Post-Covid plan still on agenda despite Sydney and Melbourne lockdowns

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

National cabinet is pushing ahead with its roadmap for reopening Australia, despite lockdowns in the country's two largest cities.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the four-phase strategy to steer the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic remained "very much on our agenda", even as authorities in Sydney and Melbourne raced to contain outbreaks which have shutdown their respective cities.

However, Mr Morrison did not provide a timeframe for the plan's release, nor further detail on the crucial vaccination targets which would need to be hit in order to end lockdowns, border closures and restart international travel.

Mr Morrison addressed reporters following a national cabinet meeting on Friday afternoon, where state leaders were briefed on the new criteria for Commonwealth assistance for snap lockdowns lasting shorter than a week.

A hotspot declaration from Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly would be the the trigger for disaster relief payments, which are up to $600-per-week for people who have lost 20 or more hours of work.

The financial relief had previously only kicked-in after a lockdown ran longer a week. The states would need to commit "significant economic support" of their own to gain access to disaster relief payments for shorter lockdowns.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews lobbied for more rapid help after he ordered his state into a five-day lockdown late on Thursday afternoon.

The federal government won't open the payment up to people on income support, as Mr Morrison again rebuffed pleas from the Australian Council of Social Service.

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The welfare group's chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, said there was 800,000 people locked-down in Sydney and Melbourne who were on income support, and therefore unable to access the disaster relief.

"This gaping hole affects people on the lowest incomes in our communities, students, single mothers, parents, older women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with a disability and migrants," Dr Goldie said.

"People rely on social security to supplement their part-time or casual work and that paid work has disappeared overnight. It is heartless that they are barred from accessing disaster payments when their colleagues can."

Mr Morrison was on Friday hailing another record day of vaccinations, with more than 175,000 jabs administered across the latest 24-hour period.

Almost 13 per cent of eligible people are now fully vaccinated.

Mr Morrison said states and the Commonwealth would look at options to boost vaccination rates on weekends, when daily numbers typically fall away sharply.

He also flagged a greater role for pharmacists in the rollout as supply ramped up in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the Australian Medical Association has called on the NSW to impose harder restrictions - including shutting down non-essential retail businesses - amid rising concerns over Sydney's outbreak.

The state recorded 97 new cases on Friday, 29 of which were infectious in the community.

"The latest COVID-19 infection numbers in Greater Sydney show while the virus is not escalating out of control, current restrictions are not strong enough to bring overall infection numbers down any time soon," AMA president Omar Khorshid said.

"Rising unlinked cases and people infectious in the community show we are not ahead of this outbreak. This means there is no end to the lockdown in sight and more needs to be done."

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This story Covid exit plan still on agenda despite lockdowns first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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