The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy and management of Australia’s borders in the context of the emergence of new variants.

National Cabinet continues to work together to address issues and find solutions to the health and economic consequences of COVID-19.

The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, provided an update on the latest epidemiological data and medical advice in relation to COVID-19.

There have been 28,571 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 909 people have died. There are now 41 people in hospital. More than 11.8 million tests have been undertaken in Australia.
Australia has done well on both the health and economic fronts compared to most countries around the world. National Cabinet noted the significant increase in COVID-19 cases in many countries and the comparative strength of Australia’s effort in addressing COVID compared to most other developed economies. Globally there have been over 87 million cases and sadly over 1.8 million deaths, with 925,628 new cases reported in the last 24 hours.

National Cabinet discussed the management of emerging COVID-19 variants and agreed to a range of measures to further mitigate the risk to Australians.

National Cabinet reaffirmed commitment to the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, which sets out the roles and responsibilities of the Commonwealth, states and territories in rolling out COVID-19 vaccination.

National Cabinet will meet fortnightly, or more frequently if required.

Management of COVID-19 Variants and Brisbane Case

Professor Kelly briefed National Cabinet on the emergence of new variants of COVID-19. New variants have a clear higher transmissibility, are rapidly becoming the dominant virus in the UK and are now being seen in more than 30 countries across the world, including Australia where there have been 12 occurrences of the variant.

Additional measures to further mitigate risks of the spread of COVID-19, including new variants, arising from international and domestic air travel were agreed and outlined below.

National Cabinet was briefed on the current situation in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. National Cabinet welcomed the decision taken by the Queensland Government following the confirmation of a positive case of the new variant. In recognition of the increased risk of transmission, National Cabinet agreed to include the Local Government Areas of Brisbane, Logan, Moreton, Redlands and Ipswich as hot spots.

National Cabinet agreed that the national standard for any worker involved in quarantine arrangements (transport, cleaners etc) will be to have daily COVID-19 tests, with jurisdictions to work towards meeting this standard as soon as possible.

Domestic and International aviation measures

National Cabinet agreed to additional measures to strengthen end-to-end protection of Australians from COVID-19, including new variants.

International passenger caps in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia will be temporarily halved from no later than 15 January 2021 to manage the flow of returning Australians and other travellers who have been potentially exposed to the new variants. Current international passenger caps in Victoria and South Australia and arrangements in the Northern Territory are considered manageable and will remain in place.

Arrangements on international passenger caps will be reviewed by National Cabinet in early February.

National Cabinet also adopted a number of recommendations from the AHPPC in relation to in-flight and in-airport measures.

For international travel:

Returning Australians and other travellers to Australia must return a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure. Exemptions will only be applied in extenuating circumstances, such as seasonal workers where there is limited access to testing.
Air crew must take a COVID-19 test every 7 days or on arrival in Australia, continue to quarantine in dedicated quarantine facilities between international flights or for 14 days, and not reposition for an outgoing international flight unless they do so on a crew-only flight.
All passengers and air crew must wear masks on flights and in airports.
Airlines will continue to have appropriate infection prevention and control measures on board aircraft, including crew wearing personal protective equipment where appropriate.

For domestic travel:

All passengers, excluding children 12 and under or those with particular exemptions, and air crew must wear masks on flights and in airports.

These measures will also be applied to government facilitated commercial flights which already have in place strong mitigating measures for passengers and facilities.

COVID-19 Vaccine Update

National Cabinet reaffirmed their commitment to the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out strategy and agreed that heads of Departments of Health in all jurisdictions and the AHPPC will to develop a nationally consistent approach on the use of public health orders for the vaccine roll-out.

Additionally, to protect the most vulnerable, and based on normal vaccination practices, for public health reasons this work will include an assessment of any requirement for vaccinations for priority cohorts in critical and high risk sectors, such as aged care workers for example.

National Cabinet will consider this approach at their meeting in February 2021.