Prime Minister Scott Morrison has unveiled a “new deal for Australians on the pathway out of COVID-19”.
National cabinet has agreed to a four-stage plan for Australia to move from trying to suppress COVID-19 to back to the way things were before the virus.
Each new phase would be triggered by the achievement of a vaccination threshold expressed as a percentage of the eligible population.
There was no commitment to specific timelines around when the transitions will happen.
Mr Morrison said on Friday the agreement was designed to enable an end to lockdowns and travel restrictions.
“If you get vaccinated, you get to change how we live as a country,” he told reporters.
The four-stage plan is based on modelling work by the Doherty Institute on how many people would need a jab for both the Alpha and Delta COVID-19 variants.
Early stages include trials for alternative quarantine options, such as home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers.
National cabinet also agreed on Friday toto reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities.
The full detail of the new four-stage plan are yet to be revealed, but here’s a look at what we know so far.
Phase one – ‘Pre-vaccination’
This is the stage Australia is in right now, Mr Morrison said.
It involves the implementation of the national vaccination plan.
National cabinet agreed during this phase lockdowns should be used as a last resort and the trials of alternative quarantine options would start.
The commonwealth’s existing Medicare vaccination certificate, used to determine who has been inoculated, will become easier to access through electronic devices such as phones.
There will also be a further review conducted into the national hotel quarantine network.
Phase two – ‘Post-vaccination’
Then, Mr Morrison said, “we will move into a phase where we seek to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of COVID-19”.
This would likely see more restrictions eased, with lockdowns only occurring in “extreme circumstances” to prevent “escalating hospitalisation and fatality”.
Inbound passenger caps would be restored to previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers. Larger caps would be put in place for those who are vaccinated.
New quarantine arrangements would be extended for vaccinated Australians, based on the trials held in the first phase.
National cabinet agreed to cap entry of student and economic visa holders at this point, subject to quarantine availability.
“I hope we’re living in that second phase next year. And you know, if we get a really good response over the course of this next year, let’s see how we go,” Mr Morrison said.
Phase three – ‘Consolidation’
The aim of this phase is to manage COVID-19 in line with public responses to other infectious diseases such as the flu.
That would mean “no lockdowns”, Mr Morirson said, and hospitalisation and fatality rates from COVID-19 would be similar to other well-controlled infections.
It would also see a lifting of restrictions on outbound travel for vaccinated people and extending unrestricted travel bubbles for other countries.
An increased cap allowing the entry of student economic and humanitarian visa holders would also be introduced.
Phase four – ‘Back to normal’
The final phase would see an attempt to return the country to a pre-COVID normal, including allowing uncapped inbound travel for all vaccinated people without quarantine.
It would also allow uncapped arrivals of non-vaccinated travel, subject to pre-flight and on arrival COVID-19 testing.
“We get this done Australia, and you can see what is on the other side,” Mr Morrison said.
The Australian Medical Association and Australian Industry Group have welcomed the proposed COVID roadmap.
But Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has questioned why it took until now to announce the plan.
“The key is doing more deals and getting more vaccines into more people’s arms,” he told reporters. “It’s vaccinations that save lives.”
Prime minister concedes rollout has faced ‘challenges’
The prime minister’s release of the plan comes after the vaccination rollout was stunted by supply issues from Europe as well as changes in medical advice around the AstraZeneca vaccine.
He openly conceded on Friday these hurdles have impacted the confidence of Australians around the government’s delivery of the vaccine.
“I would readily endorse the view we had challenges with the vaccination program over the first six months,” he told reporters.
“What matters at the end of the day is you get the job done.”
Mr Morrison also rejected a question on Friday that heduring a late-night press conference earlier in the week.
“Everything I have said on this is completely consistent with the medical advice that is there,” he said.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has recommended people under 60 get the Pfizer vaccine.