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The Morrison government has come under attack over “failed” quarantine arrangements and the sluggish pace of the national vaccine rollout as Victoria enters a seven-day “circuit breaker” lockdown.
There is mounting concern the latest virus wave could have become “uncontrollable” with almost 30 cases in the Melbourne-based cluster.
The acting Victorian premier, James Merlino, on Thursday pointed to vaccine delays and “aged care facilities where not one person has been vaccinated” as practical problems in managing the response. Both are the responsibility of the federal government.
His Labor colleagues in Canberra declared the situation could have been avoided.
The federal Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, told question time Scott Morrison had “two fundamental jobs this year” – the mass rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and standing up “a safe national quarantine system”.
“This week he has been shown to have failed at both,” Albanese said.
The Victorian outbreak has prompted the commonwealth to accelerate vaccinations for aged care residents with a change of policy flagged during question time in Canberra.
Previously, the advice had been to wait 14 days between being vaccinated for the flu and Covid, but the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, revealed a shift on Thursday.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, later confirmed the change telling reporters previous medical advice about needing a two-week gap had been rescinded for aged care facilities in Victoria to allow an expedited rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.
Responding to vaccine hesitancy in the community that has been a contributing factor to the slow pace of inoculations, Kelly also urged those eligible to get the jab as soon as possible.
“To protect yourself, your family and to contribute to the protection of the whole community in Australia, if you are in those groups where vaccination is available right now, please, make that appointment and get vaccinated,” Kelly said.
The prime minister also signalled that a new quarantine centre could be built in Victoria sooner than anticipated with negotiations with the state close to being finalised. The jurisdictions have been haggling over cost-sharing.
The Melbourne-based Greens leader, Adam Bandt, was even more pointed in his criticism than Albanese.
Bandt characterised Victoria’s response to rising Covid cases as a “Morrison government lockdown” as he criticised the government for failing to vaccinate even 5% of the population so far.
“The US has managed to fully vaccinate 50% of its adult population, so why can’t you even break 5%?” Bandt asked. “In Victoria, we have already done more than our fair share to stop the third wave so why haven’t you done yours?”
Morrison responded to the criticism by stating his “two jobs” during the pandemic had been to “save lives and to save livelihoods”. The prime minister said the vaccination rollout was gathering pace.
“That is what my government has been doing, in concert with all state and territory governments around this country, and most importantly, with the people of Australia,” Morrison said.
The Liberal leader acknowledged people in Victoria would “go through a difficult period over these next seven days”, but he said: “We have faced these challenges in the face of Covid before and we will overcome them again.”
The latest outbreak started with a leak from hotel quarantine in Adelaide, which the South Australian government found was the result of aerosol transmission.
Labor questioned why the government had not yet introduced mandatory national standards for the hotel quarantine system.
The federal shadow health minister, Mark Butler, asked: “Given the prime minister’s refusal to implement a national quarantine system, why has he refused to implement strong standards on aerosol and ventilation to stop these outbreaks within hotel quarantine?”
Morrison replied that he didn’t accept Butler’s “assertions”. He said the South Australian government had followed its protocols.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Morrison government under fire over Covid vaccine delays as Victoria enters lockdown | Australian politics