Following the recent National Cabinet meeting on 8 January 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison released a statement detailing Australia’s ‘COVID-19 Vaccination Policy’ and the management of Australia’s borders, after the emergence of new variants. In the statement, Prime Minister Morrison assured that the National Cabinet will continue to work together to address issues and find solutions to the health and economic consequences of COVID-19.
During the meeting, National Cabinet discussed the management of emerging COVID-19 variants and agreed to a range of measures to mitigate the risk to Australians, inclusive of measures that directly affect workers. The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, also provided an update on the latest epidemiological data and medical advice in relation to COVID-19.
National Cabinet has reaffirmed its commitment to the Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, which sets out roles and responsibilities of the Commonwealth, states and territories in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine.
Professor Paul Kelly noted that the new variants of COVID-19 have a higher transmissibility, are rapidly becoming the dominant virus in the United Kingdom and have now been seen in more than 30 countries around the world, including Australia — where there have been 12 occurrences of the variant.
National Cabinet was briefed on the current situation in New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and Queensland, and welcomed the decision taken by the Queensland Government following news of a positive case of the new variant. Due to the increased risk of transmission, National Cabinet has announced that any workers involved in quarantine arrangements (transport, cleaners, etc) are to have daily COVID-19 tests, with jurisdictions to work towards meeting this standard as soon as possible. The local government areas of Brisbane, Logan, Moreton, Redlands and Ipswich have also been named as hot spots.
National Cabinet has adopted a number of recommendations from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (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, with exemptions only applied in extenuating circumstances, such as seasonal workers with limited access to testing. Air crew must also take a COVID-19 test every seven days or on arrival in Australia, and 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. As part of the infection prevention and control measures onboard aircraft, air crew must wear personal protective equipment where appropriate. Additional measures will also be taken to strengthen end-to-end protection of Australians from COVID-19, including new variants.
International passenger caps in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia will be temporarily halved from 15 January 2021 to manage returning Australians and other travellers who could potentially have been exposed to the new variants. Current international passenger caps in Victoria and South Australia and arrangements in the Northern Territory are manageable and will remain in place. National Cabinet will review the arrangements on international passenger caps in early February.
For domestic travel, all passengers (excluding children aged 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 that have already taken mitigating measures for passengers and facilities.
National Cabinet has also reaffirmed its commitment to the Australian Government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy. Heads of Departments of Health in all jurisdictions and the AHPPC will develop a nationally consistent approach on the use of public health orders for the vaccine rollout.
To protect the most vulnerable and for public health reasons, this work will include an assessment of any requirements for vaccinations for priority cohorts in critical and high-risk sectors, such as aged-care workers. National Cabinet will consider this approach at their meeting in February 2021.
The situation with COVID-19 in Australia is changing rapidly. For the latest information on Australia’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19, visit www.australia.gov.au.