Canberra (Tribune International, PM Office Release, 18 September 2020): The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, recent progress following the Victorian outbreak, easing restrictions (including international border measures), helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment and getting the economy moving again.
National Cabinet continues to work together to address issues and find solutions to the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. Australia has done well on both the health and economic fronts compared to most countries around the world.
The Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, provided an update on the latest epidemiological data and medical advice in relation to COVID-19.
There have been more than 26,800 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 837 people have died.
Following Victoria’s second wave, there are now around 1,100 active cases in Australia, a decrease from 2,500 cases two weeks ago. In Victoria, infection rates continue to decline in a positive sign, while daily infection rates have remained low in all other states and territories. Some differences have emerged in testing rates between states and territories, and National Cabinet agreed the importance of enhancing testing. More than 7.2 million tests have been undertaken in Australia.
National Cabinet reaffirmed a suppression strategy for COVID-19 with the goal of no community transmission. Seven of Australia’s eight states and territories are successfully suppressing COVID-19, enabling most Australians in those jurisdictions to live and work in a COVID-safe economy.
National Cabinet recommitted to providing all necessary support to Victoria.
National Cabinet welcomed the Commonwealth’s $2 billion extension of the COVID-19 Health Measures package to support Medicare-subsidised telehealth and pathology services, GP-led respiratory clinics, home medicines delivery, public and private hospital services, as well as further investments in PPE. To date, over 30 million telehealth consultations have been delivered, with mental health telehealth consultations a priority. Telehealth services will be extended to 31 March 2021.
National Cabinet will meet again on Friday 16 October 2020.
National Cabinet welcomed an update from Lieutenant General John Frewen DSC AM, Head of the Defence COVID-19 Taskforce, on the contribution of the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force to the national pandemic response, particularly relating to Defence’s support to the states and territories.
As at 17 September 2020, there were 3,241 Defence personnel directly supporting Operation COVID ASSIST and contributing to the Commonwealth’s whole-of-government efforts. This included 1,306 personnel in Victoria, 736 personnel in New South Wales, 586 personnel in Queensland, 163 personnel in Western Australia, 152 personnel in South Australia and 128 personnel in the Northern Territory.
Full details of Defence’s contribution is provided in the attached chart.
Australians returning home
National Cabinet noted that there are a significant number of Australians wishing to return home from overseas, with the Commonwealth having taken steps recently to provide further support for those facing personal hardship.
National Cabinet agreed that all jurisdictions would continue to work towards enabling more Australians to return home by increasing the current caps on international passenger arrivals.
New South Wales and South Australia will continue to implement existing plans to accommodate more returning Australians by increasing their current international passenger arrival caps by Monday 28 September 2020 by 500 and 100 respectively.
Queensland and Western Australia will adopt a two-stage increase in their international passenger arrival caps over the next three weeks that will see an additional 500 Australians returning through each jurisdiction each week. Queensland will commence with an additional 200 passengers from Monday 28 September 2020, increasing to 500 passengers from Monday 5 October 2020. Western Australia will commence with an additional 200 passengers from Monday 28 September, increasing to 500 passengers from Monday 12 October 2020.
National Cabinet also agreed that any facilitation of special commercial services would be carried out through the jurisdictions of South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory.
Contact tracing by domestic airlines
National Cabinet noted that domestic airlines will progressively implement four mandatory contact tracing data fields (name, email address, mobile phone number and state of residence) from 1 October 2020 on a mandatory basis during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This will be implemented by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications in-conjunction with domestic airlines.
Coordinating contact tracing efforts and quarantine arrangements
National Cabinet welcomed the review by Dr Alan Finkel AO and Commodore Mark Hill CSC on the lessons learned from the visit to Health NSW by Commonwealth and Victorian officials.
National Cabinet agreed to a review of systems and operations in all jurisdictions to strengthen capacity and capability to effectively track, trace and isolate COVID-19. Further, National Cabinet agreed to commission a report by Dr Finkel to enable jurisdictions to exchange case and outbreak management data to enhance the management of outbreaks nationally.
National Cabinet received an update from Jane Halton AO PSM on the review of state and territory hotel quarantine systems. Australia’s hotel quarantine system has performed well across most jurisdictions and Jane Halton’s work will provide useful guidance on improvements for state and territory governments.
Agriculture Workers Code
National Cabinet noted progress with implementation of the Agriculture Workers Code, which is on track to be implemented by Victoria, NSW, ACT and the Northern Territory by at least 25 September 2020 as provided for in the Code.
Rural and Regional National Cabinet Reform Committee
National Cabinet commissioned the new Rural and Regional National Cabinet Reform Committee. As a first tranche, the Committee will focus on developing a shared understanding of the quantum, status and impact of existing investments by governments in rural and regional communities and, by the end of 2020 provide advice to National Cabinet on options to improve the delivery of existing investments to support Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery through strong and sustainable rural and regional communities.
National Cabinet noted progress on joint actions underway to meet the commitments it made on 21 August 2020 to boost aged care preparedness at the provider, local, state and national level.
National Cabinet noted that while all states and territories are considered to have good existing emergency response capabilities and are on track with establishing and/or scaling up virtual or physical Response Centres, further practical actions will be undertaken to ensure a high level of preparedness.
The Commonwealth will continue to work with the states and territories, including through the development of resources, to support the operation of response centres.
On 7 September 2020, AHPPC endorsed advice from its Aged Care Advisory Group that each state and territory should establish emergency response centres.
Within each jurisdictions’ public health response structure, a dedicated aged care emergency response team has been established and key personnel identified at the state and Commonwealth level.
The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission is completing an infection control site visit program as part of its COVID-19 regulatory activity. As at 11 September 2020, the Commission has undertaken 673 visits relating to infection control out of a total 2,720 Residential aged care Facilities (RACF) (25 per cent). These visits are sequenced based on a risk assessment such that those visits represent those considered to be highest risk facilities. In total nationally, 2,446 visits to RACFs have been undertaken by the Commission, the Australian Defence Force, AUSMAT and state and territory governments.
Income tax exemption for small and medium business grants
The Commonwealth and Victoria have reached an agreement to make the grants to small and medium business recently announced under Victoria’s Business Resilience Package exempt from income tax. This recognises the exceptional circumstances Victorian businesses face.
The Commonwealth will extend this arrangement to all States and Territories on an application basis. Eligibility would be restricted to future grants program announcements for small and medium businesses facing similar circumstances to Victorian businesses. Any tax exemption would be time limited for grants paid until 30 June 2021.
AHPPC Advice on Boarding School Students
National Cabinet agreed to a new AHPPC Statement on Boarding Students and Students Living in Border Zones, which supports all jurisdictions adopting appropriate risk-based approaches (such as the Queensland approach) to ensure boarding students can cross borders and safely return home to their families during school holidays.