Prime Minister Scott Morrison has conceded the weeks ahead will be tough as Australia struggles to contain the Delta COVID-19 variant, but defended the financial support on offer for those affected.
Mr Morrison held a media conference on Wednesday with almost half of all Australians under COVID-19 lockdowns across the country.
While people who lose work in Commonwealth-designated hotspots can access weekly payments of between $375 and $600 when lockdowns extend beyond seven days, calls for the federal government to reinstate the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme have been growing.
Mr Morrison dismissed the proposition again on Wednesday, saying the challenges facing Australia now are different to when JobKeeper was launched last year.
“You solve the problem with the policy responses that you need in front of you. I’m not trying to solve last year’s problem – that’s what JobKeeper solved,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“Those payments are going to turn up in your bank account and you can count on it.”
People in locked down areas of NSW, Victoria and South Australia can apply for the support which is based on how many hours of work were missed due to restrictions.
“We need to be able to turn this on and turn it off quite quickly and with the method we’ve chosen,” he said.
Mr Morrison said many countries across the world were also struggling with Delta outbreaks and recognised the challenge posed in the weeks ahead.
“It’s tough and it will be tough in the weeks ahead as we continue to wrestle with the new strain of the virus and we adapt our responses to fight it,” he said.
“What Australia is dealing with right now is no different to countries all around the world.”
‘Australians just want us to get it right’
Mr Morrison also admitted his government’s vaccine rollout has faced “significant challenges”, but said the program is getting back on track.
In a radio interview earlier on Wednesday, Mr Morrison was accused of believing the government didn’t need to apologise for the sluggish rollout.
Asked later by a reporter in Canberra whether he should publicly say sorry, Mr Morrison replied: “I think Australians just want us to get it right.”
“No country has got their pandemic response 100 per cent. I think Australians understand that,” he said.
“Those delays are regrettable. We all know they are the result of many factors. I take responsibility for the problems that we have had but I am also taking responsibility for the solutions we’re putting in place.”
Labor health spokesperson Mark Butler said the vaccine rollout had been a “debacle”, criticising the government over a failure to secure more supplies.
“Australians are dangerously exposed because we have the worst vaccine rollout in the developed world,” he told reporters.
‘Take the vaccines that are available to you’
Australia’s vaccination rollout has been delayed in part by several changes in medical advice around the AstraZeneca vaccine because of its link to extremely rare blood clots.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisations (ATAGI) recommends the vaccine be taken by people over 60, though individuals of any age can request it through consultation with their doctor.
Mr Morrison on Wednesday said he was making a “constant appeal” for ATAGI to consider changing their advice in response to the level of risk currently posed by COVID-19 in the community.
“It’s a constant appeal. I can assure you, it’s a constant appeal that the situation Australia faces should be managed on the balance of risk,” he said.
“It’s for them to now constantly reconsider how that balance of risk applies and provide their advice accordingly.”
The vaccine rollout had initially banked on widespread use of the AstraZeneca jab, which can be manufactured locally.
The program is now relying on increased supply of the Pfizer vaccine to help accelerate uptake. Almost one million doses arrived from overseas this week.
But Mr Morrison has also encouraged states to dispense the AstraZeneca vaccines through state-based clinics to get as many people vaccinated as possible.
“My message to Australians today is: take the vaccines, please, that are available to you now,” he said.
One million doses of coronavirus vaccines were administered in the past week, Mr Morrison said.