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Four-step plan out of COVID-19 pandemic remains ‘on the agenda’ despite growing outbreaks

Scott Morrison has declared that Australia is on track for a four-phase reopening plan, despite growing COVID-19 clusters in New South Wales and Victoria.

Speaking from Kirribilli House after the National Cabinet meeting, the prime minister said the four-step plan National Cabinet agreed to in June is “very much on our agenda” despite the worsening outbreak.

“I want to assure people that the path out of this – and the four-step plan that National Cabinet agreed some weeks ago – is very much on our agenda, despite the challenges we are currently facing in New South Wales and Victoria,” he told reporters.

“Work continues to chart that way out and the vaccination rates we will need to achieve over the course of the rest of this year and next year.”

It comes after Mr Morrison on Thursday announced that he would propose a “streamlined set of financial supports” for every state and territory impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns.

On these supports, Mr Morrison on Friday said Commonwealth payments would be based on medical advice from the chief health officer.

“You have seen the hot spot declared last night for those areas in Melbourne, and a range of other areas around Geelong. Equally, you have seen the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer declare hot spots across greater Sydney,” he said.

“That is what triggers the Commonwealth engagement in payments in any lockdown that may occur.”

Earlier this week, NSW announced a combined support package under which eligible businesses would also be able to access weekly payments of between $1,500 and $10,000, provided they could show a 30 per cent fall in turnover and agree not to cut staff. Sole traders would be able to access $1,000 a week.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on Friday announced weekly payments would be available for Victorian businesses and workers, with the cost to be shared by the state and federal governments.

Mr Morrison confirmed people already on social security support would not be entitled to those payments.

“Where people are already receiving social security support, then they are not entitled to those payments,” he said.

“If they are earning less income, they can adjust how the payments work because there is also rental assistance and a range of other payments in addition to what people get on a JobSeeker payment.

“I note that in the last budget we increased the JobSeeker payment above indexation for the first time in more than 30 years at a cost of $8 billion over the forward estimates – the single largest increase to JobSeeker payment that we have seen in 30 years.”

‘Zero cases’ target for NSW and Victoria
Mr Morrison stressed the target in NSW and Victoria is to “reduce as far as possible to zero the cases that are infectious in the community”.

Asked whether the states were right to implement a lockdown, he said all states “need to take the best possible health advice and do what is right for the interests of their citizens and the broad Australian population”.

“I believe all states and territories are always trying to do that,” he added.

NSW recorded 97 new coronavirus cases on Friday, with nearly half of those infectious while in the community.

Victoria recorded six new cases on Friday, bringing its total number of cases linked to the current outbreak to 24.

Queensland also recorded a new local case on Friday – the mother of a 12-year-old boy who spent time in the United States and completed quarantine in Sydney before flying to Brisbane.

‘Record day’ for vaccinations in Australia
On Australia’s vaccine rollout, the prime minister said “just shy of two million” vaccine doses have been implemented this month, with Thursday a “record day” for vaccinations across the country.

“Some 175,000 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, that is a new record. It means in the space of just three days, 500,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered across the country,” he said.

He also said pharmacists will “play an increasing role” in the vaccine rollout as the supply of doses increases.