The National Cabinet met today for the 50th time to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, recent outbreaks of COVID-19 and 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.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 35,688 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 932 people have died. More than 26.1 million tests have been undertaken. Testing has increased nationally over recent days with 1,289,345 million tests reported in the past 7 days.

Globally there have been over 200.8 million cases and sadly over 4.2 million deaths, with 580,293 new cases and 9,681 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 13.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia, including a record 240,039 in the previous 24 hours.

In the previous 7 days, more than 1.2 million vaccines have been administered in Australia. More than 43 per cent of the Australian population aged 16 years and over have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including over 67.7 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 80.5 per cent of over 70 year olds.

More than 21.3 per cent of Australians aged 16 years and over are now fully vaccinated including more than 30.2 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 45.8 per cent of Australians over 70 years of age.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly provided an update on current outbreaks of COVID-19. The Chief Medical Officer has announced a number of hotspots across Australia in Greater Sydney, the Hunter, South East Queensland and Greater Melbourne.

National Cabinet noted the support package agreed between the Commonwealth and the Victorian Government to progress COVID-19 Disaster Payments and business payments during the current outbreak.

Lieutenant General John Frewen, Coordinator-General of Operation COVID Shield, provided an update on the vaccine rollout.

All leaders reiterated the importance of Australians, especially those in vulnerable groups, to get a COVID-19 vaccination. Both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are registered for use in Australia and are proven to be effective in preventing serious illness and death, as well as limiting transmission.

National Cabinet noted the bring forward of additional Pfizer vaccines in hotspot areas in respect of the current NSW and Queensland Hotspot areas. A separate request has today been received by Operation COVID Shield from Victoria.

National Cabinet agreed to meet next on Friday, 13 August 2021.

National Plan to Transition Australia’s COVID-19 Response

National Cabinet fully agreed to the four-step National Plan (attached) to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response. The National Plan provides a graduated pathway to transition Australia’s COVID-19 response from its current pre-vaccination settings focused on continued suppression of community transmission, to post-vaccination settings focused on public health management of COVID-19 is consistent with other infectious diseases.

The National Plan will move between phases once Australia reaches key vaccination thresholds - moving to Phase B once 70 per cent of the Australian population 16 years of age and older is fully vaccinated and Phase C once 80 per cent fully vaccinated threshold is met.

Doherty Modelling

National Cabinet agreed to further analysis under the National Plan to transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response, with the Doherty Institute to model optimisation of the public health measures and managing outbreak responses and scenarios to support vulnerable cohorts and areas with low vaccination uptake.

Rapid Antigen Test

National Cabinet noted that polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing will continue to be the priority testing method for Australia’s health response to COVID-19.

National Cabinet agreed to commence further work on the use of Rapid Antigen Tests, including their potential use under Phase B and Phase C of the National Plan to Transition Australia’s COVID-19 Response.

Through Phase A, Rapid Antigen Tests may continue to be used by industry and through targeted trials as per advice of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Employee Vaccinations

National Cabinet received a briefing from the Solicitor General on the use of vaccinations in the workplace.

Australia’s policy remains that vaccines should be voluntary and free.

Businesses have a legal obligation to keep their workplaces safe and to eliminate or minimise so far as ‘reasonably practicable’ the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

In general, in the absence of a State or Territory public health order or a requirement in an employment contract or industrial instrument, an employer can only mandate that an employee be vaccinated through a lawful and reasonable direction.

Decisions to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees will be a matter for individual business, taking into account their particular circumstances and their obligations under safety, anti-discrimination and privacy laws.

Businesses are encouraged to review guidance provided by the Fair Work Ombudsman and Safe Work Australia in considering what directions may be lawful and reasonable, and the approach to keeping workplaces safe through the use of vaccinations.

Women’s Safety and Economic Security

National Cabinet agreed on a Nationally Consistent Framework for Measuring Progress of Women’s Economic Security. The Reporting Framework will provide a roadmap for the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments to highlight their existing measures, identify gaps and plan future investments to improve women’s economic security.

All states and territories have now provided their responses to the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s Respect@Work Report, along with a summary of their support for women’s economic security, and all governments continue their important work on developing the next National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children.