Following the National Cabinet meeting on Friday morning, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has revealed a new four-phase pathway out of Covid-19, which will mean snap-lockdowns are only used in “extreme circumstances” going forward.
The PM held a media conference on Friday morning to give an update on the state of the country’s Covid-19 outbreaks, stating that at no time in the federation history had the cabinet ever met as frequently as it has in the past 18 months while dealing with the pandemic.
“Many Australians today will be listening on in their home cities or where they live while they are subject to Covid restrictions,” he said.
“Every country has had their share of success and also of failures over this period of time. Managing your way through Covid-19 is unchartered waters and 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.
“We agreed to formulate a national plan to transition Australia’s national COVID response from its current prevaccination settings, focusing on suppression of community transmission to post-vaccination settings, focused on prevention of serious illness, hospitalisation and fatality and the public health management of other infectious diseases.”
The PM announced the cabinet had agreed on a four-phase plan, which includes:
The PM said the first phase, which is where Australia is currently, would be focusing on vaccination and working toward all Australians being vaccinated. The first phase will also involve reducing international arrivals by 50 per cent to ease pressure on quarantine facilities, increase repatriations of Aussie citizen, moving toward using lockdowns as a “last resort” and trialling alternative quarantine options for returned travellers.
“The first phase is the one we are in,” he said. “Vaccinate, prepare and pilot. 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.
“To temporarily reduce commercial inbound passenger arrivals to all major ports by 50 per cent from current caps to reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities, due to the increased risks of the Delta strain of the virus.
“Lockdowns in the current phase to be only used as a last resort. That was agreed today.
“The Commonwealth will facilitate increased commercial flights, those are the facilitated commercial flights we have been running, to increase international repatriations during this period of reduced caps – commercial caps at the major airports and they will be channelled into Darwin for quarantine at the national resilience facility at Howard Springs.
“Where we will lose some capacity for inbound flights of those coming back through commercial flights, the Commonwealth will directly seek to mitigate that by upping, wherever possible, those commercially facilitated flights that the Commonwealth is pursuing.
“Over the course of the current phase that we are in, we will trial and pilot with individual jurisdictions, the introduction of alternative quarantine options, including home quarantine for returning vaccinated travellers. The work that we have already done and Professor Kelly may want to add to this, shows that a vaccinated person doing quarantine for seven days is stronger than an unvaccinated person doing quarantine for 14 days.
“There is clear medical evidence to suggest that vaccination means that shorter periods of quarantine is possible without any compromise of the health and safety standards that is currently delivered by a 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated persons. Getting vaccinated actually clearly helps and the medical evidence backs that up, particularly for quarantine.”
Once we have reached a vaccination target, which Morrison is yet to stipulate, Australia will increase international traveller caps and allow a capped number of student and economic visa holders into the country.
“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. This will be a scientific number. It won’t be a political number, it won’t be an arbitrary number, it will be a number that we can have confidence in,” he said.
“Our measures, I stress, may include – these are still to be determined – we agreed today that we could say measures may include the following, once we reach that: To ease restrictions on vaccinated residents, such as lockdowns and border controls. Lockdowns would only occur in extreme circumstances to prevent escalating hospitalisation and fatality.
“To restore inbound passenger caps at that time to previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers and then even larger caps for those who are vaccinated.
“We would be allowing a capped entry of student and economic visa holders, subject to quarantine arrangements and availability, that we will then introduce those new quarantine arrangements for vaccinated residents, based on the trials undertaken in the current stage and then we would either be implementing the vaccine booster program at that time, or preparing it, depending on the timeframe of hitting that first mark on vaccination.”
The third phase, Morrison said would be when the country would move to treat the virus “like the flu” or any other infectious disease.
“The third phase is called the consolidation phase. That is to manage Covid-19 consistent with public health management of other infectious diseases. What does that mean? 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,” he said.
“Arguably, even better. We are seeing evidence of that in other jurisdictions that have higher levels of vaccination. When it is like the flu, we should treat it like the flu and that means no lockdowns, these are the measures that may include no lockdowns, the vaccine booster program underway, exempting vaccinated residents from all domestic restrictions, abolishing caps on returning vaccinated travellers.
“Allowing further increased capped entry of student economic and humanitarian visa holders, very high caps we are talking about at that point. Lifting all restrictions on out-bound travel for vaccinated persons and extending the travel bubble for unrestricted travel to new caned date countries such as Singapore, the Pacific and potentially other candidates by the time we reach that stage.”
Finally, the fourth phase – where we all want to be – is when things are “completely back to normal”.
“Measures may include allowing uncapped inbound arrivals for all vaccinated persons without quarantine and allowing uncapped arrivals of non-vaccinated travel subject to pre-flight and on arrival testing,” he said.
“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.”