National Cabinet discusses COVID-19 Omicron, testing, quarantine RATs

Canberra (Tribune International, PM Office Prelease, 20 Jan 2022); National Cabinet met today to discuss our response to COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, approaches to test, trace isolate and quarantine including the use of rapid antigen tests (RATs) and the vaccine rollout and booster programme.

The Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, provided an update on the spread of the Omicron variant. Omicron case numbers continue to increase in Australia and globally. Omicron continues to show greater infectivity than the Delta variant, but with much less severity in terms of hospitalisations, ICU and ventilated patients.

Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 1,514,560 confirmed cases in Australia and, sadly, 2,841 people have died.

Globally there have been over 333.4 million cases and sadly over 5.5 million deaths, with 3,281,678 new cases and 9,162 deaths reported in the last 24 hours. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge in many countries around the world.

Lieutenant General John Frewen, DSC, AM, Coordinator General of the National COVID Vaccine Taskforce (Operation COVID Shield) provided a detailed briefing on the major expansion in Australia’s vaccination rollout.

Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine roll out continues to expand. To date 47 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia, including 332,808 doses in the previous 24 hours.

In the previous 7 days, more than 1.9 million vaccines have been administered in Australia. More than 95.2 per cent of the Australian population aged 16 years and over have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including over 99 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 99 per cent of over 70 year olds.

More than 92.7 per cent of Australians aged 16 years and over are now fully vaccinated including more than 97.5 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 99 per cent of Australians over 70 years of age.

Over 5.7 million booster doses have been administered to over 28 per cent of Australians. More than 53 per cent of Australians aged 70 years of age and over have had a booster in the last 10 weeks since the booster program commenced.

More than 21 per cent of 5-11 year olds have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in the first 11 days of the children vaccination program.

National Cabinet will meet again on Thursday 27 January 2022.

COVID-19 Treatments and Vaccinations 

National Cabinet received an update from Adjunct Professor John Skerritt of the Therapeutic Goods Administration on approvals for the first oral treatments for COVID-19 in Australia, Lagevrio® (molnupiravir) and Paxlovid® (nirmatrelvir + ritonavir).

Lagevrio and Paxlovid are oral anti-viral treatments that have been found to be effective in treating people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who have a high risk of progressing to severe disease, reducing admissions to hospital and ICU and potential death. The Commonwealth Government has secured access to 300,000 treatment courses of Lagevrio® and 500,000 courses of Paxlovid® for supply throughout the course of 2022, with the first deliveries of both medicines anticipated over the coming weeks. These oral antiviral treatments need a prescription and are taken every 12 hours for five days. They are designed to interfere with the virus’ ability to multiply.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has further granted provisional approval of Novavax for its COVID-19 vaccine, NUVAXOVID for primary course vaccinations. This is the first protein COVID-19 vaccine to receive regulatory approval in Australia. The Commonwealth Government has ordered 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine which will be available as a primary course vaccine, with supplies available in coming weeks following deliveries and further batch testing.

AHPPC Updated Advice on Use of Rapid Antigen Tests 

National Cabinet agreed to the new AHPPC guidance on Rapid Antigen Testing for Current High Community Prevalence Environment. Rapid antigen tests are an important diagnostic tool to manage impacts on health system capacity, public health and safety, protect vulnerable Australians and minimise disruptions to daily life.

Rapid Antigen Tests are to be used for three purposes:

  1. As a diagnostic test as an alternative to PCR for those at high risk of having COVID-19
  2. To manage outbreaks
  3. To help early indication of cases in high risk settings

Use of RATs to detect cases in high risk settings is recommended in residential aged and disability care settings where there is high community prevalence, healthcare settings managing very high risk patients (e.g. transplant ward, hematology unit, oncology ward, renal dialysis units) and other critical services (e.g. other parts of health care and emergency services). Rapid Antigen Tests are not routinely recommended to detect cases early for other industries, businesses and organisations.

Essential Workforce 

National Cabinet considered the trucking industry’s proposals to support the freight and logistics effort including reducing the age of eligibility to apply for a forklift license, recognition of New Zealand truck driver licenses in Australia and having experience or competency based licencing for heavy vehicle driver licenses.

New Zealand and Australian driver license matters have been referred to the National Cabinet Infrastructure and Transport Reform Committee for consideration and National Cabinet agreed not to progress the industry’s proposed forklift license changes.

National Back to School Framework 

State and Territory Governments will release their operational plans for schools. These plans will be in line with the National Framework for Managing COVID-19 in Schools and Early Childhood Education and Care that were agreed and released last week.

As part of these operational plans, and based on the needs of each particular jurisdiction, State and Territory Governments will determine what level of Rapid Antigen Testing is advised in school and early childhood settings. The Commonwealth will support these arrangements through 50:50 cost sharing under the COVID-19 National Partnership Agreement.

While surveillance testing has not been recommended by AHPPC, states and territories will make their own decisions on the best approach for their circumstances. Where States and Territories elect to do surveillance testing, the Commonwealth will negotiate bilateral agreements on payments.

All of this is consistent with our shared objective to get students back to school for Term 1, to keep schools open and to ensure access for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers.

COVID-19 Related Requests for ADF Support

National Cabinet noted the revised Protocol for Defence Assistance to the Civil Community in COVID-19 (DACC) management support that the Commonwealth will apply when assessing requests for ADF support to the COVID-19 outbreak. These conditions and thresholds have been recalibrated following the changing operating environment arising from the Omicron variant of COVID-19.


Recommended For You

About the Author: Tribune