Scott Morrison has warned reopening Australia’s international borders while COVID-19 remains rampant could trigger a “dangerous situation” as criticism mounts over his vaccination rollout.
While stopping short of abandoning plans to reopen international borders on October 31, the Prime Minister’s comments suggest that international flight bans and restrictions for tourists may last even longer than expected.
“It’s not safe right now to open up our international borders. Around the world, COVID-19 is still rife,” the PM said in a Facebook Live.
“We are still seeing increases in daily cases, particularly in the developing world. We’re seeing that right now up in Papua New Guinea, for example, where we’re reaching out to give them a helping hand.
“But around the world, it is still a very dangerous situation because of COVID. We’ll keep moving quickly to vaccinate our most vulnerable population and we’ll keep those borders closed for as long as we have to, but only as long as we have to, and we’re already right now preparing for what it looks like when we can open up again.”
The Prime Minister has been accused of retreating into his Facebook bunker and refusing to come out after spending 24 hours defending his “bungled” vaccine rollout online.
Mr Morrison announced on social media on Sunday that he would scrap existing targets to vaccinate the majority of Australians, declining to mark the major announcement with an official statement.
On Monday night, he took to Facebook again to complain that “a lot of people have had a lot to say about it.”
He insisted Australia still had a lot to be thankful for compared to other countries and the fact that COVID was not running rampant gave us more options for the vaccine rollout.
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But Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said it was about time the Prime Minister stopped hiding on Facebook and fronted the media and the public.
“It’s frankly unbelievable that, at a time when Australians are crying out for clear information about the vaccine rollout, Scott Morrison has retreated to Facebook instead of fronting up to scrutiny,” Mr Butler said.
“This is Scott Morrison’s most important job for the year — get Australia vaccinated — and people deserve to know how and when that will happen.”
The Prime Minister said on Facebook on Monday night that he wouldn’t say what the targets were anymore in terms of getting everyone vaccinated by the end of the year.
“Now, I’ve been asked a bit about what our targets are. One of the things about COVID is it writes its own rules,’’ he said.
“You don’t get to set the agenda, you have to be able to respond quickly to when things change. And it’s certainly the case over the course of this past year, we’ve had to deal with a lot of changes. We’ve just had one recently regarding the medical advice on AstraZeneca.
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“Now, I want to stress, particularly for those over 50, it is essential that we encourage you to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. The medical advice is very strong in supporting those over 50 getting the AstraZeneca vaccine because it protects you, because you are vulnerable to COVID-19.
“And for those who are under 50, particularly when we get to that point in the second half of this year, we have put together a vaccination program that is delivered through your GPs. See, you trust your GPs with your health. We trust your GPs with your health. That’s why we’ve chosen to predominantly distribute the vaccination program through your GP. So you can ask your questions, you can make the decisions about your health with the person you most trust about your health, your General Practitioner.
“Now, there are other distribution methods that we’re using, particularly with the states and territories, and we’ll put those also to good use over the course of this year, particularly when we’re moving to the balance of the population where there will be the opportunity later in the year, I think, to do things at a more ramped up scale.”
The Prime Minister’s revelation that it could take until mid-year to complete the first two phases of the vaccine rollout for people aged over 60 appears to be in stark contrast to original predictions that everyone in aged care would be vaccinated by Easter.
Earlier, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there were tragically 11,000 COVID deaths in the world in the last 24 hours but none in Australia underlining our success in controlling outbreaks.
Professor Kelly said the timetable was to get the first two phases — frontline workers, aged care workers and over 70s — vaccinated by mid year.
“By mid year, we want to get those completed,” he said.
“The rest, with this new information we have over the last few days, we need to recalibrate what we are doing with the program. I won’t give a number or date. But we absolutely committed to providing the vaccine to anyone, any adult Australian, who wants the vaccine. As quickly as possible.”