Six million Aussies join vaccine queue as Qld keeps close watch on PNG

Australia has entered phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccination program – six million people are now joining the  queue – but more urgent work is being done in the Torres Strait.

Mar 22, 2021, updated Mar 22, 2021
Torres Strait Regional Council Saibai Island councillor Conwell Tabuai being vaccinated by nurse immuniser Sue Bowler before the AstraZeneca rollout was paused. (Supplied)

Torres Strait Regional Council Saibai Island councillor Conwell Tabuai being vaccinated by nurse immuniser Sue Bowler before the AstraZeneca rollout was paused. (Supplied)

Frontline workers were still being vaccinated against the worst of COVID-19 as authorities gave the green light for phase 1B to start today. Everyone over the age of 70, along with Indigenous Australians over 55 and younger adults with a medical condition or disability, will now be eligible for COVID-19 protection, although appointments are expected to be limited in the early stages.

While the pace of the rollout has faced criticism, GPs and 100 dedicated commonwealth clinics are poised to deliver the next round of injections to an estimated six million Australians.

“If you are eligible to get the vaccine, as one of those six million people, please make sure you do so over the coming few months,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told the ABC this morning.

More than 1000 general practices have registered to administer the vaccine, with another 3500 clinics to begin over the next four weeks.

The formerly-government owned biomedical giant CSL has also received last-minute approval to start producing significant supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccines to fuel the rollout. Production begins today.

In the Torres Strait, Queensland Health workers continue to move through the islands vaccinating remote communities, as Papua New Guinea deals with a major epidemic.

Australia has restricted travel from PNG but so far this year Queensland has taken care of around 60 travellers who returned from PNG with COVID-19. The PNG epidemic, and the arrival of more contagious strains, has seen the infection rate in hotel quarantine soar.

Queensland has 58 active cases of COVID-19 today, with four new overseas-acquired cases detected in hotel quarantine – all in travellers arriving from PNG.

Queensland Health crews continue to vaccinate Torres Strait communities as part of a fast-tracked local response. After a strong turnout on Saibai Island, the crews are due to move to Dauan Island today, and then on to other islands before vaccinating key Cape communities.

The first wave of Australian support for PNG is due this week. John Philp, Australia’s High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, said the PNG health system was under immense strain.

“Just in terms of numbers, the Port Moresby Hospital and the capital is really one of the major centres of COVID-19 surge here right now,” Philp told the ABC.

“The beds in the intensive care unit and in the COVID isolation unit at Port Moresby General Hospital, there’s only 29 of them (and) on Saturday 26 were full – that’s 90 per cent.”

Some testing in PNG has found an infection rate higher than 50 per cent, and it is believed to be particularly high among returned travellers when compared to other countries of origin.

New research suggests a smooth rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine internationally would boost the Australian economy by $17 billion and generate nearly 40,000 jobs.

However, the modelling by KPMG Economics also found that continued international travel restrictions until the end of 2021 would depress global services trade, cutting Australian growth by $4 billion and resulting in 13,100 fewer jobs.

-With AAP

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