Friday, February 26, 2021
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COVID vaccine rollout could allow more Australians to return from overseas

COVID vaccine rollout could allow more Australians to return from overseas
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“That is our hope, that we can progressively increase hotel quarantine around the country,” he said.

Speaking from Canberra Hospital’s COVID-19 surge centre, where he watched 22-year-old COVID testing nurse Maddy Williams receive the ACT’s first Pfizer vaccine, Mr Hunt said as case numbers fell globally, the need for restrictions including border closures would be reduced.

Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt and ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith observe as COVID testing nurse Maddy Williams receives the first COVID-19 vaccination in the ACT.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“Our goal is to get to a situation where, if we can protect the population against serious illness, hospitalisation and death, facilities like this … won’t be required,” he said.

“What that means is the ability to operate and to address cases without having to close borders, without having to bring down lockdowns.”

Asked whether the government would consider inoculating Australians overseas before their return, the Health Minister said the focus was on vaccinating within Australia.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is considering the question of those Australians who are serving overseas and, of course, what we’re looking at is bringing Australians home,” Mr Hunt said.

About 40,000 Australians overseas are still registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as wanting to return home.

Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Professor Alison McMillan, who received her first Pfizer dose alongside the Prime Minister on Sunday, travelled to Howard Springs in the Northern Territory on Monday to help expand quarantine capacity in the federal facility.

“She is looking at the maximum safe capacity for expansion of Howard Springs. That’s another part of helping to bring people home,” Mr Hunt said.

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The former mining camp near Darwin currently has 850 places for international arrivals but has the capacity to house about 3000. In her review of national quarantine, former public servant Jane Halton found it was “well suited to the provision of this reserve capacity”.

However, the NT government believes that capacity should not be expanded until cyclone season ends in April.

A Queensland Health spokesman said the state’s quarantine program had the capacity to accommodate both current and projected future demand.

“There is no immediate need to expand, however, we have arrangements in place to scale up at short notice if required,” the spokesman said.

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NSW is expecting to vaccinate the state’s 35,000 frontline quarantine and essential health workers over the next three weeks. The state’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said 2021 would be a year of transition.

“As we get more of the population vaccinated and as we add vaccination to our toolkit, we’ll be able to progressively calibrate our response,” she said.

Dr Chant said COVID-19 restrictions and decisions to ease them would now be “heavily influenced” by the vaccination of vulnerable groups.

“If we know we can prevent severe disease … our actions have to be proportionate to that.”

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