Premiers are brewing for a fight at national cabinet over Covid financial support as Victoria goes into a five-day lockdown at midnight.
Almost half of all Australians are again in lockdown as national cabinet is set to discuss on Friday when and how disaster support payments kick in.
The Victorian government announced its fifth pandemic lockdown, concerned about 75 Covid exposures sites and thousands of close contacts to trace. Most of NSW's population is still in lockdown.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will bring new "streamlined" rules to national cabinet for disaster support payments for lockdown affected workers and employees.
Full-time workers unable to work due to the pandemic will receive $600 per week, with $375 for part-time workers who lost under 20 hours of paid work per week.
The payments will not begin until day eight of a state-mandated lockdown in a Commonwealth-declared hotspot. But once qualifying, the payments will be backdated to the beginning of the lockdown.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said he expects the federal government will provide support for workers and businesses in his state on par with what is currently available for those in NSW hotspots.
After the Premier and Prime Minister spoke on Thursday about support for Victorians, Mr Andrews said he would be "staggered" if the federal government insisted that Victorians not get anything.
"I really don't think they would want to get into that sort of argument. I certainly wouldn't want to and I'm confident that we can have a mature discussion," Mr Andrews said.
The Prime Minister said the rules that were appropriate at one time had to change as a result of new strains.
"The thing about COVID-19, is particularly with the new Delta strain, it writes the rules," Mr Morrison said in Sydney on Thursday.
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He announced that NSW lockdown residents would have access to free telehealth consultations. It follows concerns that many of the new transmissions are occurring inside GP clinics from people who are unwell but are unaware they are infectious.
A childcare fee waiver will return on Monday in the lockdown areas.
The payments will be eligible to Australian residents living or working in Commonwealth-declared hotspots, are at least 17 years old, have been in paid employment they cannot attend due a lockdown and not have any Covid-related paid leave entitlements.
In NSW the disaster payments for individuals will be made through Services NSW, but in other jurisdictions the Commonwealth has been building systems for the last week to handle the new payments.
This was not a free pass for states to declare lockdowns, Mr Morrison urged.
"We don't want to see these lockdowns. We prefer they not happen."
Mr Morrison also said Australia had been in negotiations with Moderna and Pfizer for the mRNA vaccine manufacturing capacity onshore as it currently has with AstraZeneca.
He confirmed he would shortly be speaking to the chief executive of Pfizer, but not for the first time.
One-third of eligible Australians have now had their first dose of the Covid vaccine. One in eight have had two doses.
In NSW, Covid cases have begun to stabilise but Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned she "won't hesitate to make difficult decisions if she has to" unless case numbers start dropping.
The state recorded 65 cases to 8pm on Wednesday evening in what Ms Berejiklian described as a "welcome drop".
"But it comes with a warning," she said.
"Based on the fact we had 28 people in the community while infectious, I expect that we will have higher case numbers tomorrow."
Queensland reported three new locally-acquired cases, and two new cases among international arrivals who tested positive in quarantine.
There were new cases in the ACT after all 26 Canberra residents identified as casual contacts of a man who tested positive for COVID-19 after working at a Goulburn construction site tested negative.
ACT chief health officer Kerryn Coleman was confident the situation posed a low risk to the broader Canberra community.
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