Vaccination of aged-care workers will be made mandatory under a move endorsed by the national cabinet.
The decision comes as Australia’s coronavirus outbreaks have reignited calls for vaccinations to be increased amid concern about the highly contagious Delta strain sweeping the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday night brought together state and territory leaders for a national cabinet meeting.
The leaders endorsed mandatory vaccination for aged-care workers, in a bid to complete what was supposed to be the first phase of the rollout and protect some of the country’s most vulnerable people.
“This is not something any government should do lightly … we have been considering this matter for some time now based on the best possible medical advice,” Mr Morrison said.
Of the 910 deaths in Australia from COVID-19, 685 have been aged-care residents.
Mr Morrison said the aim of the mandatory plan was to complete the aged-care vaccination rollout by mid-September, through a combination of state health orders and Commonwealth measures.
In a bid to ensure there are no unintended consequences, such as aged-care workers leaving the sector, the federal government will provide $11 million to allow aged-care facilities to provide paid leave to staff to be vaccinated.
National cabinet also agreed to mandatory post-quarantine testing for returned travellers, which must occur two to three days after they leave.
As well, there will be a ban on accommodating low-risk domestic travellers next door to high-risk international arrivals, which triggered an outbreak in Queensland.
This could be done by separating them into different accommodation or floors in the one facility.
Mandatory vaccination and testing of all quarantine workers will be rolled out, including those involved in transporting people to quarantine.
Travellers who have gone through 14-day quarantine in one jurisdiction will be able to enter other jurisdictions without having to quarantine for a further 14 days.
And in a bid to encourage broader vaccination, the federal government will provide a no-fault indemnity scheme for GPs who administer COVID-19 vaccines.
Mr Morrison said it was hoped with the changes to the program and improvements in supply, Australia could “move through the balance of the program over the course of this year”.
Talks will be held with the air transport sector and resources companies on how best to deal with the issue of fly-in fly-out workers potentially spreading the virus.
COVID-19 task force commander John Frewen told reporters while Pfizer supplies remained constrained, there were ample AstraZeneca doses for people over 60.
He warned the disease would not be eradicated in the near future.
“We will have to get more comfortable with the idea that there will be ongoing outbreaks in the COVID space,” he said.
“But with all of those mitigation measures we can hopefully keep people alive, keep people from getting seriously ill and then as quickly as we can transition back to normal life as quickly as we can.
“Vaccination underpins all of that.”
With Sydney in lockdown, NSW recorded 18 new coronavirus cases and all but one confirmed as linked to existing cases.
The number was down from 30 on Sunday and came from 59,000 tests.
Queensland is on the verge of another lockdown in the state’s south-east after two new local cases, with more than 160 returned mine workers being tested.
Masks will be mandatory across large swathes of the state, home visits will be capped at 30 guests, and venues will need to adhere to a one person per four square metre rule.
In South Australia, which hasn’t recorded a new case, beefed-up restrictions include masks in high-risk settings and reduced densities in pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Western Australia recorded one new case in a woman who briefly came into contact with another person who had visited Sydney.
In the Northern Territory, an outbreak linked to a central Australian mine has grown to seven cases, sparking an extension of a snap lockdown until at least Friday.
Almost 7.4 million Australians have been vaccinated.