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National cabinet: PM Morrison unveils Covid-19 pathway, confirms international arrivals will be cut by half temporarily

The PM has unveiled Australia’s four-phase plan for a path out of Covid-19, including the idea that lockdowns will now be used only as a ‘last resort’.

Lockdowns will only be implemented as a “last resort” from now on after the Prime Minister unveiled Australia’s path out of Covid-19.

Scott Morrison on Friday confirmed national cabinet had agreed to a four-phase reopening plan, to take Australia from its current approach to a complete return to normality, with details to be finalised by the end of July.

But stranded Australians have been dealt another blow, after Mr Morrison warned a 50 per cent reduction in international arrivals also agreed to could extend into next year.

Australia was in phase one, focused on suppressing the virus and upping vaccination rates, during which home quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers would be trialled.

Progression from each phase will be triggered by reaching new vaccination thresholds.

“Managing your way through Covid-19 is uncharted waters. 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,” he told reporters on Friday.

“Lockdowns in the current phase to be only used as a last resort was agreed today.”

National cabinet also agreed to slash Australia’s international arrival intake by half during phase one, but that could be reversed as the country entered phase two, Mr Morrison said.

The second phase could also see restrictions, such as lockdowns or border controls, removed for vaccinated Australians, though the full details were yet to be agreed.

Lockdowns would only be considered in “extreme circumstances” during phase two, Mr Morrison said.

“The idea of having a border restriction … and the idea of having lockdowns is based on the premise that community transmission would lead to serious illness, hospitalisation, and fatalities,” he said.

“So if you’ve got the vaccination in place: What’s the point? That’s the mindset change that we’ve agreed today.”

He conceded there was “still some pathway” from phase one to phase three, under which Covid-19 would ultimately be treated as an “infectious disease like any other”.

“When it is like the flu, we should treat it like the flu,” Mr Morrison said.

Subject to changes, phase three would see: lockdowns ended, vaccinated residents exempted from all domestic restrictions, and caps on returning vaccinated travellers abolished entirely.

Mr Morrison said the final phase would be “moving completely back to normal”, and could see unvaccinated travellers come to Australia subject to pre-flight and on-arrival testing.

Mr Morrison hoped to have full details of the pathway, worked through by the Covid-19 risk analysis task force, finalised by the end of the month.

“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,” he said.

Mr Morrison said the temporary reduction in international arrivals would reduce the risk of leakage from hotel quarantine, but described Australia’s response to the pandemic as “world class”.

He confirmed the Commonwealth would organise additional flights to the NT’s Howard Springs facility to mitigate the loss.

It comes after pressure from the states, led by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Queensland counterpart Annastacia Palaszczuk, who argued hotel quarantine was not equipped to suppress the Delta strain.

But the Prime Minister flatly rejected suggestions the reduction was the result of a failure in hotel quarantine.

“It’s about the Delta variant. It’s simple. The Delta strain is more contagious and so we’re seeking to take precautionary steps to overall reduce the risk,” he said.

NSW had been receiving more than 3000 international arrivals per week, a figure that dwarfed intakes elsewhere, and Premier Berejiklian insisted it had taken on the burden “without complaint”.

Ms Berejiklian said she was disappointed “every state hasn’t done its fair share”, and warned a reduced intake was not a silver bullet in stopping the virus.

“I just want to be very clear: I don’t support the view that other premiers have that this means mistakes aren’t going to happen and we’re not going to have outbreaks. That is still going to occur. It is how we deal with that,” she said on Friday.

“You can’t guarantee that 100 per cent of people will do the right thing 100 per cent of the time. Nobody can.”

Mr Morrison conceded NSW had accepted the measure with “some regret” and lauded its “phenomenal job” in returning Australians.

“The New South Wales government has carried half the load and more of returning Australians,” he said.

“I think that’s been an extraordinary effort.”

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