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 for the health and economic consequences of COVID-19.

There have been 30,150 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 910 people have died. More than 18.7 million tests have been undertaken in Australia.

Globally there have been over 172 million cases and sadly over 3.69 million deaths, with 483,968 new cases and 10,553 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 rollout continues to expand. To date 4,786,362 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia, including 143,659 in the previous 24 hours. In the previous 7 days, more than 750,000 vaccines have been administered in Australia. To date 19.9 per cent of the Australian adult population have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including over 56 per cent of over 70 year olds.

National Cabinet agreed on the imperative to work together to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to Australians as quickly as possible.

Professor Brendan Murphy, Chair of the Science and Industry Technical Advisory Group and Secretary of the Health Department provided a detailed briefing on the vaccination program, and acknowledged the significant increase in COVID-19 vaccination take up following National Cabinet’s recalibration of the vaccine rollout in April 2021. The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly provided an update on COVID-19 epidemiology, particularly in relation to the current outbreak in Victoria.

National Cabinet received an update on the COVID-19 Risk Analysis and Response Taskforce from the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr Phil Gaetjens. The taskforce will continue to advise on gradual, risk-based increases to international travel, including exploring additional travel bubbles and increasing arrivals of skilled migrants and international students, while continuing to prioritise the return of Australians from overseas.

National Cabinet will meet again on Friday 9 July 2021 in Darwin, with all members attending in person.

Vaccination Rollout

National Cabinet agreed to refine the national vaccination rollout plan to maximise opportunities for Australians to be vaccinated over the second half of the year, as the supply of vaccines increases.

National Cabinet thanked Health Associate Secretary Caroline Edwards for her role in leading the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 health response and vaccination rollout. Ms Edwards has announced her retirement from the public service after a distinguished career over several decades.

As the vaccination program moves into the next phase Lieutenant General John (JJ) Frewen DSC, AM, will become the head of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce. Lieutenant General Frewen established the COVID-19 ADF Taskforce in 2020 and commanded military support during the Victorian second wave.

Commodore Eric Young will continue to have a senior leadership role in the Commonwealth Vaccine Operations Centre.

The National COVID Vaccine Taskforce will help ensure as many Australians are vaccinated as early as possible within the available supply.

National Cabinet further agreed that primary care will continue to be a principal delivery channel of the COVID-19 Vaccination Program, noting the importance of developing this capacity for longer term use, supported by continuing expansion of state and territory-operated sites and other points of vaccination, particularly in the fourth quarter 2021.

The vaccination rollout will continue to prioritise vaccinations for people in Phase 1a through simplified and streamlined access at all state and territory-operated sites, including for example by providing walk-in access and no requirement to pre-book an appointment.

National Cabinet agreed to opening access to a COVID-19 vaccine to the following groups by 8 June 2021:

  1. people aged 40-49 years not otherwise eligible;
  2. all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 16 to 49 years;
  3. NDIS participants aged 16 years and over and carers aged 16 years and over of NDIS participants of any age; and
  4. temporary visa holders aged under 50 years who are currently in Australia and have been approved for return travel to Australia through the travel exemption process.

National Cabinet further agreed to not proceed with the identification of ‘other essential and high priority workers’ in Phase 2a, given the difficulty defining these populations and the expansion to people aged 40-49 years.

National Cabinet noted that the Commonwealth has released over 7.1 million doses to vaccine sites as at 31 May 2021. Under the vaccine rollout program, surplus vaccine doses are able to be surged into outbreak areas to increase opportunities for Australians to be vaccinated.

The Commonwealth reconfirmed that states and territories do not need to provision for second doses as the Commonwealth retains doses for second use. States and territories are able to administer all doses supplied by the Commonwealth.

Post Quarantine Testing Arrangements

National Cabinet asked the AHPPC to provide advice on post 14-day quarantine testing standards and arrangements to ensure nationally consistent standards reflect the latest medical advice.

Mandatory Vaccinations of Aged Care and Disability Workers

National Cabinet reaffirmed the importance of Aged Care and Disability workers being vaccinated as soon as possible.

National Cabinet indicated an in-principle disposition to mandating aged care and disability workforce COVID vaccinations, and has tasked AHPPC to provide advice on this matter as soon as possible.

National Cabinet noted that influenza vaccinations are able to be mandated under state public health orders and other similar state and territory legislative arrangements, based on health advice.

Domestic Vaccine Certification

National Cabinet welcomed the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 digital vaccination certificate and the work of Services Australia and the Department of Health on the design and functionality for deployment. The certificate will soon be available through the Medicare Express app, with a future digital wallet version to be made available in July.

States and territories may consider the potential future value of COVID-19 digital certificates when considering automatic travel exemptions for interstate travel during state-determined lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Stand-alone Quarantine Facilities - Commonwealth Partnership Assessment Criteria

Today, the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding to progress negotiations on Victoria’s proposal for an alternative quarantine hub.

The MoU formalises the principles agreed between the Commonwealth and Victoria to guide negotiations, including covering potential ownership of the facility, operating costs, and other key elements. The Victorian Government will be responsible for operation including operational costs and the Commonwealth will support capital costs. The MoU does not specify a site for the facility with both the Avalon site and the Mickleham site under active consideration.

The Commonwealth also tabled ‘Key Assessment Criteria’ the Commonwealth will use to assess any proposals for purpose-built quarantine facilities provided by state and territory governments seeking Commonwealth support.

Key considerations include that a proposal should be value-for-money, provide net additional quarantine capacity and work alongside (not supplant) hotel quarantine, meet the health requirements, and be for a national facility for use by all Australians. Further criteria include proximity to an international airport taking regularly scheduled international commercial passenger flights and close – within approximately 1hr vehicle transport – to a tertiary hospital, otherwise known as a principal referral hospital.

States and territories need to identify the most appropriate potential sites for quarantine capacity, reflecting their experience and the practicalities of an effective quarantine system that needs to bring together healthcare, logistics and law enforcement aspects to minimise risks.

Temporary COVID-19 Disaster Payment

National Cabinet discussed arrangements for the Temporary COVID-19 Disaster Payment. It was agreed that the Commonwealth will provide all of the funding for the demand driven program. This is on the basis that states provide all assistance to businesses, with the Council of Federal Financial Relations to consider a nationally consistent approach to providing support to businesses impacted by lockdowns.

The Commonwealth will enter into individual agreements with the states and territories on this basis to provide rapid support to those workers who reside or work in a Commonwealth declared COVID-19 hotspot and are therefore unable to attend work and earn an income as a result of state imposed health restrictions that last for more than one week.

Eligible recipients will receive up to $500 per week for losing 20 hours or more of work, and $325 per week for losing under 20 hours. They must not have liquid assets of more than $10,000.

The payment will be made in respect of the second and any subsequent weeks of restrictions, subject to a Commonwealth COVID-19 hotspot being declared.

This support will be available for Australian citizens and permanent residents and eligible working visa holders. Individuals who are already receiving income support payments, business support payments, or the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment will not be eligible for this new payment. To qualify, people will need to have exhausted any leave entitlements (other than annual leave) or other special pandemic leave.

The payment complements existing payments, including the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.

International Passenger Caps

National Cabinet noted international passenger cap arrangements will be in place until 31 August, and will be revisited as circumstances evolve.

National Cabinet acknowledged the work of the states in facilitating the continued repatriation of Australians from overseas. In particular, National Cabinet welcomed the resumption of flights from India following a pause. The pause ensured that Australia’s quarantine system was able to be effectively managed with a significant reduction in positive cases.

Presentation by the Chair of the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors

Adrian Schrinner, Chair of the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors and Brisbane City Council Lord Mayor, provided National Cabinet with a presentation on the economic impacts of the pandemic on capital cities.

National Cabinet recognised the importance of getting people back into Central Business Districts, noting that fewer people are utilising public transport and attending work in the office. National Cabinet called on businesses with global headquarters outside of Australia to ensure any restrictions on Australians workers are appropriate for Australian workplaces.

The AHPPC has been asked to consider the guidelines governing density arrangements that may be impacting a return to work and report back to National Cabinet.