National Cabinet met today for the final time in 2021 to discuss a range of significant national issues, including our response to COVID-19 and the new Omicron strain. National Cabinet, which has met 27 times in 2021 (59 times since its establishment in March 2020), is a critical forum to talk through plans for managing COVID-19 and also key national policy alignment on other critical national issues, including mental health and suicide prevention, health and hospital systems, ensuring the wellbeing of our Indigenous communities, and women’s economic security. Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 225,640 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 2,084 people have died. More than 49.6 million tests have been undertaken, with 1,202,886 million tests reported in the past 7 days. Globally there have been over 268.4 million cases and, sadly, over 5.2 million deaths, with 715,430 new cases and 8,033 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, 40,031,174 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia, including 96,692 in the previous 24 hours. In the previous 7 days, more than 545,241 vaccines have been administered in Australia. More than 93.2 per cent of the Australian population aged 16 years and over have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including over 97.9 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 99 per cent of over 70 year olds. More than 88.9 per cent of Australians aged 16 years and over are now fully vaccinated, including more than 95.1 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 98.7 per cent of Australians over 70 years of age. National Cabinet will meet again in February 2022. Omicron Variant National Cabinet received an update from the Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly on the Omicron variant and governments’ responses. Professor Kelly advised that Australia is still in the early stages of understanding the Omicron variant. National Cabinet noted that the Commonwealth Health Minister has extended the human biosecurity emergency period under the Biosecurity Act 2015 for a further two months to 17 February 2022. Vaccine Rollout The Coordinator-General of the National COVID Vaccine Rollout, Lieutenant General Frewen, provided an update on the progress of administering vaccine boosters and delivery arrangements across Australia. He also updated National Cabinet on the plans to close the gap in vaccination rates between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and the general population, and on preparations underway to administer COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 5 to 11 years, including targeted communication strategies. On 5 December 2021, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provisionally approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in 5 to 11 year olds. Following recommendations from the Australian Technology Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), the rollout for this age group - approximately 2.3 million children - is expected to begin on 10 January 2022. Professors Murphy and Kelly provided an update on advice from the TGA and ATAGI on vaccinating 5 to 11 year olds in 2022 and the use of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as a booster. Test, trace, isolate and quarantine measures, alongside public health and social measures such as mask wearing, remain key to ensuring COVID-19 cases in the community remain within clinical capacity. National Cabinet noted that, as Australia transitions through the National Plan, test, trace, isolate, quarantine (TTIQ) and public health and social measures (PHSM) settings can be adjusted for different local circumstances. COVID-19 Outbreak Management Plans for Indigenous Communities The need to update existing COVID-19 outbreak management plans is necessary in light of the Omicron variant and current outbreaks in the Northern Territory. National Cabinet agreed updated plans from the Commonwealth and states and territories which will protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Commonwealth will continue to monitor the situation and provide the relevant state and territories assistance against the virus during the pandemic, including variants of concern. National Plan to Transition Australia’s COVID-19 Response National Cabinet noted the significant progress in reopening Australia under the National Plan to Transition Australia’s COVID-19 Response. All jurisdictions are expected to reach 80 per cent vaccination coverage for their populations, 16 and over, and enter Phase C of the National Plan by the end of 2021. National Cabinet welcomed plans by Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory to reopen borders next week. National Cabinet agreed the Chief Medical Officer will work with the Doherty Institute to develop advice on thresholds to inform transition to Phase D of the National Plan for the next meeting of National Cabinet. Living with COVID-19 - Health System Capacity National Cabinet received an update on progress being made by all states and territories on enhancing health system capacity planning under the various phases of the National Plan to Transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response and potential surge responses. National Cabinet noted the Commonwealth’s progress to support primary care providers in preparation for all of us continuing to live with COVID-19 in the community. National Cabinet agreed local hospital networks and other relevant jurisdictional bodies should work together to develop COVID-19 Community Care Pathways to ensure that they adequately address the specific requirements of vulnerable and high risk populations. National Cabinet agreed to support the updated Communicable Disease Network of Australia (CDNA) guidelines on health care worker restrictions. This will ensure workforce furlough policies reflect the latest advice for a highly vaccinated workforce. Reopening of International Borders and Travel National Cabinet noted the steps taken by the Commonwealth to adjust Australia’s international border settings in a manner consistent with a suppression strategy, and proportionate to the current health information on Omicron. As more evidence relating to disease severity, transmissibility and vaccine effectiveness becomes available, the Commonwealth will continue to consider Australia’s international border settings in a manner consistent with a suppression strategy. The Commonwealth continues to welcome Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families, New Zealand citizens, Singaporean citizens and other cohorts of travellers already approved for travel, including seasonal workers and international student pilots. National Cabinet welcomed Queensland’s announcement that it would reopen to fully vaccinated Australian citizens or permanent residents who have a negative COVID-19 test taken within the 72 hours prior to departure from 13 December 2021. These travellers will be required to undertake a period of home quarantine subject to conditions set by Queensland Health. Caps on International Passengers From 13 March 2021 to 7 December 2021, approximately 767,456 Australian citizens and permanent residents returned home, 11,335 of whom returned since 1 November. The total returned since March 2020 includes 32,853 Australians on 216 facilitated commercial flights (FCFs), as at 7 December 2021. In order to manage and maintain quarantine arrangements across the jurisdictions of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, the following international air passenger arrival caps are currently in place: New South Wales – 210 per weekVictoria – 250 per weekQueensland – 1,000 per week (plus 300 per week surge capacity)Western Australia – 530 per weekSouth Australia – 320 per week. Fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate families can travel above caps into New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, subject to home quarantine and testing requirements. Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Today National Cabinet provided in‑principle endorsement of the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement (National Agreement), which will be finalised in early 2022. The National Agreement considers key mental health reports and inquiries including the key recommendations from the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Mental Health and the National Suicide Prevention Adviser’s Final Advice. It outlines actions to build a comprehensive, coordinated, consumer‑focused and compassionate mental health and suicide prevention system to support all Australians. The National Agreement will: clarify roles and responsibilities; progress improvements in the mental health services available to adults, children and youth; improve data collection, sharing and evaluation; reduce gaps in the system of care; expand and enhance the workforce, including the peer workforce; and work to improve mental health and suicide prevention for all Australians, across a range of settings. Women’s Economic Security As part of National Cabinet’s work on a Nationally Consistent Reporting Framework for Measuring Progress of Women’s Economic Security, there was in principle agreement from the National Cabinet to provide public sector workforce data to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). This means that state and territory governments will join the Commonwealth Government’s commitment from earlier this year to provide data on six Gender Equality Indicators. This will expand the Australian workforce covered by consistent reporting on workforce gender equality approaches and outcomes, which can be used to continue to target efforts to reduce the gender pay gap. Respect@Work National Cabinet received a letter from the Chair of the Respect@Work Council and Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, providing an update on improving the consistency of workplace sexual harassment data collection and sharing. The Council includes representatives from Commonwealth and state and territory regulatory bodies, including industrial relations, workers compensation and work, health and safety organisations, and human rights and anti-discrimination bodies. The National Cabinet noted that the Council will continue to work to improve data collection, reporting and sharing, to support preventing and addressing workplace sexual harassment. National Cabinet Reform Priorities National Cabinet noted the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) and the National Cabinet Reform Committees (NCRCs) have progressed a series of important reforms during 2021 under ambitious timeframes, with highlights including: implementation of automatic mutual recognition of occupational registrations in most jurisdictions, a ‘post-2025’ market design for the National Electricity Market, a package of reforms to unlock new gas supply and improve the functioning of gas pipeline markets, reforms to industry engagement arrangements underpinning the Vocational and Education Training system, reforms to expedite infrastructure projects, and establishment of a Regional Delivery Unit to support state and territory governments to navigate Commonwealth services, programs and approvals. National Cabinet noted that in 2022, NCRCs will continue to focus on delivering important reforms, including finalisation of the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Agreement and the National Skills Agreement. Today, National Cabinet also agreed the Energy NCRC will focus in 2022 on enabling the adoption and integration of new technologies. This includes improving the integration and recognition of clean hydrogen and bioenergy into energy markets; ensuring the electricity network is ready for the rapid adoption of electric vehicles by incentivising the use of smart charging; and improving the regulatory framework for transmission.