The National Cabinet met today for the 25th time to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment and getting the economy moving again.

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

There have been over 20,000 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 266 people have died.

The outbreak in Victoria has meant that there are now around 8,000 active cases in Australia. Daily infection rates have remained low in all states and territories, other than Victoria. Testing remains high, with more than 4.6 million tests undertaken in Australia.

National Cabinet also discussed the Victorian outbreak, the health response underway and recommitted to providing as much support as necessary to Victoria during this very difficult time. The National Cabinet noted that there had been a relaxation in community attitudes towards social distancing in some states and territories.

Despite the success in suppressing the virus, the Victorian outbreak has shown that social distancing rules must be maintained at least until a vaccine or effective treatment is found. The reduction in adherence to social distancing amongst younger Australians is a particular concern, and recognised by the AHPPC.

Further, we need to continue to have the right controls in place to test more people, trace those who test positive and respond to local outbreaks when they occur.

Seven of Australia’s eight states and territories are successfully implementing the suppression strategy for COVID-19, with the goal of no community transmission, enabling Australians in those jurisdictions to live and work in a COVID-safe economy.

National Cabinet discussed the updated economic outlook following the additional restrictions imposed in Victoria and the changes to the JobKeeper program announced in response to these restrictions.

National Cabinet acknowledged the economic deterioration and that the national unemployment rate is now expected to peak at closer to 10 per cent in the December quarter of 2020.

National Cabinet welcomed the additional $15.6 billion provided for the JobKeeper program with the changes to the employee reference date and turnover reference period benefiting nation-wide, particularly in Victoria where the economic deterioration will see more firms and employees relying on JobKeeper.

Combined with the health response, the Commonwealth economic and balance sheet measures now total more than $314 billion and along with the response from the state and territories of $45 billion, significant economic support is flowing into the economy.

National Cabinet will meet again on 21 August 2020.

Aged Care

National Cabinet acknowledged the aged care workforce and the tremendous work that they are doing during the crisis to support older Australians.

National Cabinet agreed to a paper on Aged Care Preparedness: Lessons from Victorian Response to COVID 19, and committed to further actions and an audit of state and territory aged care emergency response capabilities.

Over the next two weeks joint Commonwealth-State plans will be developed that include four elements:

• activities such as face to face infection control training with aged care facilities even where there are no cases of COVID-19;

• compulsory use of face masks, workforce controls and the use of private hospital resources that will be actioned in locations where there are active cases of COVID-19; and

• preparing for the establishment of Coordination centres (similar to the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre) including identifying key staff who will be deployed; and

• the audit of state and territory aged care emergency response capabilities.

Quarantine Arrangements

Jane Halton AO PSM, who is leading the National Review of Hotel Quarantine Arrangements, provided National Cabinet with an Interim Report including early observations about areas of risk and opportunities for improvement based on initial findings from New South Wales and Queensland.

The Review has sought information from each state and territory, and is also undertaking site visits of facilities across the nation. After completing site visits in Queensland and New South Wales, the Interim Report notes openness from stakeholders across the hotel quarantine system in those two states, as well as a strong desire to learn from past experiences and to ensure best practice.

The Final Report is due to be provided to National Cabinet in October 2020.

COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategy

National Cabinet strongly welcomed the Commonwealth Government’s COVID-19 Vaccine and Treatment Strategic Approach that provides a framework for securing early access to safe and effective vaccines and treatments. This will save Australian lives, allow us to consider reopening borders, rebuild the economy, and assist our region.

The strategic approach is focused around research and development; purchase and manufacturing; international partnerships; regulation and safety, an immunisation administration and monitoring.

There are currently over 160 COVID-19 vaccines in pre-clinical and clinical trials; it is vital that Australians have access early and that we are able to support our neighbours.

The Commonwealth Government is undertaking an audit of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine and treatment manufacturing capability and capacity, building on the data from the Therapeutic Goods Authority and Defence Materials Technology Centre.

The audit will assess current domestic industry capability and identify where opportunities exist to expand, modify or repurpose capability and capacity to support the manufacture, distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

Relevant supply chains and support for regulatory approvals for expanded or repurposed manufacturing may also be considered. The results of the audit will inform the Australian Government’s consideration of how to maximise the Australian manufacturing industry’s role in the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

The Commonwealth is well progressed in a number of areas:

• Advance purchase agreements to secure direct purchase of vaccine or treatment doses.

• Manufacturing agreements to establish arrangements to utilise and expand Australia’s manufacturing capability and capacity.

• International and multilateral agreements to support and facilitate access for Australia and its region.

• Procurement contracts to facilitate the purchase of goods, materials or services necessary for the distribution or deployment of vaccines and treatments.

The Commonwealth Government will advise on further progress on agreements once specific negotiations have been finalised.

Freight Code

National Cabinet agreed to the formalisation of the Freight Movement Code following the previous agreement of the Freight Movement Protocol on 24 July.

The Code will enable the consistent enforcement of a range of health measures that support the safe and efficient movement of freight across Australia.

It will be implemented and enforced by jurisdictions no earlier than in five business days, and no later than 10 business days.

The Code was developed with the agreement of all jurisdictions through the Transport and Infrastructure Council, and was also endorsed by the AHPPC.

Caps on international passenger arrivals

National Cabinet agreed that existing caps on international passenger arrivals would continue in order to manage and maintain quarantine arrangements across jurisdictions.

Until 24 October the following will apply subject to further advice on quarantine capacity:

• Melbourne – no international passenger arrivals;

• Sydney – limit of 350 passenger arrivals per day;

• Perth – limit of 525 passenger arrivals per week;

• Brisbane – limit of 500 passenger arrivals per week;

• Adelaide – limit of 500 passenger arrivals per week;

• Canberra, Darwin – passenger limits on each flight to be discussed with jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis;

• Hobart – no international flights.

National Cabinet agreed that information relating to quarantine capacity and passenger demand would continue to be exchanged and support flexibility within the caps to as much as possible to minimise disruptions to returning Australian citizens and permanent residents.

These arrangements will continue to be reviewed by National Cabinet.

Restrictions on outbound travel by Australian citizens and permanent residents remain in place, in accordance with the health advice to the Government.

JobMaker – National Skills Reform Agenda

National Cabinet noted the progress made on skills reform, with seven states and territories having signed the Heads of Agreement for Skills Reform and the commencement of bilateral negotiations between the Commonwealth and states and territories on the $1 billion JobTrainer Fund to provide support and up to 340,700 training places to help school leavers and job seekers develop new skills.

The Skills National Cabinet Reform Committee was established by National Cabinet today to support the ongoing reforms to vocational education and training outlined in the Heads of Agreement.

National Cabinet was also briefed by interim National Skills Commissioner Adam Boyton on the state of the labour market and the role of the National Skills Commission.

Other Border Arrangements

The Commonwealth Government agreed to consider options for enhancing contact tracing of passengers on domestic flights.

The Prime Minister briefed First Ministers on enhanced border management arrangements in place in the Torres Strait to minimise the risk of COVID-19 being communicated. He also outlined his recent virtual summit with the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and the support Australia is providing to help PNG respond to the pandemic.