Australia

National cabinet to meet twice weekly to get Australia’s COVID-19 response back on track

The national cabinet of Australian leaders will return to an “operational footing” to get the coronavirus pandemic response back on track, Scott Morrison says.

The prime minister has brought forward the next meeting with state and territory leaders to 19 April, from 7 May, with subsequent meetings to be held twice a week.

The federal government has faced heavy criticism for axing a timetable for the vaccine rollout as it fell well short of initial targets.

“I have requested that national cabinet and our health ministers move back to an operational footing – to work together, closely, to tackle head-on the challenges we are all facing with making our vaccination program as good as it can be,” Mr Morrison said.

“There are issues we are trying to deal with as a federal government, and I have been upfront about those.

“But amongst the states and territories, they are also tackling their own unique issues and working together we are all going to be in a better position to find the best solutions.”

He said the more regular meetings would continue “until we solve the problems and get the program back on track”.

Mr Morrison is expected to outline the success of the government’s health and economic response to the pandemic in a speech to business leaders in Perth on Wednesday.

There have been 1.234 million vaccine doses administered nationally, including 56,000 over the past day.

The figures come as Trade Minister Dan Tehan heads to Europe in a bid to release supplies of COVID-19 vaccine that Australia has ordered – a key part of the problem with the slowness of the domestic rollout.

Mr Tehan will also hold talks in Europe and the UK on free trade agreements.

During the visit, the minister will meet with the World Trade Organisation director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has been outspoken on Europe’s vaccine trade restrictions and is a key ally in Australia’s fight to have the supply released.

Vaccine production and distribution will also be on the agenda for talks in Germany and France.

Mr Tehan also wants to work with European officials on ensuring vaccines can be delivered to countries struggling to deal with outbreaks such as Papua New Guinea.

Australia has promised PNG one million doses of the European-sourced AstraZeneca vaccine.

There are hopes the European-made Novavax can be added to Australia’s vaccine arsenal in June.

Therapeutic Goods Administration boss John Skerritt said there were “very promising early results” in trials of the Novavax vaccine, with company talks scheduled for Thursday.

However, Professor Skerritt said the clinical trials had not yet been completed and the company needed to establish large-scale manufacturing arrangements.

Australia has an order for 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, a two-dose protein vaccine that will also be a mainstay in South Korea’s vaccination program.

Meanwhile, health authorities are grappling with the nation’s first coronavirus death for the year and the second case of rare blood clots believed to be linked to the AstraZeneca jab is recorded.

A man in his 80s died from complications due to COVID-19 after returning to Queensland from the Philippines on March 20.

A woman in her 40s is in a stable condition in hospital after getting blood clots following her vaccination in Western Australia.

Professor Skerritt said Australians had a higher chance of winning the lottery than getting blood clots as a side effect of vaccinations.

People who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine have been asked to look out for symptoms including severe or persistent headaches, blurred vision, shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling or abdominal pain.

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