More than halfway there: Vaccination coverage nears 50 per cent but Qld baulks at international travel

Australia has fully vaccinated almost half of its population aged 16 and above, while three-quarters of people in that age group have received a single dose.

Sep 23, 2021, updated Sep 23, 2021
The mass vaccination hub at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

The mass vaccination hub at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

Seven months into the rollout, more than 10 million people are fully vaccinated, with 48.5 per cent of the over-16 population having received both jabs, while 73.4 per cent have had a single shot.

A national reopening agreement has set 70 and 80 per cent double-dose coverage as crucial milestones to easing restrictions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is in Washington DC, on Thursday reiterated that at 80 per cent the national plan allows for borders to reopen for international travel.

“If you’re vaccinated, then we are hoping to have that in place,” he said, adding Australia also wanted to welcome back foreign students and skilled migrants.

Queensland has fully vaccinated 42.78 per cent of eligible residents and 61.53 per cent have had one dose of a vaccine.

However, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said nothing has been agreed by national cabinet on international travel and insisted that when it does restart it would not be as free and easy as it was before the pandemic.

“I look forward to the day when we can freely travel across the world again, I mean everyone’s talking about that. Ok, but it is not the way we used to travel, I’ve done it, I’ve worn the P95 masks, I’ve done the hotel quarantine,” she told reporters on Thursday.

“I’ve looked at how they’ve managed it, they were in a state of emergency in Tokyo, it is not the world we used to know.”

Palaszczuk said she would put forward a proposal to restart smaller cruises with fully vaccinated passengers within Queensland next year.

“That’s a great option for Queenslanders who are fully vaccinated to actually trial some smaller cruises, up and down the Queensland coast,” she said.

“We’re a few months off that, of course, but you know we need to start the planning and I know how much Queenslanders love their cruises.”

Morrison said the 75 per cent mark for first dose vaccination coverage for people aged over 16 would be hit this week, and double dose coverage was steadily rising.

“And as they rise, the opportunities to get back to life as normal as it can be, and living with the virus, will just be coming closer each day,” he told reporters.

Almost one in five per cent of children aged five to 11 have received a jab in the eight days since they were included in the rollout.

Tourism and Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the nation was on track to lift travel restrictions this year.

“I do empathise with the Australians who have been denied the opportunity to travel overseas this year. It’s another reason why everyone should get vaccinated,” he told the National Press Club.

“We have to stick to the national plan that will see our international border open up – at this rate by Christmas at the latest.”

Qantas and Virgin are preparing for more overseas flights to restart in December with vaccination expected to be a condition for travellers.

More than 45,000 Australians are stranded overseas with the figure rising in recent months due to reduced passenger arrival caps.

About 4700 are considered vulnerable.

Tehan confirmed travel bubbles were under negotiation with other countries, mirroring the New Zealand arrangement.

“That will mean there will not be the restrictions on 14-day quarantine that otherwise would be the case for people returning to Australia,” he said.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the federal government leaving arrival caps to states and territories was absurd given it was responsible for customs, immigration and borders

“It is terrible that people are stranded. We need to fix it,” he told ABC radio.

“This is a tragedy for people who are stranded overseas. It’s also a tragedy for people here who want to see their loved ones.”

Queensland recorded just one new locally-acquired case of COVID-19 on Thursday, linked to the Sunnybank cluster, who was in home quarantine for their entire infectious period.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the new case was a student from St Thomas More College, who tested positive on day nine of home quarantine.

“So this just shows here again how important it is that when people are asked to go into quarantine, they need to remain in quarantine for 14 days,” she said.

“It must be particularly tough at the moment, our beautiful weather … it’s school holidays. Thank you very much to all of those families, there’s large numbers of them who are still in quarantine. That’s excellent of them to do that.”

Victoria recorded 766 new local cases on Thursday, the state’s highest tally of the pandemic.

NSW continues to record about 1000 new infections a day.

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