that is particularly the case in my home town of Sydney, which I will be returning to later today after having been at the G7 and then, of course, going through the quarantine period here in Canberra. This is a difficult time when people are dealing with the restrictions, but that has been our experience over these past 18 months as our country has battled COVID-19, like every country has. Every country has had their share of success and also of failures over this period of time. COVID-19, managing your way through COVID-19, is unchartered waters, and anyone who thinks there is always a pathway that is without risk, that is without vulnerabilities, clearly doesn't understand the significant challenge that all nations face in dealing with COVID-19. But, those who understand this best are Australians who deal, who deal with this every single day.

And, today was an important meeting of the National Cabinet. It was our 45th meeting of the National Cabinet. At no time in our Federation have state premiers and chief ministers for our territories and the Prime Minister met together with such frequency to deal with a national challenge, a challenge that has gone on now for a long time, and there is still quite a journey ahead of us. And, we will continue to meet and we will continue to work together as best as we possibly can to ensure that Australia's COVID-19 response is world-class. Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to that task in the National Cabinet, but we didn't do that just in words, we've done it in deeds. The good news I have for Australians who are subject to restrictions today is we have agreed a new deal for Australians on the pathway out of COVID-19. A pathway from a pre-vaccination period, which is focused on the suppression of the virus, on community transmission cases, to one that sees us manage COVID-19 as an infectious disease like any other in our community. Now, there is still some pathway from here to there, but the pathway we have agreed today I think, gives all Australians encouragement and I think much needed hope, in what has been a very difficult time. We have affirmed today a plan that has four phases, that will be finalised in coming weeks, based on the expert medical evidence and modelling work that is being done by the Doherty Institute and channelled through the taskforce that was established some months ago to do this work, that first initiated that work in relation to the Alpha strain of COVID-19, and that was reported to National Cabinet several weeks ago, and now is finalising its work on the Delta strain.

The plan has four components. The first of those we are currently in now, and it is based on the agreed principles that were set out before National Cabinet, that I took to them today. So, we have agreed to formulate a national plan to transition Australia's national COVID response from its current pre-vaccination settings, focusing on suppression of community transmission, to post-vaccination settings, focused on prevention of serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality, and the public health management of other infectious diseases. We agreed in principle that that plan consists of the following phases, each triggered by the achievement of a vaccination threshold expressed as a percentage of the eligible population, that is 16 plus, based on the scientific modelling conducted for the COVID-19 risk analysis and response taskforce that I've referred to. The first phase is the one we're in, vaccinate, prepare and pilot, where we continue to suppress the virus. That involves the implementation of the national vaccination plan to offer every Australian an opportunity to be vaccinated with the necessary doses of the relevant vaccine as soon as possible, and Lieutenant General Frewin will update you on that. But, today we'll be seeing another record day of vaccinations. Today we will hit eight million, eight million doses administered, and that means a million doses in just eight days. In the month of June, we hit almost 3.5 million doses. Purely achieving that rate of vaccination between now and the end of the year, with the additional supplies that we are expecting over the course of this year, we believe will put us in that position by the end of this year.

To temporarily reduce commercial inbound passenger arrivals to all major ports by 50 per cent from current caps to reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities, due to the increased risks of the Delta strain of the virus. Now, while the reduction of those caps will certainly right across the system, obviously take some pressure off, as we have observed over the course of these past 18 months, that alone does not provide any fail safe regarding any potential breaches. We've seen breaches occur, predominantly as a result of infection control procedures and human error and so on, those issues need to continue to be strengthened, so simply reducing the caps doesn't necessarily provide a fail safe. But, because of the particular virulency of the Delta strain, it is believed that that is a prudent action while we remain in this suppression phase of the virus.

Lockdowns in the current phase to be only used as a last resort, was agreed today. The Commonwealth will facilitate increased commercial flights, those are those facilitated commercial flights that we have been running, to increase international repatriations during this period of reduced caps, commercial caps at the major airports, and they will be channelled into Darwin for quarantine at the National Resilience Facility at Howard Springs. So, where we will lose some capacity for inbound flights of those coming back through commercial flights, the Commonwealth will directly seek to mitigate that by upping, wherever possible, those commercially facilitated flights that the Commonwealth is pursuing. Now, I would note in recent days and weeks that we have seen demand for those facilitated flights run by the Commonwealth having actually dipped, and so those flights we've been bringing in have not been full because there hasn't been the demand to take those up. Now, I suspect that will change now with the commercial flight restrictions, then we will see that supply being fully taken up and we will be enhancing that, increasing that for major ports to ensure that we can keep the pace of bringing Australians home.

We will also extend the international freight subsidy scheme to ensure maintenance of essential freight supply lines by air, impacted by the reduction of commercial caps at international airports. As I stress today, reducing the caps of commercial flights will come at a cost to the Commonwealth Government. So, this is not a costless exercise. Medicines, vaccines come in by plane. Essential freight comes in by plane. So, the Commonwealth's decision to support this reduction in those commercial caps comes at a fiscal cost to Commonwealth taxpayers, but we agree that it is an important part of managing this most virulent strain during the course of this suppression phase.

Over the course of the current phase we are in, that we will trial and pilot with individual jurisdictions the introduction of alternative quarantine options, including home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers. The work that we have already done, and Professor Kelly may want to add to this, shows that a vaccinated person doing quarantine for seven days is stronger than an unvaccinated person doing quarantine for 14 days. So, there's clear medical evidence to suggest that vaccination means that shorter periods of quarantine is possible without any compromise of the health and safety standards that is currently delivered by a 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated persons. So, getting vaccinated actually, clearly helps, and the medical evidence backs that up, particularly for quarantine. South Australia has indicated that they will be seeking to work with the Commonwealth, having the necessary digital applications, to support that. It would be a very small scale trial, but we want to make sure that before it goes to any scaled up use that we have worked through that, and this will be a very transparent exercise with other states and territories. We will continue to expand the commercial trials for limited entry of student economic visa holders, a number of states are doing that, and, so, we will recognise and adopt the Commonwealth's existing digital Medicare vaccination certificate that is automatically generated for every vaccination and registered on the air. So, that is something that is already there now. By the end of this month, as I've said to you before, it will be at another level which would see it being able to be incorporated in things like Apple Wallets and the like.

That we will put in place a digital vaccination authentication at border, that we will prepare now, as we already are, the vaccine booster programme, and there will be a further review of the national hotel quarantine network to ensure that the standards, infection control procedures and the like are being adhered to. That's phase one. That's the phase we're in, that's the suppression phase. That's vaccinate, prepare and pilot.

The post vaccination phase will be entered once we reach a threshold of vaccination, to be determined by the modelling process we're currently engaged in. This will be a scientific number. It won't be a political number, it won't be an arbitrary number, it will be a number that we can have confidence means that when you reach that level of vaccination in the population, which may include specific targets on vaccination of vulnerable populations such as those over 70, and we're about at 70 per cent now, I think, JJ, on vaccination of first dose for those over 70. That's the gate that we have to get through. Once we get through that gate, and that will be determined by the scientific evidence, then we will move into a phase where we seek to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of COVID-19. That's the objective. And our measures, I stress, may include these are still to be determined, but we agreed today that we could say that measures may include the following, once we reach that, to ease restrictions on vaccinated residents, such as lockdowns and border controls. That lockdowns would only occur in extreme circumstances to prevent escalating hospitalisation and fatality. To restore inbound passenger caps at that time to previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers, and then even larger caps for those who are vaccinated. So, we would see higher levels of arrivals, the caps would apply at what they have been up until now for the unvaccinated, and then there would be a higher cap again above that for vaccinated returned travellers. That we would be allowing a capped entry of student and economic visa holders, subject to quarantine arrangements and availability. That we will then introduce those new quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents, based on the trials undertaken in the current stage, and then we would either be implementing the vaccine booster program at that time, or preparing it, depending on the timeframe of hitting that first mark on vaccination.

The third phase is called the consolidation phase, and that is to manage COVID-19 consistent with public health management of other infectious diseases. Now, what does that mean? It's likely we may be in that position in phase two, but in phase three that basically means that the hospitalisation and fatality rates that you'd see from COVID-19 would be like the flu, or, arguably, better. And, we're already seeing evidence of that in other jurisdictions that have higher levels of vaccination. So, when it is like the flu, we should treat it like the flu, and that means no lockdowns. These, this is the measures may include, to be finalised, no lockdowns, the vaccine booster program underway, exempting vaccinated residents from all domestic restrictions, abolishing caps on returning vaccinated travellers, allowing further increased capped entry of student economic and humanitarian visa holders, very high caps we're talking about at that point. Lifting all restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated persons, and extending the travel bubble for unrestricted travel to new candidate countries, such as Singapore, the Pacific and there potentially may be other candidates by the time we reach that stage. Moving into the consolidation phase will be based on a further benchmark determined by that modelling process.

And then the final phase, which is the penultimate phase to moving to completely back to normal, where you would have measures may include allow uncapped inbound arrivals for all vaccinated persons without quarantine, and allowing uncapped arrivals of non-vaccinated travel subject to pre-flight and on arrival testing. So, you may still have at that point unvaccinated people coming to Australia at that final phase. If they're picked up on testing there'd be pre and post-flight testing then they'd of course, go into quarantine, which would be common sense.

Now, we've agreed that the COVID-19 risk analysis and response taskforce, which is led by Secretary Gaetjens, they will be tasked to make recommendations on finalising that plan. I think you can see from the level of detail I've set out to you today it's already got some pretty good guidance as to how that will be filled in. And, they'll be tasked to do that and bring that forward to National Cabinet. I don't anticipate that will be done for next week, but we would hope to be able to do that over the course of this month. What's key to that is the modelling work. We have to get that right. It's a critical number, and we need to be absolutely sure about that in framing where we go to from here. And that will include of course them recommending those vaccination targets for each phase of the plan based on that modelling.

So what it means is, Australia gets vaccinated, Australia is able to live differently. Winning in the post-vaccination phase looks very different to winning in the phase we're in now. Winning now means we suppress the virus as best as we can, which means that from time to time, such as we're experiencing in New South Wales, we have to go through these experiences. That's regrettable and I have every confidence, having heard further from the New South Wales Premier today, that they're continuing to get on top of that, and you would have heard that from their report earlier today. But we will continue to fight on in this period, but we need and we'll continue to do everything we possibly can to vaccinate the population as fast as possible. And I think the performance in the most recent June month indicates how much we've been able to ramp up, a million doses in eight days. 3.5 million doses or thereabouts in one month. We keep that pace up and we'll get this done Australia. And, we get this done Australia and you can see what's on the other side. We've made it very clear today what's on the other side. You get vaccinated and we get there and this all changes.

In other items, which I will report very briefly on, I briefed National Cabinet today that the Commonwealth has agreed this week, took that through the Expenditure Review Committee this week, extending out for a further 12 months the National Partnership Agreement on the COVID Response, which is the cost-sharing of expenses relating to health costs in the states and territories on managing the COVID-19 pandemic. I note that those costs to date the Commonwealth has provided to the states and territories $5.765 billion. So, let there be no suggestion that the Commonwealth is not sharing the load here. We're more than sharing the load particularly when you add in what we're doing on the economic side of the equation. So, we will continue that out for a further 12 months. We anticipate that will cost some $752 million over the course of this next 12 months, from the Commonwealth's perspective.

We also had the opportunity to meet with the Commissioner of the Border Force. We were able to work through what the international arrivals and departures figures were noting in particularly in the month of June 83.9 per cent of international arrivals to Australia were returning Australians. 83.9 per cent. And we were able to go through a lot more of the detail of the way that Border Force administers the exemptions both on inbound and outbound and set up a process with the first secretaries for states and territories to be more continually informed of the facts on those issues to enable them to have that confidence.

We also noted that we continue to make progress on getting Australians home but for every one we get home you often get others who join that list. But we have seen that number come down to 34,000 and we're going to work very hard over the next few months where we will have fewer commercial flights coming but we will have increased facilitated flights from the Commonwealth to get Australians home.

So, a new deal for Australians today, a new deal for Australians today, to get us to the other side. I'll hand over to Professor Kelly.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, COMMONWEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thank you, PM. So, just briefly on the epidemiology and I think the PM has pointed out that some key changes into the future about how we do actually talk about what's happening in, in with this particular virus in Australia and concentrate increasingly on severe illness rather than numbers of cases. And, I think you'll notice that as we go forward in this, in these different phases. So, so far this year we've had just over 2,000 confirmed cases. There was one death in that person that had come from overseas. Throughout that whole period, other than in Queensland, where they have a policy of putting everyone who's positive in hospital, there have been very few hospitalisations through that group, and very, very few people in ICU. Today, over this week we've had as you know three genomically separate outbreaks around Australia across six jurisdictions. We've had an average of 34 cases per day. So, there are active cases in all but two of our jurisdictions in Australia. But, throughout that and as of today there are only three people in intensive care out of all of that, those hundreds of cases now that are active in Australia. So, that's a really crucial point. It does point to, and will increasingly point to how vaccination will see us get out of this current situation as the PM has suggested.

So, we're meeting each day of course, AHPPC to discuss those cases to discuss the issues that are happening with those outbreaks. And other than New South Wales they are all very much under 
control at the moment. And, even in New South Wales with the lockdown that they have that number of cases has remained steady. We will no doubt see more cases over the coming days and week but crucially that important part of people being out in the community is starting to decrease people out in the community during their infectious period.

The Delta strain is difficult. It's difficult to control. It's the latest of a range of strains that we've heard about those so-called variants of concern. There will be more. There will be different ones in the coming months and years, there is no doubt about that. We need to learn how to live with those strains, learn about them, and modify our approaches as required. I think crucially we know from this particular variant of concern it is definitely more transmissible. It can move from person to person more easily than previous strains. It is not more severe. There is no strong evidence at this point internationally and including in Australia as I've noted from those cases of hospitalisations and ICU than previous strains. There is some effect on vaccine efficacy but vaccines still do work and they are definitely still what we have to chart our course into the next period. So, my colleague, colleague Lieutenant General Frewen will talk more about the vaccine rollout. But, please can I just add my plea. If you are eligible for a vaccine go and get it. If you are due for your second dose regardless of what that vaccine is go and get that second dose of that vaccine, match, don't mix. And, for those of you that are hesitant go and talk to your GPs about the vaccine and line up and get that vaccine.

The other thing I would say at this time it's really important, and particularly in New South Wales but everywhere around the country, I've heard anecdotal reports of people soldiering on as we often get in winter with symptoms of respiratory illness. This is not the time to soldier on. If you have a respiratory illness, even of the most mild way stop, stay at home, get tested, and then make sure that you don't have COVID. That's the same in every jurisdiction right now, including here in the ACT. If you're asked to get tested by the public health authorities, wherever you are living, please do not hesitate to do that. Go out and get that test, that is the way we're going to chase down this virus.

And, finally as the PM mentioned the modelling. I'll just tell you a little bit about that. So, that's progressing very well. As the PM mentioned, that's been mostly related to the previous strain we were dealing with up until a short time ago the Alpha strain. That will need to be modified now with the new information we're getting from the Delta. But there are, there is hope there. As the PM has said in terms of quarantine the elements of where you've come from and the risk you're bringing into the country, vaccination, testing during the time of quarantine, compliance of course with that quarantine arrangements, shows that seven days of home quarantine can be very similar to the outcome of 14 days of hotel quarantine. That needs to be worked through in terms of implementation of that and that compliance piece is the most important. If people are staying at home it's actually, can be safer for them and for the community because of the decreased interaction with staff. So, that's the modelling we have. We'll be, we've been tasked by National Cabinet to continue to modify that modelling over the coming weeks and months, and to really hone in on what is the messages and when those particular times of when we can go to the next phase, which will be based as always on the evidence can be done. So, I'll hand to Lieutenant General.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JJ FREWEN, COORDINATOR GENERAL OF OPERATION COVID SHIELD: Thanks, Professor, PM. Good afternoon everybody. The Prime Minister has mentioned that today we have ticked over the milestone of eight million doses in just eight days. You might recall that the last million took nine days, the last million took 10 days prior to that. Through July, we anticipate increasing supplies of vaccines. We will also be opening additional distribution nodes for the vaccines up to 1,300 additional GPs will come online through July and we are optimistic but soon we will be delivering up to a million doses a week. Just yesterday was a record daily day of more than 161,000 doses. In relation to the broader population 6.2 million Australians now, 30 per cent of the population have had their first dose. 1.7 million Australians are now fully vaccinated. In terms of our most vulnerable, by the end of today every aged care facility in the country will have had their first and second dose vaccination visit. And the Prime Minister has mentioned we are now at more than 70 per cent of our over 70s on first dose and over the weeks ahead many of them will be getting their second dose of AstraZeneca so the fully vaccinated rates in that most vulnerable cohort will also rise.

In relation to my review of the national COVID vaccine rollout, I have now completed my initial review and I am engaging with the states and territories to understand their plans for their jurisdictions and on Tuesday next week we will be joining together to conduct what I call a war game, many of you may know as a scenario planning exercise and through Tuesday we will fully integrate the national plan with all of the state jurisdictions plans and we will understand the specific requirements of the states plans. Many of the jurisdictions have very different requirements, many have remote areas, many have particular challenges that we will work with them to understand how we can best serve each of those jurisdictions in their own requirements. But, by next week we will be fully aligned and I'm very confident we will be very well postured to meet our aim of having all those Australians who want access to vaccines this year will be able to do so. Thank you PM.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Just hang on a sec. Just to add to something I said before in terms of those caps we will be reducing those caps by the 14 July. In some states that may occur a bit earlier than that. But as you'd imagine we want to try and minimise the disruption for people with already planned flights and things like that over the next couple of weeks. But our target is to have that done by the 14 July.

JOURNALIST: On those caps, do you concede that the increase in that you're talking about, the facilitated flights that the Federal Government is arranging, the increase in capacity from those will be a drop in the ocean compared to the reduction in the caps? And, secondly, do you regret the looseness of your language on Monday night about AstraZeneca access for under 40s?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, on the first point no I don't think it will be a drop in the ocean. As I indicated before we have had a dip in demand on the facilitated commercial flights. So, there is already additional capacity on the flights we have planned. And we also have additional capacity, spare capacity at Howard Springs which has a capacity of 2,000. And, so, that gives us I think, quite an opportunity to ramp that up in the weeks ahead. So, it obviously can't fully ameliorate the impact of the reduction of 50 per cent particularly out of Sydney. And, I just want to thank the New South Wales Government. The New South Wales Government has carried half the load and more of returning Australians. They have done a phenomenal job in doing that. And I know it's with some regret today the New South Wales Premier has agreed that across the country, as a national agreement, we have decided to do this. But that's just an indication of their participation in what the National Cabinet process is all about. So, I want to thank all of those who've been working in New South Wales. They have done an extraordinary job. Even in the midst of this lockdown they're still taking 3,000 people a week. And I think that's been an extraordinary effort.

In relation to your second question I completely reject the assertion. All I said on Monday was reflected equally in what the Co-Chair of ATAGI has said, and that is ATAGI advice remains that there is a preferential recommendation for Pfizer for those under the age of 60. This does not preclude those under 60 from accessing AstraZeneca vaccine, but the preference is they access a Pfizer vaccine. I simply said that Australians should have the choice to go and talk to their doctor and make a decision with informed consent about their own health. So I certainly don't have any issue with what I said about that and it was completely consistent with the medical advice. I note that some 120,000 Australians under the age of 40 have had the AstraZeneca vaccine. The TGA has approved the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for those aged 18 and above. Everything I have said on this is completely consistent with the medical advice that is there. People should talk to their doctor, that's what I'm urging them to do. And on Monday what I announced was that the Federal Government, the Federal Government, I never indicated that it was a National Cabinet decision, I said it was a decision that was noted because it was a decision taken by the Commonwealth Government and that was to extend the MBS item to enable doctors to talk to their patients. That's what we did and we provided the public indemnity to support them to do that, as well. So I hope that clears up the record. David.

JOURNALIST: On today's statement, can you just clarify for us, is this an agreement where all premiers and chief ministers have signed up to what you outlined here at the press conference? Or, is it more a discussion about an agreement to be finalised at a later date? And the other point that you've been making is a lot of the focus will be on severe illness and hospitalisation. Do you think it's now time for Australia to move beyond a mindset where we obsess about case numbers every day because it's going to be hospitalisation or serious illness that's actually the important benchmark?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the answer to that question the latter part of your question, is set out in today's agreement. Because what we've said in today's agreement is that we have four phases. The second phase says that we focus on seeking to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of COVID-19. Now, when you have reached that threshold level of vaccination, that is exactly what you can do. Until you've reached that level then, obviously, you need to seek to suppress the virus as best you can with community transmission because you have vulnerable elements of your population. So the right time to make that switch, which we have agreed today, is when you move to that next phase, and that only intensifies over time. And, particularly, it may well be achievable in that second phase. But, certainly, I would think in the third phase you have reduced the risk of COVID-19 to serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality, to a level that is at or lesser than you would find with most other infectious diseases. So that is the right time to make that adjustment. What we've agreed today is that by achieving vaccination we move from that arrangement we have now, where it's all about community case transmission and we move to a new period because you have the protection in place of a threshold vaccinated population. And that's what we have to achieve.

JOURNALIST: Do you have a rough time frame, a goal of when you'd like to get to stage 4?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh stage 4 is, will be a function, as is stage 3 and stage 2, of those vaccination targets that have to be set by the modelling. And I want to make this point really clearly. To have this as an evidence-led process what matters is the hurdle you have to clear and once we set that, what that hurdle is, then based on the work that we're doing with Lieutenant General Frewen, we'll be in a better position I think to have a view about when we might be able to achieve that. Now, Lieutenant General Frewen and I have said to you today that we believe that we'll be in a position by the end of the year to have provided every Australian who wants a vaccine to be able to have received one. We believe we can achieve that. And I think the numbers in June and these record days that we're seeing and I think particularly what we've agreed today, see a lot of people say, well, why should I get vaccinated? They go, there's not much COVID around in Australia. I've got more chance of I don't know, getting run over by a car than I have of catching COVID in this country. And to a sense, we're prisoners of our own success in this. If you get vaccinated you get to change how we live as a country. You get to change how you live in Australia. And I think this is a very powerful message. In my recent meetings overseas I listened carefully to the experience of a number of countries whose vaccination rates were travelling like Australia's and more recently had a sharp increase. And in particular President Moon from South Korea. And what I talked through with him when we were there together at Carbis Bay was they had introduced as I flagged frankly, some weeks ago, some months ago, the idea that if you're vaccinated in Australia then you present less of a risk than others who are unvaccinated. And, therefore imposing restrictions on those Australians, particularly when you've got a vaccinated population well, it doesn't make any health sense. And so what has occurred in countries like South Korea is by entering into that deal effectively with their population, which is you get vaccinated, then you'll be less subject to those health restrictions because you have taken an action that both protects yourself and your health and the health of the community. Now, South Korea saw their rates rise considerably. And I have been a keen advocate for this despite some resistance and criticism now for some time. And so I'm very pleased today that what we've agreed, to go to your point David, what we've agreed is that game changing setting, that game changing setting is that we achieve these rates of vaccination, then how we deal with this virus changes.

JOURNALIST: Just following on that, I appreciate you don't have the threshold yet, but considering you say every Australian will be offered a vaccine by the end of this year, do you imagine that we are moving to phase two this year and also, you did say the very exciting words completely back to normal.  Realistically, what was the soonest that would be, next year, the year after?

PRIME MINISTER: Well once we've got to a position of the post-vaccination phase, I think we will have made a quantum leap in where we are now. Because, it's not the number of cases that matters then. I mean, as you've seen in Singapore well, I don't think we'll go to the point that necessarily they have in terms of what we report, I mean, keen to be a transparent as possible, but I would urge the media in those circumstances that the focus that policymakers have, people making decisions about the health of the country, what we'll be focusing on is hospitalisation rates, serious illness rates and fatality rates. Now, this is the focus of other jurisdictions. When I was with Prime Minister Johnson, and I'd urge that Australia and the UK's situations are completely different. I mean, the UK has the virus everywhere. So, the idea of them being able to be in a suppression phase is impossible for them. Much of the world has had to give up on what we've been able to achieve in Australia. And, so we don't just sort of casually let that go. We will continue to ensure that we maintain that for as long as we possibly can, and then vaccinate the population and get to the phase that other countries are in. But, I note in the UK they're only slightly above 60 per cent on their double dose vaccinations now. So, getting to those higher levels is proving challenging. The United States still has a five in front of it when it comes to their vaccination rates. So, those countries, and particularly the extension of the restrictions that Prime Minister Johnson announced on the very day I was with him to announce the free trade agreement, our in-principle agreement, that was driven by them noting an increase in hospitalisations and serious illness. It wasn't driven by the case numbers. As you know, the case numbers in the UK are in the tens of thousands. The issue going forward when you're dealing with a vaccinated population is hospitalisations and serious illness.

JOURNALIST: But going to timeframes, timeframes.

PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, well, on the latter timeframe, well, as I said we believe we'll be in a position by the end of this year to have offered everyone a vaccine that seeks to have one. So, if Australians, if Australians respond to that then I believe that we'll be in a position to meet a particular target. At this stage it's hard to give you a definitive answer because we haven't set what that target is. And so we will seek to do that I would hope over the course of the next month and I think that will give us a better indication. But I would hope that we were living in that second phase next year. And you know if we get a really good response over the course of this next year well, let's see how we go, Australia.

JOURNALIST: Going to that point, Prime Minister that we'll be in phase two by next year does that mean.


JOURNALIST: Possibly by next year. Does that mean the cap on international arrivals will be at 50 per cent until at least the start of next year?

PRIME MINISTER: That's what this agreement says today. And now, if medical advice changes between now and then, if medical advice suggests that we can alter that well of course the National Cabinet has always been receptive to that advice and we'll continue to monitor that. We wouldn't want to keep those caps in place any longer than we had to. But I would note as the New South Wales Premier did today, that you know, scaling this down to that level and then scaling it up again, that would have some logistical challenges. But, we'll continue to listen to the advice, but that's why we will continue to ramp up what we're doing. I should note that, you already know that we've come to our agreement with the Victorian Government to develop those facilities in Melbourne. I spoke to the Premier last night and we are both very keen to see the timeframe for that being achieved brought forward as much as possible. We've come to an agreement with both Queensland and Western Australia to be developing the joint feasibilities on the sites we've suggested to them in Brisbane and in Perth. So we look forward to that progressing as quickly as possible.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when do you anticipate that Australians will be under this four phase arrangement, will be able to travel overseas without needing an exemption? And what do you say to those who will be ultimately left overseas because of this reduction in caps until next year, given the Commonwealth can't make up those numbers that have been split in half?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we are going to do our best to make up those numbers and we're going to be doing everything we can as we have been now and over the course you know, of this pandemic, we have been able to bring some 498,000 Australians home, over the course of the last 18 months. And we've brought home 21,000 specifically on 144 government flights. And by expanding the facility at Howard Springs, which came into effect last month, in May in fact, that gives us the capacity to further support those commercially facilitated flights. Now, on the other matters that you've raised, well they're set out on the plan and that's subject to each of those thresholds and when those thresholds are achieved, then that's when that will occur.

JOURNALIST: On the vaccine rollout, last year in November Greg Hunt said our strategy puts Australia at the front of the queue, that same day you said Australia was at the front of the pack when it comes to vaccines. Do you accept that the Government provided Australians with false hope when it comes to vaccines? You've spoken about giving Australians hope today. Can you understand why some Australians might not be holding their breath?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes, I can. And so we will demonstrate our commitment by what we achieve in the months ahead, and what we have already achieved. This has been a very challenging process and there have been many unknowns in dealing with COVID. And our Government has never been short of ambition when it comes to what we've tried to achieve in responding to COVID-19. And given that Australia can speak of having saved 30,000 lives, and Australia can speak of having put a million people back to work over the course of the pandemic and we had bold ambitions for that and we achieved them but I would, I would readily endorse the view that we have had challenges with the vaccination program over these first six months. Well not even the first six months, because I think as we've demonstrated in June, we're really starting to hit our straps. Of course, we were hit by the impacts of ATAGI advice. And, as you know the ATAGI advice is provided independently of Government. The Government doesn't direct ATAGI whether it's 50, 60, and when they might change those views. And I know that has caused some concern in the community about how that advice has changed. Well, that is a matter for ATAGI. And that is of course impacted on the vaccination rollout. Equally, early on as you all know the inability of our suppliers to provide those early doses of AstraZeneca impeded those early weeks of the vaccination program. Happily concede those points as well. But you know, when you have setbacks you don't dwell on them. You understand what happened. You learn from them. You fix the program and you get on with it. So here we are today, getting on with it, 3.5 million doses in June, a million doses in eight days, that number keeps coming down. Eight million doses having been delivered now. You'll start to see the second doses now escalate in the months ahead as the first dose translates into second dose, as we see the supply of Pfizer vaccines increase from last month an average of around 300,000 a week to double that and potentially even more in the months ahead and we see the points of presence for the delivery of that vaccine increase as well. So what matters at the end of the day, is you get the job done. And where we've had setbacks we're overcoming them and we're getting on with it.

JOURNALIST: PM, on you mentioned in this phase that lockdowns will be used as a last resort. Does that also apply to state border closures?


JOURNALIST: What are the parameters around that? Does that mean, like, would a Premier be able to shutdown a state, lockdown a state on the basis of a handful of cases? And secondly, with your reshuffle, what message does it send that the resources portfolio the biggest, the nation's biggest export earner is no longer represented directly in Cabinet by its own stand alone Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me deal with the first question because we're largely dealing with COVID matters today. Just remind me again?

JOURNALIST: On lockdowns.

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, no, sorry. That's set out very clearly here in the document. And this is a national agreement. And it is a national agreement to go from where we have been up until now to a new place, and in the new place where you're fully, we're you're vaccinated to those thresholds then as it says in stage 2, that is the one we would hope to achieve next that lockdown should only occur in extreme circumstances. This is what it may include, this has to be finalised, to prevent escalating hospitalisation and fatality. And, that restrictions would be eased on vaccinated residents in those circumstances. So, yes, that does, of course, you know, that would involve things like internal borders and things of that nature. So, we'll work through that. But, the idea of having a border restriction and you know my views on those, and the idea of having lockdowns is based on the premise that community transmission would lead to serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality. So if you've got the vaccination in place what's the point. What's the point. And that's the mind-set change that we've agreed today. Our mind-set on managing COVID-19 has to change once you move from pre-vaccination to post-vaccination. That's the deal for Australians.

Look on resources, under our Coalition, I always respect the recommendations made of the Leader of The Nationals, and I think we've had a very seamless transition over the course of this past fortnight and later this afternoon I'll be swearing in the new members to the Ministry and the Cabinet, as recommended by the Leader of The Nationals, Barnaby Joyce. So it is for him to make those recommendations but I can assure you, I can assure you, that people in the resources industry are in no doubt about the difference between the Government and the Opposition when it comes to the resources industry in this country. We have legislation in the Parliament to cut red tape to get new projects approved. We're voting for it, Labor's voting against it. We have legislation in the Parliament, have had legislation in the Parliament on greenfield sites that support those new projects. We voted for it, they were voting against it. So, when it comes to supporting the mining industry, I don't think there could be any doubt about the commitment of my Government and my Prime Ministership to the resources sector. I think they're clear as when it comes to which side of politics is there to support the mining industry. And the other point I'd make is this. It's as I said, it's up to the Leader of The Nationals to recommend who should be in Cabinet and who should not be. But Keith Pitt, I think, has been an extraordinary Minister for Resources and I'm really pleased, really pleased that the Leader of The Nationals has agreed to continue to have Keith serving in that position. I think he has the full confidence and trust of the resources sector. So, wherever he may sit I know he is the best possible advocate in my Government to pursue that job.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the Victorian.

PRIME MINISTER: I have to do a swearing in this afternoon.

JOURNALIST: The Victorian and New South Wales Premiers have said that vaccination rates of 70 to 80 per cent are needed to lift lockdown restrictions. Does that figure sound about right to you and whose failure is behind the dramatic reduction in international arrival caps? Is it a failure of.

PRIME MINISTER: I couldn't quite hear, it was a bit muffled.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, can you hear me?

PRIME MINISTER: The second bit.

JOURNALIST: And whose failure is behind the dramatic reduction in international arrival caps, is it a problem with hotel quarantine?

PRIME MINISTER: No. No. It's about the Delta variant. It's simple. The Delta strain is more contagious, and so we're just seeking to take precautionary steps to overall reduce the risk. I mean infection rates in quarantine are one per cent. So 99 per cent of cases of people coming in don't present with COVID or have infections. And we've had around 26 breaches some of which don't include hotel quarantine, a bit more than that, of which about half a dozen have resulted in community outbreaks. And that's out of 380,000 passengers coming through. So no it doesn't have anything to do with that, it just is a practical decision about precaution, having a precaution to reduce the overall load. I mean, one per cent of a smaller number is smaller than one per cent of a higher number. It's just maths. So that's and on the first point, sorry?

JOURNALIST: On the vaccine threshold, so.

PRIME MINISTER: Look, I'm going to let that be determined and this was an important part of our agreement today. The thresholds that need to be set are not going to be set by political deals and decisions or what people think or what people might opine on. And there will be plenty of people who will have an opinion on it. I suspect there's quite a few here. I'm sure there's plenty inside who've got an opinion and if you go down to the pub this afternoon there'll be a few opinions on that, if you can.

JOURNALIST: What's Professor Kelly's opinion?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is the point. Professor Kelly is doing the work with the Doherty Institute to answer that question. And so that's what we're doing. And so, when we get the answer to that question from the work done by one of the world's leading agencies like the Doherty Institute then that's what it will be based on. It won't be based on people's opinions or their politics. It will be based on that scientific evidence that will say to me as Prime Minister, will say to the Chief Medical Officer, Lieutenant General Frewen, the premiers and the health ministers, federal and state, that when you hit that mark, we have a high level of confidence that you can move into this next phase. You don't lightly move into this next phase let me be clear. You don't lightly start changing these settings and move from seeking to suppress community cases to moving into the phase where you are focused on hospitalisations, and particularly in a country like Australia which has been so successful. You don't do that lightly. You do it on the basis of the best possible work and advice we can get. We'll get that in the next few weeks. We'll be able to put those threshold marks against each of those phases of the plan. But the good news is there's a new deal for Australians and we look forward to working with Australians over the course of the next six months to realise the benefits of that deal for those Australians and their everyday lives. But to everybody in Sydney at the moment and other parts of the country that are affected by these restrictions, I'll be going back into those in Sydney to see my family. I haven't seen them for about a month and joining them there. But to all of us, we will get through this. What the National Cabinet has demonstrated today, from time to time, we'll have a disagreement. It's always talked up before any meetings, but you know what, we get in the room and we get it done. Thanks very much, everyone.