The National Cabinet met today to discuss our response to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, new approaches to testing, tracing isolates and quarantining, including the use of rapid antigenic tests (RAT ) and the vaccine deployment and recall program.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly provided an update on the spread of the Omicron variant. The number of Omicron cases continues to rise in Australia and around the world. Omicron continues to show greater infectivity than the Delta variant, but with less severity.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 612,106 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 2,289 people have died. Over 56 million tests have been performed, with 1,643,841 million tests reported in the past 7 days.
Globally, there have been over 294.9 million cases and sadly over 5.4 million deaths, with 2.6 million new cases and 7,169 deaths reported in the past 24 hours. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to increase in many countries around the world.
The National Cabinet received a detailed update on Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination program from Lieutenant-General John Frewen, General Coordinator of Operation COVID Shield.
The deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine in Australia continues to expand. To date, 43 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia, including 212,497 in the past 24 hours.
In the past 7 days, more than 754,500 vaccines have been administered in Australia. Over 94.5% of Australia’s population aged 16 and over have now received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including 98.7% of Australians aged 50 and over and over 99% of Australians 70 years old. years and older.
Over 91.6% of Australians aged 16 and over are now fully vaccinated, including over 96.8% of Australians aged 50 and over and over 99% of Australians aged 70 and over.
Over 2.7 million booster doses have been administered. Australia has sufficient supplies of boosters, with nearly 18 million mRNA vaccines in stock in Australia. Yesterday, more than 176,000 recalls were administered across Australia. Following the expansion of booster eligibility on Jan. 4 to those who received their second dose at least four months earlier, more than 33.8% of those eligible for the booster had a booster and 28.6% of Australians aged 70 and over have had a booster in the past 8 weeks since starting the booster program.
The National Cabinet will meet again on Thursday, January 13, 2022.
Rapid antigen tests
The National Cabinet noted that COVID-19 testing is free and available at state testing clinics for people who have symptoms or are in close contact.
The National Cabinet has agreed that up to 10 rapid antigen tests over three months (a maximum of 5 per month) will be available free of charge at pharmacies for people holding the following cards:
- Pension reduction card
- Commonwealth Elderly Health Care Card
- Gold, white or orange card from the Department of Veterans Affairs
- Health care card
- Low income health card
These free tests will be available in the next two weeks. However, anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 and close contacts should go to a state clinic for a free test and not go to a pharmacy to receive a free test. The costs of providing these tests will be shared 50:50 between the Commonwealth and the states and territories in accordance with the COVID shared funding agreements.
The National Cabinet noted that the Commonwealth will provide 10 million RATs to states and territories (a combination of primarily point-of-care testing and self-testing) to help with testing and lab capacity. The National Cabinet agreed to fund them in accordance with the existing national partnership agreement on the response to COVID-19.
The National Cabinet received a briefing from Joe Buffone, Managing Director of Emergency Management Australia, on behalf of the National Coordination Mechanism (NCM). Supply chain issues continue to be a major disruptor to broad access to RATs. The National Cabinet noted that the Commonwealth is working through the NCM to finalize anti-hoarding measures with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and other major retailers that stock RATs to limit the number of RATs available for sale for each individual.
The National Cabinet noted that the Commonwealth will ban price hikes and non-commercial export of RATs, similar to actions taken earlier in the pandemic on essentials such as masks, other PPE and disinfectants for hands. As was the case previously, the price increase will be defined as the supply or offer to supply essential goods at a price greater than 120% of the initial purchase price (a 20% mark-up) and penalties in Failure to comply with this directive could go up to five years imprisonment or $ 66,000.
Changes to test requirements
The National Cabinet has approved changes to the testing requirements for all states except Western Australia, including:
- Removed the requirement for truck drivers to have seven consecutive day tests.
- Testing will not be necessary until patients present to the hospital.
- Confirmatory PCR testing will not be required after a positive RAT. Individual states and territories will provide further information on how a positive RAT will be recorded. Anyone who tests positive is encouraged to contact their GP for help if needed.
- Testing before interstate travel will no longer be required, except for Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, with Queensland and Tasmania due to review these requirements in the coming weeks. State testing clinics cannot be used for interstate travel.
- A second post-arrival test for international travelers will not be required, except for Queensland, which will revise this requirement when they reach a 90 percent double vaccination rate.
Health and security at work
The National Cabinet noted the impact on businesses of state occupational health and safety laws that may involve requiring employees to return a negative RAT test in order to report for work. The National Cabinet agreed that the Commonwealth Attorney General would convene a meeting of relevant ministers from all jurisdictions to consider occupational health and safety requirements with a view to removing any potential obligation to impose testing requirements on workers. workplaces to employees
National framework for back to school
The National Cabinet tasked the Group of First Secretaries (FSG) led by Mr. Phil Gaetjens, Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department and the Cabinet to develop a national framework to enable students to return to school on the first day of the first term and for schools to remain open with consistent requirements across all jurisdictions to be in place by the first day of the first term of school. The FSG will report to the National Cabinet at the next meeting.