Politics

Australia reaches 95% first-dose vaccination rate but Covid deaths continue to climb | Australian politics

The health minister, Greg Hunt, says Australia has reached a 95% first-dose vaccination rate for Australians aged 16 and older, while there are hopes the Omicron outbreaks in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT are approaching their peak.

Victoria recorded 23 Covid deaths and 25,526 new cases on Saturday and NSW reported 20 deaths and another 48,768 new infections. There were 2,576 people in hospital in NSW with Covid, 193 in intensive care. Victoria had 1,054 in hospital with the disease, 115 in ICU.

Queensland, where domestic travellers were no longer required to show proof of a negative Covid test as of 1am on Saturday, reported six Covid deaths, including a person in their 20s, and 19,709 new cases.

The Northern Territory recorded its second death of the pandemic, a 40-year-old woman from the Bagot Aboriginal community in Darwin. The territory recorded 412 new cases and there are 32 people in hospital, none in intensive care.

The ACT recorded 1,320 new Covid cases, with 30 people hospitalised and three in intensive care. Tasmania reported 1,139 new coronavirus cases with 22 people with Covid in hospital, including one in intensive care.

The chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said there were signs the Omicron outbreaks in NSW, Victoria and the ACT were approaching their peak.

“All predictions and now the actual forecasting based on actual numbers of cases, particularly in NSW but also in Victoria and ACT, leads me to believe that we are close to the peak of this wave in terms of cases,” he said.

However, he noted that the true number of cases was likely higher than what was being reported due to pressures on the testing system.

He said Western Australia, due to its border closures, was “another story”.

Craig Kelly speaks to participants at the ‘Voices 4 the Kids’ protest in Sydney.
Craig Kelly speaks to participants at the ‘Voices 4 the Kids’ protest in Sydney. Photograph: Flavio Brancaleone/AAP

“When they do start to get cases it will be later on,” he said. “But for most of the rest of Australia, we are still on that upward curve, we may be plateauing and then there is a downswing of cases after that.”

Hunt said the 95% first-dose vaccination rate was “often referred to as a full vaccination level but we want to go further”.

The double-dose vaccination rate in Australians aged 16 and over is 92.5% and 255,000 children aged five to 11 have received their first dose since becoming eligible on Monday.

Hunt said 4.86 million Australians had received a booster dose of a vaccine and the pace of uptake had been faster than for the first and second doses.

Hunt said a decision on the Novavax Covid vaccine – which is not yet available in Australia – was expected by the Therapeutic Goods Administration “in the coming 10 days”.

Asked whether Australia would roll out a second booster shot at some stage, Hunt said the government would follow medical advice and was monitoring booster programs in other countries.

Kelly said the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) would deliberate on fourth and subsequent doses and he had spoken to Israel’s ministry of health this week about its rollout of a second booster shot.

He said Israel’s latest booster program was currently targeting groups with a higher risk of severe illness – including people over 60 and people with chronic illness – and healthcare workers.

“They have started with that, they are still evaluating that program and they have promised in the coming weeks to share that evaluation with us,” he said. “It will be very helpful.”

There was a high police presence outside Canberra’s Old Parliament House on Saturday after “sovereign citizen” protesters said they would “take Old Parliament House”.

A video on social media showed people preparing for protests at a park in Canberra’s city centre, with speeches being given to an audience of dozens.

“Did you notice how it was rainy … and then the sun came out? It is because we are on the right side of history and doing God’s work,” one speaker told the crowd.

Police largely cleared the protesters’ camp from the park opposite the now-museum on Friday, saying the group was illegally camping on commonwealth land.

The Palmer United leader, Craig Kelly, who has been criticised for spreading “misleading” vaccine information, was seen at a “Voices 4 the Kids” protest against vaccination policies at Prince Alfred Park in Sydney.

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