The National Cabinet met today for the 31st time to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, the Framework for National Reopening by Christmas, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment and getting the economy moving again.
National Cabinet continues to work together to address issues and find solutions to the health and economic consequences of COVID-19.
The Acting 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 more than 27,600 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 907 people have died. There are now around 80 active cases in Australia. Most notably, National Cabinet noted the significant reduction in community transmission, and that there have been only a small number of cases of community transmission in the last fortnight. More than 9.2 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 52 million cases and sadly over 1.2 million deaths. Today there have been more than 500,000 new cases reported.
National Cabinet endorsed 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 welcomed the Commonwealth Government’s announcement that Australia had secured access to 134.8 million doses of four leading vaccine candidates.
National Cabinet adopted all recommendations in the National Contact Tracing Review, presented by the Australian Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel. While vaccines are being developed, and treatments for COVID-19 are being improved, an important means to bring about a return to normal economic and community activity is rapid testing, contact tracing, isolation and outbreak management. These measures back up the ongoing need for COVID-safe behaviours such as social distancing and good hygiene.
National Cabinet will meet again on Friday 11 December 2020, when the National Federation Reform Council will also meet, with a focus on mental health.
Framework for National Reopening – A COVID Normal Australia
The Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory agreed to a new ‘Framework for National Reopening Australia by Christmas’ subject to local health advice and building on and enhancing the 3-Step Framework for a COVID Safe Australia developed in May 2020.
Western Australia did not agree to the National Framework for Reopening, specifically the domestic border and international arrival proposals.
The Framework provides the Australian community and businesses with a way forward where Australians can live and work in a COVID Normal Australia, recognising that the highly infectious nature of COVID-19 means that it will be present until a COVID-19 vaccine is found.
The Framework underscores the need for continued health vigilance while providing a path to easing the physical and mental burden on Australians.
The Framework establishes an updated Common Operating Picture based on the advice of Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO, with strengthened criteria to ensure that health systems are prepared and detailed information is publicly available on COVID-19 conditions.
The Commonwealth and seven states and territories agreed that reopening by Christmas under the Framework sets a pathway for the removal of domestic border restrictions where it is safe to do so, and with free movement of people and freight consistent with National Cabinet’s strategy of suppression with a goal of no community transmission.
Review of state and territory contact tracing and outbreak management systems
National Cabinet endorsed the review led by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel of the contact tracing and outbreak management systems in each state and territory and agreed to adopt all 22 recommendations.
All states and territories were assessed as now having strong contact tracing and outbreak management systems in place. The review provides characteristics of an optimal contact tracing and outbreak management system and recommends that every state and territory regularly stress test their systems.
The review found that patient testing, contact tracing and case management should be fully digital end to end. However while a fully digital system dramatically improves efficiency of contact tracing, it will never replace the need for well-trained contact tracers and expert public health oversight – states and territories should employ a permanent workforce for tracing and outbreak management, with senior public health leadership and should have an additional surge workforce trained and at the ready. Contact tracing must never fall behind. In the event of an outbreak, every effort should be made to go hard and go early.
The review recommended the creation of a digital data exchange so that states and territories can easily access and transfer information about cases and contacts where people have crossed borders. Commonwealth, NSW, Vic and ACT will work to develop a data exchange system.
The review found that states and territories should share new and emerging technologies, such as electronic venue and workplace attendance registration systems, smartphone apps to monitor self-quarantine, new diagnostic tests and wastewater surveillance.
Australian COVID-19 Vaccine Policy
Australia is well positioned for early access to a breakthrough COVID-19 vaccine in 2021. The Commonwealth Government has secured early access to 134.8 million doses of four leading vaccine candidates worth over $3.2 billion, in addition to up to 25 million vaccines candidates through the global COVAX facility.
Vaccines, should they be deemed safe and effective, are expected to be available by March 2021.
National Cabinet endorsed the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy (the Policy). The Policy sets out how the COVID-19 pandemic vaccination program will be rolled out – one of the biggest exercises in health logistics Australia has ever seen. The policy sets out clear lines of responsibility and clear plans for delivering on these responsibilities will be crucial. The Commonwealth will purchase all vaccines, leading logistics and distribution and will manage significant centralised national oversight and coordination in order to manage continuing complexities and critical unknowns, as well as to track the movement of doses and uptake of vaccination and oversee future surveillance. Immunisation administration will be managed jointly between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.
The key principles and assumptions for the vaccination program include:
• Free of charge for all Australian citizens, permanent residents, and most visa-holders
• Not mandatory, but strongly encouraged
• To be rolled out on the basis of identified priority populations, linked to delivery schedules, with scope for redirections to outbreak response
• Centralised Commonwealth oversight, with defined responsibilities for the Australian and State and Territory governments
The initial priority groups for COVID-19 immunisation identified by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) are:
• People who have an increased risk, relative to others, of becoming very sick or dying from COVID-19 should they contract it.
• People who are at increased risk of exposure and hence being infected with and transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to others at risk of severe disease or are in a setting with high transmission potential.
• People working in services critical to the functioning of our society, including select essential services staff and people working in supply and distribution of essential goods and services.
Further details are available at: www.health.gov.au
Australians returning home
National Cabinet agreed to continue to prioritise the return of Australians.
Since the beginning of the pandemic over 414,000 Australians have returned to Australia on commercial flights, and 69 flights facilitated by the Department fo Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Since 18 September 2020, around 10,900 Australians registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have returned to Australia. However, since 18 September 2020 the list of registered Australians has grown from 26,200 to 35,637. Between now and Christmas, we expect to bring an additional 27,000 Australians home. Further places will become available once Melbourne Airport reopens to international arrivals.
National Cabinet agreed international air passenger caps have played an important role in ensuring jurisdictions’ quarantine systems can protect Australians at home. The Commonwealth will be extending the international air passenger caps till 31 January 2020 for Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, with further increases to be made if and when additional quarantine places become available.
National Cabinet welcomed progress on plans by the Victorian Premier to reopen Melbourne to international travellers.
The Commonwealth and Northern Territory Government are finalising arrangements to increase capacity at the Howard Springs Quarantine Facility. Both the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmanian Governments have agreed to facilitate the return of 360 and 450 Australians respectively before Christmas.
Leaders agreed that, wherever possible, existing surge capacity for quarantine will remain in place for vulnerable Australians. The Queensland Government agreed to continue to surge above their weekly 1,000 passenger cap, and will now allow an additional 300 vulnerable Australians per week.
National Cabinet agreed a range of measures to support efforts to maximise the use of available seats to further boost the number of Australians who can return before Christmas. Going forward, caps and other arrangements will be implemented on a weekly basis and, in consultation with the relevant jurisdiction, an overallocation by up to 10 per cent above caps will be allowed.
The Commonwealth will continue to work with states and territories to facilitate the arrival of additional facilitated flights, carrying registered Australians and prioritising vulnerable Australians.
Australian Capital Territory 360 passengers over two flights before Christmas
New South Wales a weekly cap of 3,000 passengers into Sydney
Northern Territory finalising arrangements with the Commonwealth to increase capacity at Howard Springs Quarantine Facility from the current 500 per fortnight
South Australia a weekly cap of 600 passengers into Adelaide
Queensland a weekly cap of 1,000 passengers into Brisbane, and increased surge efforts to 300 vulnerable Australians per week
Tasmania 450 Australians over three flights before Christmas
Western Australia a weekly cap of 1,025 passengers into Perth
The National Cabinet agreed to continue prioritising returning Australians. Quarantine space must be prioritised to Australians, including vulnerable Australians, seeking to return home. While we look forward to welcoming international students back and will continue planning for their return, we cannot progress the broader entry of international students at this time.
Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements
The National Cabinet noted the Commonwealth Government’s proposed response to the Royal Commissioner into National Natural Disaster Arrangements and agreed to work collaboratively on the recommendations that require joint government action.
The National Cabinet further agreed that a National Emergency Management Ministers Meeting will be initially responsible for driving and coordinating implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, including design of ongoing governance mechanisms. This Meeting will work closely with other relevant Ministers who have responsibilities relevant to recommendations of the Royal Commission.
The Commonwealth’s response to the Royal Commission can be found here.
National Cabinet Infrastructure and Transport Reform Committee
The National Cabinet agreed to establish the Infrastructure and Transport National Cabinet Reform Committee (the Committee), which will be chaired by the Commonwealth Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development the Hon Michael McCormack MP.
The National Cabinet tasked the Committee with coordinating efforts to deliver infrastructure investment stimulus between jurisdictions, and presenting opportunities to improve freight transport connectivity across all transport modes by mid-2021. The National Cabinet also tasked the Committee with developing proposals to streamline planning and approval processes at all levels of government to support faster and more efficient delivery of infrastructure projects.
Automatic Mutual Recognition of Occupational Licences
The National Cabinet agreed in principle to establish an Intergovernmental Agreement on Automatic Mutual Recognition of Occupational Licences, with that agreement to be signed by the end of the year following further work by the Council of Federal Financial Relations. To give effect to this, draft legislation to amend the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act 1992 will be released by the end of the year to facilitate automatic mutual recognition commencing by 1 July 2021.