The first vaccines produced in Australia will begin to roll out in just over a fortnight, while workers from the Pacific will take part in a “pre-travel quarantine” pilot in a bid to boost COVID-hit sectors.
National cabinet met on Friday for the first time in a month, also agreeing to boost capacity at the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility but state quarantine caps will be unchanged.
Health Department Secretary Brendan Murphy confirmed the first of 50 million AstraZeneca doses to be produced in Victoria would be administered from March 22.
“The value of having onshore production cannot be underestimated. Every country in the world is depending on international supplies (and) they’re seeing them come slowly,” he said.
It comes after Italy blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of the vaccine, saying Australia’s low case numbers and death toll made it “not vulnerable” to COVID-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the move was not unexpected, but underlined the value on vaccines produced onshore.
“That’s why we’ve … ensured that we have our own domestically produced vaccine, and we’re one of few countries that have done that,” he said.
“That has given us sovereignty over our vaccination program, which I think is incredibly important.”
Mr Morrison welcomed the first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced overseas and administered in South Australia on Friday, as “another V day for Australia”.
Professor Murphy revealed more than 70,000 COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Australia since its rollout began nearly a fortnight ago.
Recipients included about 20,000 residents in 241 aged care facilities.
The prime minister also confirmed workers from Fiji and Vanuatu would take part in a “pre-travel quarantine” to boost COVID-hit sectors as part of the Seasonal Workers Program.
Industries heavily reliant on seasonal workers have been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced international borders to abruptly shut.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced after the meeting South Australia had agreed to run a pilot for pre-travel quarantine, which would see workers quarantine before leaving their home countries.
Capacity at the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility will be boosted to 2000 per fortnight by April or May.
Mr Morrison said the delay was a result of the need to “ramp up” the workforce at the site, which he said was also experiencing issues with the wet season.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has called for the federal government to shift quarantine centres to stem the spread of outbreaks emanating from hotels.
But Mr Morrison said no proper plan was put to him at national cabinet.
“I need a detailed, costed proposal that the Commonwealth could consider,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of going backwards and forwards, but as yet the commonwealth doesn’t have a costed proposal that we could actually consider.”