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Scott Morrison’s plan to end Australia’s covid lockdowns

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed Australia’s path out of lockdowns and closures after today’s national cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed Australia’s path out of lockdowns and closures after today’s national cabinet meeting.

“The good news I have for Australians who are subject to restrictions today is we have agreed a new deal for Australians on the pathway out of Covid-19,” Mr Morrison said.

“A pathway from a pre-vaccination period which is focused on the suppression of the virus, on community transmission cases, to one that sees us manage Covid-19 as an infectious disease like any other in our community.”

Mr Morrison said state and territory leaders had agreed to a four-phase plan tied to vaccination thresholds for over-16s:

  • Reaching a certain vaccination threshold after offering all Australians the chance to get the vaccine
  • Post-vaccination phase where focus shifts from suppressing the virus to minimising serious illness and death
  • Consolidation phase where health authorities manage Covid-19 similar to other infectious diseases like the flu
  • Complete return to normal with no lockdowns or border closures, and quarantine only for unvaccinated travellers

“The first phase is the one we are in – vaccinate, prepare and pilot,” he said.

“We continue to suppress the virus. That involves the implementation of the national vaccination plan to offer every Australian an opportunity to be vaccinated with the necessary doses of the relevant vaccine as soon as possible.”

The PM said Australia’s vaccination program was ramping up, with the milestone of eight million doses administered to be reached today.

Meanwhile, the federal government has agreed to state leaders’ demands for a 50 per cent reduction in international arrivals “to reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities, due to the increased risks of the Delta strain of the virus”.

“While the reduction of those caps will certainly, right across the system, obviously take some pressure off, as we have observed over the course of these past 18 months, that alone does not provide any fail safe regarding any potential breaches,” Mr Morrison said.

“Because of the particular virulence of the Delta strain, it is believed that is a prudent action while we remain in this suppression phase of the virus. Lockdowns in the current phase to be only used as a last resort. That was agreed today.”

Vaccination passports will be introduced for international travellers.

“We will recognise and adopt the Commonwealth’s existing digital Medicare vaccination certificate that is automatically generated for every vaccination,” Mr Morrison said.

“That is something that is already there now. By the end of the month, it will be at another level which would see it being able to be incorporated in things like Apple Wallets and the like. We will put in place a digital vaccination authentication at border.”

The second phase of the plan will begin once an unspecified vaccination threshold is reached.

“The post-vaccination phase will be entered once we reach a threshold of vaccination to be determined by the modelling process we’re currently engaged in,” Mr Morrison said.

“This will be a scientific number. It won’t be a political number, it won’t be an arbitrary number. (It) may include specific targets on vaccination of vulnerable populations, such as those over 70, and we are at 70 per cent now, I think, on vaccination of the first dose for those over 70. That is the gate we have to get through.”

After that point, “then we will move into a phase where we seek to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality as a result of Covid-19”, and lockdowns would “only occur in extreme circumstances to prevent escalating hospitalisation and fatality”.

In the third “consolidation” phase, authorities will “manage Covid-19 consistent with public health management of other infectious diseases”.

“It is likely we may be in that position in phase two but in phase three, that basically means that the hospitalisation and fatality rates that you would see from Covid-19 would be like the flu,” Mr Morrison said.

“So what it means is, Australia gets vaccinated, Australia is able to live differently. Winning in the post-vaccination phase looks very different to winning in the phase we’re in how. Winning now means we suppress the virus as best we can, which means that from time to time, such as we’re experiencing in NSW, we have to go through these experiences.”

The fourth and final phase is “complete back to normal”.

Measures may include “uncapped inbound arrivals for all vaccinated persons without quarantine”.

“You may still have at that point unvaccinated people coming to Australia at that final phase if they’re picked up on testing, there would be pre- and post-flight testing,” Mr Morrison said.

The PM would not be drawn on how long it would take to reach that point.

“We believe we’ll be in a position by the end of the year to have provided every Australian who wants a vaccine to be able to have received one,” he said.

“If Australians respond to that, then I believe that we would be in a position to meet a particular target. At this stage, it’s hard to give you a definitive answer because we haven’t set what that target is. I hope we’re living in that second phase next year.”

Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese responded to Mr Morrison’s announcement on Twitter.

“Lockdowns will continue as long as Scott Morrison fails to do his two jobs – the rollout and quarantine,” Mr Albanese said.

Speaking to reporters earlier, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said lockdowns were “always the last resort” and that she hoped today’s national cabinet decision was the “turning point”.

“I broadly support the way forward,” she said.

“I think the citizens of Australia need a plan but we also need to provide time frames and details around that plan and NSW has, for some time, been talking about the importance of vaccination. I think I have gone blue in the face by talking about the sense of urgency to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated, making the vaccination available to people is the key to our freedom, absolutely.”

Ms Berejiklian said NSW had been “extremely vocal about that for many, many months”.

“We will continue to be but I am looking forward to us entering a new phase in how we deal with the pandemic and how we deal with living with Covid but, also, making sure that all of our citizens have confidence that we won’t burden them, unless we absolutely have to, no matter where they are in Australia,” she said.

Earlier on Friday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Australia’s international borders should reopen once everyone has been offered the vaccine, irrespective of actual vaccination rates.

“Once that happens, then I think that’s the critical criteria for the federal government to make a decision (on borders),” she said.

Both Ms Palaszczuk and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had been pushing for a drastic reduction in international arrivals to ease the strain on hotel quarantine.

“We have a critical window to get our population vaccinated, defeat this pandemic and return to a sense of free and normal life,“ Mr Andrews said prior to the meeting.

“Locking some people out is much better than locking everybody down. That’s the government’s position, that’s my position and that’s what I’ll argue at national cabinet today.”

Exiting the Lodge this morning after 14 days in isolation following his return from Europe, Mr Morrison declared Australia needed to “change gears” in its fight against Covid-19.

“The country is very much keen for us to chart that way out of where we are,” he told reporters.

“Australia has done incredibly well over the course of these last 18 months, but now we need to change gears for the road ahead.”

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