Thank you very much for joining us today, and I’m pleased to be able to give our COVID update, as well as a follow-up to the National Cabinet for yesterday evening and afterwards, I’ll take calls on the telephone.
There are three items I’d like to deal with. One is in relation to cases, two is in relation to the rollout, and three is the National Cabinet.
And I want to start by thanking Australians for coming forward to be tested and all of those Australians who are coming forward to be vaccinated. Both numbers today extraordinarily are 126,000 Australians came forward to be tested yesterday, and 126,000 Australians came forward to be vaccinated yesterday, and that's a very, very strong response.
Difficult challenging times but Australians stepping forward to do what they’ve done, to protect themselves, and to protect each other.
In terms of the cases, we've now had 25 cases nationwide in the period to midnight last night, 19 in New South Wales, and two each in Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.
We are obviously on high alert and high watch. What we are seeing, particularly in New South Wales, is those case numbers stabilising, particularly those cases in the community with obviously cases being diagnosed within isolation, either of close contacts or people who were already isolating directly.
So that's I think a very, very important development and I want to thank and congratulate New South Wales for the strong action that they have taken.
More broadly, we know that, as I mentioned, 126,000 people have come forward for testing. One of the highest numbers we've had since COVID-19 began in Australia, and we are able to do that because we have strong supplies of testing materials.
With regards to around the world, at the same time, we have seen over 6,400 lives lost in the last 24 hours and 2,125,000 lives lost officially over the course of this year alone. We are approaching four million lives lost officially since COVID-19 began.
And thankfully, we remain of the position in Australia, that no person has caught COVID in Australia this year and passed away. Obviously, the most significant lead to that is the number of people in ICU. I'm pleased that that number has reduced. We have reduced from two people in ICU in Australia to one. We always focus on the health and the needs of anybody in ICU in Australia.
Within that context, I'm also going to set out where we are with regards to the vaccine rollout. Over the course of the last 24 hours, as I’ve said, 126,000 plus vaccinations in Australia, and importantly, we’ve now passed 7.5 million vaccinations nationwide.
That includes over 5.95 million first dose vaccinations, or 28.9 per cent of the population, and over 1.47 million second dose vaccinations or 7.1 per cent of the population. That will go, climb to well over 7.2 per cent during the course of today.
Significantly, what we have now seen is that we have over 4.4 million Australians over the age of 50 or 51.3 per cent of the over 50s population that have been vaccinated, 60 per cent of over 60s, and 68.5 per cent of over 70s, our most vulnerable group.
And I want to thank all of those older Australians for coming forward to be vaccinated, but to continue to urge you, please do not wait. Vaccination can save your life, or it can save the life of somebody you know. And so this is a critical step forward. And so, these are important developments, but we continue to urge Australians to be vaccinated.
Now, just in terms of the National Cabinet, firstly with regards to the aged care workforce and the mandating of vaccinations, the steps that we’ve taken include, firstly, the aged care sector has had a full briefing with Minister Colbeck, Minister for Aged Care Services, today, as well as Departmental officials, in preparation for the next 2.5 months.
Obviously, the mid-September deadline is the outside, and we want to encourage and support all aged care workers to have that vaccination beforehand. Secondly, there will be a briefing for unions, so which is currently being established and set. We've worked very constructively with them and I have found them, if I may say so personally, to have been a very positive and constructive partner in protecting our aged care residents and protecting our workers.
And then, thirdly, we are also providing notice and information to all aged care homes. All of them currently have to provide mandatory data on the workers that have been vaccinated. And so, AHPPC has now provided its advice.
It is true. It had previously not recommended this and so we had asked the question and asked a number of times, but now I think given the nature of the Delta strain, they have formed that opinion and we have accepted that advice and we are moving immediately to implement that advice.
With regards to vaccine access, I just note that having spoken with the Prime Minister today and he and I have been in contact, in his case with the head of the AMA, in my case with the head of the RACGP, Dr Karen Price.
And the Prime Minister has confirmed that we will be extending our Medicare item for over 50s to have vaccine consultation to the under 50s. And I think this will be important and that will be developed over the coming days and will be in place before the end of the week.
Significantly as well, we’ll update the Eligibility Checker and provide additional advice to all GPs during the course of the next 24 hours. And all the other elements with regards to quarantine, the states are moving to put in place those changes; in particular, the change to ensure that what had been reported as wide uptake amongst quarantine staff is now mandatory uptake, and I thank the states and territories on behalf of all Australians for that.
This obviously follows one particular case and also, a very important change that was recommended by AHPPC after there was one particular case in one state, which has obviously led to the mine worker infection, and that is that there must be a clear separation between any domestic quarantining and the international quarantining.
This, I think, was something of an outlier in terms of the particular case in Queensland. We have thankfully had the full support of National Cabinet for immediate action. And I thank all of those who’ve helped assist, in particular in the aged care sector, the general practice sector, the RACGP and the AMA.
And I’d be happy to take any questions going forward. I’ll start with Tom Minear please. Tom.
Thanks for taking our questions, Minister. Just in relation to the PM’s announcements last night, can you please clarify, so if adults of any age now allowed to go and get the AstraZeneca vaccine, what does this mean for the rollout, given we actually haven't shifted to the phase for the under-40s?
Sure. So the advice is very clear on two fronts. One is the medical advice; two is the access. And again, AstraZeneca remains the preferred vaccine for people 60 years and over. That has not changed, the advice of ATAGI, and Pfizer is the preferred for people under 60. And the clinical advice of ATAGI, again, has not changed.
However, as has always been the case and I think it’s very important to emphasise this, that on the basis of informed consent, individual patients and their doctors have been able to make a decision to take up the AstraZeneca on the basis of their individual circumstances and their own judgement.
That consultation is something which has had continuous capacity to have been implemented. The difference is that the access for those who are of all ages, for the AstraZeneca vaccine, will be available through general practices.
It would be a matter for states and territories if they wish to implement that, but the access has changed. And hence the update to the eligibility checker and hence the update to the GPs which is going out during the course of today, and also the change to the Medicare item, which will now allow over the coming days for everybody under 50 also to seek a vaccine consultation if they so desire.
Yes. Thank you, Minister. Just following on from Tom’s question. Could you please go through exactly the indemnity changes that have being announced, a number of times before when we’ve asked about Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, for instance. The Government already offers indemnity for vaccines, so is this a new extra indemnity, is this a reaffirmation of what was previous advice?
And just on a related one, on the opening of AstraZeneca to people under 40, some state Premiers are saying what (IINAUDIBLE) through National Cabinet, they are looking for more info. I know that GPs are also saying they might not be ready for it this morning. How did you arrive at this decision? Was the shift (INAUDIBLE)?
Well, firstly, as the Prime Minister said last night, National Cabinet noted that the Commonwealth will establish a COVID-19 professional indemnity scheme. And so the professional indemnity scheme was what was noted last night.
There's no change to the medical advice. There's simply the opening of that access to those that are under it. And so that was printed last night and that was also said by the Prime Minister. The approach on indemnity had always been a matter for the Commonwealth, and so the National Security Committee adopted that yesterday, and the National Cabinet noted it last night as the Prime Minister said, and as was incorporated into the National Cabinet release.
So, I apologise, there was a second element you raised?
Yes. Sorry, I know it’s a long question. I apologise. Just on the opening up of AstraZeneca to those under 40, some state Premiers were saying that it wasn’t a decision of National Cabinet, GPs saying they weren’t already for it.
So that's what I have addressed in terms of the National Cabinet noted the Commonwealth established a COVID-19 professional indemnity scheme. There is no change in the medical advice.
The access is something which is now available through the GPs. And that's what was raised and noted through the medical indemnity process last night.
Thanks, Minister. Just picking up on a story today about a young woman who’s had issues trying to transfer her quarantine from Sydney to Melbourne on compassionate grounds to be able to see her dying father.
Do you think that these cases only get resolved when there’s a lot of media focus on individual circumstances? The Prime Minister has said in a letter to this woman that he hopes that there will be a solution for everyone.
Will you ask the AHPPC if they would consider solutions to more consistently dealing with these compassionate cases, particularly as more people who are returning from overseas, like this woman, are fully vaccinated?
What more can be done so that it doesn’t take being on the front page every time for someone to have their case resolved?
So, two things. Look, we are and we will ensure that the AHPPC considers the exemptions process. These compassionate cases are immensely important. They, in many ways, define our humanity. What we see is the people who perhaps the end of life may be denied access to a returning family member.
And the commencement and the end of life are the most fundamental of life events. And if compassion can be shown, I would urge you in this case the Victorian Government, to provide that.
We’d worked very closely with them. We’ve assisted then and they assisted us, and I am very hopeful it can be resolved. The exemptions process, we are referring to AHPPC. But ultimately, individual judgements have to be made and we have always lent towards that compassionate position wherever we can on arrivals back into Australia, but then the transfer between states is obviously a matter for those individual states or territories.
But as I say, these cases, in part, define our humanity. And in the most difficult of times, where we can offer points of light, I think that that's a critical thing to do. Natasha.
Thanks, Minister. Just in relation to the opening up of the AstraZeneca vaccine to those of all ages. May I ask if the Government didn’t consult ATAGI for ad advice on this?
And in relation to the indemnity, what’s the extent of the indemnity? Will it be a blanket indemnity, and when will it kick into place?
Sure. So firstly in relation to the medical advice, the medical advice hasn't changed. Let me re-affirm the medical advice. The medical advice remains that AstraZeneca is the preferred vaccine for the over 60s, and Pfizer is the preferred vaccine and recommended vaccine for the under 60s.
And so that position has not changed, and we have stood by that medical advice. The different here is that there has always been the capacity for informed consent. That has existed throughout the process, and that remains the case.
The difference here is that the access, given the fact that there is a large supply, that some GPs have reported that they have excess supply and excess spaces. And so if there are people who wish to access it, via informed consent, via the existing ATAGI rules, then that’s simply being enabled, because we know there’s been demand. We know there’s supply. We know that there are existing rules. So no change on that particular front.
And then I think there was one other, Natasha?
Yeah, just in relation to the indemnity.
I’m just wondering when will it kick into place? And will it be a blanket indemnity? What's the extent of the indemnity?
Sure. So the indemnity process is for all vaccines, for all healthcare providers, for all recipients, from the commencement of the program. So that’s now going to be finalised and the advice that I have is that we’ll be able to do it through existing arrangements, but through extension of our current situation.
So all vaccines, all providers under the Commonwealth program. Obviously, the states have their own arrangements. And all recipients would be covered by that. Trudy.
Thanks Minister. The Queensland Premier today demanded a reduction to international arrival caps. Are you comfortable with the current weekly arrival number? Premier Palaszczuk says hotel quarantine is not the answer. What's your answer to her?
Look, I have a headline here, Premier Palaszczuk absolutely furious unvaccinated hospital worker tests positive for COVID-19 in Queensland. And so we thank them for being concerned about obviously the situation their own hospitals, and we’re appreciative of the fact that they are taking steps to obviously pick up that case. I think an unvaccinated hospital worker within the Queensland system.
More broadly in terms bringing people home. One of the things is how is it that Australia has, thankfully, to this point in time had no lives lost to COVID caught in Australia this year. It’s because we have multiple rings of containment starting with the quarantine system.
And so this is a disease, which on a breath, a touch, a surface, can be transmitted in one way, shape or form. And so it's a global pandemic. And so whilst we are not immune, we have arguably the strongest or one of the strongest systems in the world.
So against that background, bringing people home, I’m advised by the ABF, over 80 per cent of people that have come into Australia during the course of this pandemic, and in particular at the moment, are Australians or permanent residents, or their family. Just to correct that record, there was I think an incorrect statement made, and the ABF have provided authoritative advice on that.
But bringing people home or bringing in critical workers, doctors or nurses, people involved in engineering, people who are critical to the operation of different roles, functions, services, and facilities in Australia, they are absolutely critical to keeping Australians going.
Now we’ve been fortunate to lift our employment and to decrease our unemployment to 5.1 per cent, but there are certain roles and functions where we need people from overseas. And so that is why we do what we do.
We've had as an example, a hundred per cent protection because of the clinical governance of the Howard Springs facility. And then last night, there were three further steps taken by the National Cabinet, in particular, with regards to quarantine.
Firstly, there was the separation of the domestic and international that arises out of the breach in Queensland which has led to the mine worker case, and so moving on that is part of continuous improvement.
Secondly, to ensure that we are testing travellers after they have left hotel quarantine. And again, this is about continuous evolution with regards to the Delta strain, and with regards to international evidence about the potential longevity of some cases.
And then thirdly, there is the action being taken by states to ensure that all of their quarantine related workers are vaccinated. So continuous improvement, it’s difficult and it's challenging. We happen to be doing it better than almost anybody else in the world, but every day we learn and evolve in a world with 2.125 million cases this year of lives lost, and none in Australia.
There’s many things we’re getting right. Perhaps almost more than anybody in the world, but every day we have to improve. But we also have to bring people home as so many want to do, and rightly so, and also make sure that we have the critical medical or engineering or other workers that are uniquely qualified for some circumstances.
Thanks Minister. Wondering how many younger people do you expect to come forward for an AstraZeneca vaccine as a result of the changed decision from National Cabinet. What modelling has been done? What assumptions are you working on?
Sure. So I won't put a figure on that. This is responding to the fact that there have been requests under the informed consent process, under the existing ATAGI rules, under the existing processes. So that's not one where we will put a figure on it.
I will mention that as at this point in time, we have had 4.6 million doses of AstraZeneca and almost 2.8 million Pfizer, to round them off. And that together has provided the base of our program across the country.
Thanks Minister. Just to follow up on Josh's question about the indemnity scheme, so does this scheme cover individuals, or is it just for protecting doctors against indemnity and what can those individuals then do essentially if they do get injured from the AstraZeneca vaccine?
Well this is about claims against doctors, and what that means is if there are claims by individuals against doctors, then those claims will ultimately be settled through this process.
So it's a claim settlement process to protect doctors, but by definition that means that the individuals who are making those claims, if they are of course substantiated, will be addressed. The final details of that will be released within the coming week, and in particular though I would note that it is.
So individuals will still have to sue, essentially sue their doctor if they want some sort of compensation?
Well, what it would be is that they would make a claim against the process if there is a claim against the doctor. The details will be released within the course of the coming week after the completion of the consultation with the RACGP, the AMA and other medical groups.
But as I say, it covers all vaccines, all providers under the Commonwealth program, and all people who are coming forwards in relation to any claim against a medical provider of vaccination in the course of the COVID-19 program for the duration of the biosecurity provisions.
Then I have got Jane Norman, the ABC.
Hi, Minister. Just two questions on AstraZeneca. The first is that we understand CSL is producing about a million doses a week, but the latest figures show about 700,000 doses have been distributed.
I was just wondering if you could please explain what’s that sort of shortfall is, where the shortfall is and then with this change overnight, is it fair to summarise that the Government is making AstraZeneca available because there are extra doses available and there's COVID now in the community, is that the kind of rationale?
So just in terms of the rationale, firstly that there's adequate supply. And what we're doing is meeting the supply requests. We are meeting the supply requests that are coming from all of the providers, whether that's GPs, Aboriginal Community Control and Health organisations, whether it's Commonwealth vaccination clinics, or State Governments.
So we're meeting all of those in full. And at this stage, there's no constraints on that supply, so we are providing up to the full amount of the demand. The next thing is that what we've done here is recognise that we have volume, we have GPs that are in a position and that we have the existing rules. We're staying within the existing rules.
And finally, the last thing that's occurring there is that, where that informed consent process has demand, at least that demand will be met.
Minister, I’m hoping to clarify something regarding Trudy's question on international arrivals, then I‘ve got another one on GPs. But what I wanted to clarify, so this some states such as Queensland and Victoria obviously want to dramatically reduce the number of international arrivals they take in. Is that something they'd be able to do, or would the Federal Government refuse that request?
And on the GP thing, we’ve heard a number of GPs and even the Queensland Chief Health Officer come out and say don’t get the AstraZeneca jab if you're under 40. Are you concerned that those comments we're hearing today could create further vaccine hesitancy?
So in terms of vaccine hesitancy, the position's very clear, that we've set out the medical advice, but we recognise that there are individuals who are seeking, through the informed consent process, to have that access.
There is no change to the medical advice. There is a recognition of the needs for access. And then, as a country, our advice is: please do not wait. If you are eligible and you do have access to the vaccine, in terms of the over-60s or the under-60s, come forward for your first dose, come forward for your second dose.
Okay, and then finally Mark Riley.
Sorry, Minister, could I get a clarification on the international arrivals question, please?
Well, on international arrivals, we note that New South Wales, even though it is going through a difficult time, but we are seeing the flattening of the curve in New South Wales. We are seeing that flattening of the curve, and I think that's something that the nation, as a whole, should recognise.
And noting that 11 months ago, Australia was having 700 cases a day on its highest day. Now, we're in a very different situation, and it's important to recognise that difference between a year ago and where we are now.
We have stronger controls at the borders. We have stronger testing, stronger tracing. We have 7.5 million vaccinations that have been delivered.
In terms of international arrivals, we would encourage every state and territory to help bring home as many Australians as possible, to bring families back together, to allow people to come home. We recognise and respect their decisions, ultimately, but New South Wales has done the heavy lifting on behalf of the nation. They're continuing to do that.
And we know that we can bring home Australians, we should bring home Australians, and the critical workers, whether it's in health or medical or engineering are fundamental to helping save lives and protect lives around the country.
Mark, last of all, you've been very patient, so thank you.
On June 17, when you announced that the latest ATAGI advice was that AstraZeneca was now not recommended for people under 60, I remember you saying two things. You said it was so important you announced it within 10 minutes of receiving it.
You also said that not accepting that advice wouldn't happen on your watch, wouldn't happen on the Prime Minister's watch, you always accepted the medical advice.
Why now, two weeks later, are you advising people to talk to their doctors about going against that advice? I think that's the real point I think Jane Norman was trying to get to.
Have these decisions been forced by your inability to get adequate supply of the Pfizer vaccine to cover younger Australians, and you have an effective oversupply of AstraZeneca?
No. With great respect, what we've done is ensure that we have very significant supplies of domestically made vaccine, sovereign vaccine manufacturing here in Australia.
The medical advice has not changed. There's simply a recognition that the access for those who wish to make an informed consent decision can be broadened, consistent with the supply.
And then secondly, in terms of the Pfizer, we're doubling the number of doses that are arriving in Australia on a weekly basis over the course of July. On average, we'll increase from over 300,000 to 600,000. And then after that, there's another 32.6 million doses over the course of the rest of the year.
So the time frames for these arrivals were set out long ago. Pfizer has delivered absolutely in accordance with what we've previously set out, the difference is that we've been able to bring forward another 400,000 doses to take it to 2.8 million over the course of July.
We're always working to bring forward more. In addition to what's coming forward with Pfizer, enough to ensure, with 40 million doses, the whole of the nation has access to that program. Another 10 million doses will come through the Moderna program, which will commence with a million in September and increase to three million during each of October, November and December.
So these are the time frames that were long ago established. The difference is we have been able to bring forward more earlier, but to the maximum amount available. We have a doubling of Pfizer over the course of the next month and then, as we know, we will grow again with a tripling of that over the course of the last three months of the year.
So I want to finish by just saying to the Australian people, I want to thank you for coming forward. 126,000 came forward to be vaccinated yesterday. 126,000 came forward to be tested yesterday.
These are challenging times for the world. But Australians have helped keep each other safe, and they're challenging times in Australia. The difference is that lives have been saved here and lives have been lost in unimaginable numbers overseas.
So we'll get through it. We've done it before. We'll work through it again. Almost, well, 11 months ago, we were seeing almost 30 times more cases on a daily basis than we are in Australia now. And so, with the work of all Australians, we'll manage to keep Australians safe and to ensure that, ultimately, our principal goal of saving lives and protecting lives is carried out to ensure that everyone's family is safe. Take care.