Melbourne’s growing COVID outbreak shows that vaccinating Australians “is a race”, federal Labor says, heaping pressure on the Morrison government to accelerate the nation’s jab program.
Just 2 per cent of Australians are fully vaccinated against COVID, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese pointed out on Wednesday, claiming the country was “being left behind”.
In defiance of Coalition statements that there is no need to rush Australia’s vaccination rollout, Labor claimed this week’s Victorian outbreak demonstrated the urgency of getting people protected.
“The Prime Minister has said, on a number of occasions now, the vaccination rollout is not a race. The evidence in Victoria today just reminds us it is a race,” shadow health minister Mark Butler said.
“It’s a race to protect the health of the population. It’s a race to avoid the sorts of lockdowns and restrictions we’re seeing rollout.”
Victoria had another six COVID cases on Wednesday, taking its outbreak to 15. Several of the infected people are aged over 50 but had not been vaccinated, despite being eligible.
Acting Premier James Merlino said nearly 16,000 Victorians got vaccinated on Tuesday, a record for the state, and he urged more people to do so.
State Health Minister Martin Foley said he was “keen to explore” whether Victoria could further widen eligibility criteria, to allow more people to get a shot.
“Please get tested, get vaccinated,” he said.
“Millions are eligible right now. Do not wait until tomorrow or next week. If you are eligible call the hotline and get vaccinated.”
Mr Butler said he wanted more Australians to get vaccinated, and again urged the federal government to redouble efforts in protecting people in aged or disability care. Recent revelations that less than 1000 of the 25,000 people in disability care across the country have been vaccinated again raised alarm bells at the speed of the rollout.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Professor Brett Sutton, also urged anyone eligible to line up for a vaccine.
“We know many over 50s still have not had the vaccine and many will be booking now,” he said on Wednesday.
“There are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, who can get vaccinated now and should get vaccinated now.”
In Sydney, NSW authorities said anyone exposed to the virus would have to follow the same rules – whether they had been vaccinated or not. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said this is because not enough people had yet been vaccinated.
“When you look around the world, look at what is happening in Victoria – that could happen in any state in Australia, and we do not have enough of our population vaccinated,” she said.
“The more people vaccinated, the more we can look at those issues in the future.”
Mr Morrison, other Coalition figures and federal health officials have repeatedly downplayed issues and delays in Australia’s vaccine rollout, pointing out the country had no “burning platform” of deaths and spiralling case numbers, unlike other nations.
That rhetoric has changed in recent weeks, sharply shifting in the past fortnight especially as Health Minister Greg Hunt warned “you could die” without a vaccine.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said “a clear message” was needed to encourage people to get vaccinated quickly.
“What we’ve seen is deeply confused messages from the government,” he said.
“What’s playing out in Victoria puts all of that into sharp relief. We need a consistent message from the government, which has to be about getting vaccinated as soon as possible, knowing there is absolutely a time imperative.”
“There is a race here. It is a race against the virus.”
In response to concerns about vaccine hesitancy, and claims that some people want to wait until later in the year for a specific brand of vaccine, federal chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly urged people to get jabbed now – ahead of the winter danger period for COVID.
“If you are in a group that has been offered the vaccine, please do not hesitate. Do not wait until the end of the year,” he said.
“Once an outbreak is here, if it comes, it will be very difficult for us to roll out masses of vaccines quickly.”
Professor Kelly warned “Winter is coming … We need to be protected.”
This daily infographic provides the total number of vaccine doses administered in Australia as of 24 May 2021. Stay up to date with #COVID19 vaccine information here: https://t.co/TUKfzVuGVm #COVID19vaccines #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/fWyhi1BHLH
— Australian Government Department of Health (@healthgovau) May 25, 2021
Mr Hunt told parliament on Wednesday that Australia had had a record day for vaccinations, with 104,000 shots nationwide on Tuesday. Nearly 3.8 million people in Australia have had at least one COVID shot.