Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called a special meeting of national cabinet on January 8 in a bid to discuss a proposal to “strengthen the COVID safety” of international travel amid the emergence of a new virus strain in the UK. While taking to Facebook, Morrison said that he requested the proposal through the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, from the national expert panel, the AHPPC. He informed that the state leaders will discuss safety protocols and the meeting will also provide an opportunity to further update the national cabinet on the Australian government’s vaccination programme.
Morrison’s announcement follows urgent calls for the meeting from around the country, including from WA premier, Mark McGowan. The WA Premier had repeated his call for returning Australians travelling from the US and the UK to be tested for COVID-19 before being allowed to board a plane. Morrison, on the other, had played down talk of recalling national cabinet to discuss the UK variant. While speaking to 3AW, he had said that the medical panel was “not recommending” any actions at this point that the national cabinet would have to take.
However, after three people in Perth tested COVID-19 positive and were found to have the UK variant of the virus, Morrison called the snap meeting on Wednesday. According to local Australian media reports, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant had also called for a "universal approach" to the mutant strain. She also warned that there were no shortcuts, predicting the new strain "will potentially be everywhere".
Meanwhile, amid the rising cases of coronavirus, Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced that the nation's plans for the COVID-19 vaccine are ahead of schedule and the rollout is expected to be completed by the end of October. The public distribution of the vaccine in Australia is expected to begin as early as March. Hunt said that while the progression of the vaccine was well underway, the government’s approach was to "under-promise and over-deliver".
According to reports, Scott Morrison’s government has pledged free COVID-19 vaccines across Australia if trials for the experimental candidate by the University of Queensland are successful. The government has ordered the vaccines according to two doses per person and aims to manufacture doses in Melbourne. The officials have agreed to purchase two more COVID-19 vaccines, increasing the count to 135 million doses in total to combat the COVID-19 infection.