Australians might need to get three COVID-19 jabs to be considered fully vaccinated under a proposed new public health order.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will on Wednesday meet with premiers and chief ministers for what he has described as an “informal” meeting of the national cabinet to discuss rising COVID-19 Omicron cases.
The announcement came following the easing of restrictions and opening of borders as Australians travel in preparation for their Christmas break.
Up for discussion is the speeding up of booster shots and mask mandates in indoor areas, with the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) considering whether to change the definition of “fully vaccinated” into three vaccine doses.
In a press conference on Monday, Morrison said that Australia needed to “keep moving forward” with the easing of pandemic restrictions while also stating that vaccination and booster shots remained the “best defence” against Omicron.
“We have to keep moving forward with this,” he said. “This is why Australians rolled up their sleeves; this is why Australians have worked so hard.”
“The cases will, of course, rise with the Omicron variant, what we will continue to work through with states and territories is making sure we manage the impact on the hospital system and the primary health network,” the prime minister said.
The Prime Minister urged people eligible for boosters to get them, noting that there were 13 million doses available in the country.
“Anyone who is concerned and who is ready to have their booster shot, I would urge them to go and get it because that is the best defence against Omicron, particularly for insuring against serious illness, or what might require hospitalisation,” he said.
Asked about whether he supported a mask mandate, Morrison said it “should be” a choice, saying Australians “are responsible for and our own health.”
“Governments have been telling Australians what to do now for the last couple of years, and Australians have grown tired of that,” he said.
“The way we are able to live with that is Australians making their own positive decisions about their own health.”
Meanwhile, some state premiers and health experts are pushing to reduce the interval to at least four months, saying it would mean improved protection against the latest variant of concern as researchers warned vaccine efficacy wanes after six months.
“More people getting it (the virus) means more people are going to transmit it and more people going to have that risk of developing serious illness even if they’ve been vaccinated,” said University of Melbourne epidemiologist Nancy Baxter on ABC radio on Tuesday.
“We know that boosters help get around that.”
Calls to bring back restrictions or mask mandates have also been met with resistance from NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, who said on Monday that his government wanted to treat residents “like adults,” and it was time where “personal responsibility” needed to come to the fore.
“We need to also move away from fear and move to hope and confidence,” he said.
“The main thing here is that Christmas isn’t ruined, and we don’t go back into lockdown,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.
NSW recorded 2501 new cases on Monday and Victoria 1302 infections.
South Australia reported 105 new infections, while there were 59 in Queensland. The ACT recorded 13 cases and Tasmania three.