COVID support payments of up to $500 will be extended to all workers affected by the Sydney lockdown, while the gap between AstraZeneca doses will be slashed, as the federal government responds to the escalating NSW outbreak.
The state had 38 new cases on Thursday, a day after the Sydney-wide lockdown was extended by at least another week.
With the focus of the outbreak shifting from the city’s eastern suburbs to the south-west, the federal government is “recommending” residents in affected areas get their second AstraZeneca vaccine dose after only eight weeks – not 12 as previously recommended.
“What’s happening in Sydney doesn’t just have implications in Sydney,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
The federal government has already extended the COVID-19 Disaster Payment to Sydney. It contributes $350-$500 a week to people who have lost work due to state public health orders.
The payment, enacted during Victoria’s recent lockdown, kicks in after seven days of a lockdown, but was previously only open to those with less than $10,000 in liquid assets.
But following days of pressure and pleas for assistance from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s government, including calls to reinstate the JobKeeper wage subsidy, Mr Morrison said the Commonwealth would relax the disaster payment rules.
From the third week of the lockdown, the assets test will be waived, meaning all those who have lost work will be eligible for the payment.
“This is going longer in Sydney than it did in Melbourne,” Mr Morrison said, in explaining why the change was made for NSW’s lockdown but not Victoria’s recent one.
The PM, speaking from Kirribilli House, said the Commonwealth would also direct an extra 300,000 COVID vaccines to NSW; as extra jabs were sent to Victoria and Queensland during earlier outbreaks.
He also alluded to the government “accessing additional doses”, on top of previously announced supplies, but refused to give more details due to confidential negotiations.
Mr Morrison also said the federal government would recommend that Sydney residents in lockdown areas get their second AstraZeneca dose four weeks earlier than usual – only eight weeks after the first shot, not the current 12. This would mean more people would be fully protected, quicker.
That fits recommendations from top epidemiologists and public health experts in recent weeks, who told The New Daily that it was important to have people fully vaccinated as the Delta strain spread.
Earlier on Thursday, Ms Berejiklian said she had “very constructive discussions” with Mr Morrison. She had sought further Commonwealth help because her state had “borne the burden” of taking the bulk of overseas arrivals through hotel quarantine.
“What I really appreciate and thank the Commonwealth for acknowledging is that the success of our nation depends on the success of NSW,” she said.
“We have contributed to Australia doing as well as it has, but moving forward, we also do rely on the Commonwealth and the state working together to get us through this very difficult challenge.”
On Wednesday, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet had asked him to reinstate – a request that was rejected.
“We are providing the same support to NSW in this lockdown that we did to Victoria just weeks ago,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“We’re not bringing back JobKeeper. That was an emergency support payment that we introduced at the height of a pandemic.”
Mr Frydenberg noted the $350-$500 federal lockdown assistance payments available to workers in NSW and recently to Victoria, were actually the same amount offered by JobKeeper.
It was Mr Morrison’s first public appearance since last Friday’s press conference following national cabinet. The federal Labor opposition had questioned his uncharacteristic absence from the public eye, claiming he had “not been on the field”.
“This is a Prime Minister who disappears when times get tough,” Labor leader Anthony Albanese said.
“It is the Prime Minister’s role to play leadership, to provide that leadership for people during difficult times. And we see from this Prime Minister, from the time of bushfires at the beginning of 2020 down to the recent weeks, that he just goes missing when things get difficult.”
It doesn't matter what party they're in, Labor or Liberal, State Premiers have fronted up to the public, day after day.
Scott Morrison has not said a single word in 6 days.
There's a word for that: gutless.
— Tanya Plibersek (@tanya_plibersek) July 7, 2021
Other Labor politicians have also tweeted daily running tallies.