Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged to donate 20 million vaccine doses to countries in the region as world leaders commit to getting more jabs for poor nations.
Mr Morrison made the pledge as G7 (Group of Seven) leaders prepared to meet in England — with Australia invited to attend — with an early focus on the pandemic.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says only 0.4 per cent of all vaccine doses have been administered in the poorest countries compared to 44 per cent in the richest.
Mr Morrison said Australia was in a strong position to support its “family” in the region because the government had “supply contracts many times over what is needed for the Australian population”.
“These aren’t going in large warehouses which essentially (is) without going anywhere – we want to ensure that we are taking responsibility for our region, our family in our region,” he said.
The 20 million doses would go to nations in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and Mr Morrison said they would feed into an effort led by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to vaccinate the world.
“These 20 million doses will go to support doses in our region, to ensure that we continue to exercise our responsibility as part of a broader global responsibility to combat this virus,” Mr Morrison said.
The G7 summit has been overshadowed by COVID-19, with proceedings beginning with discussions on recovering from the pandemic.
On the first day, leaders will also focus on questions such as COVID-19 vaccine donations and financial aid to build vaccine production sites around the world.
The G7 group has pledged to donate one billion vaccine doses to poorer nations, by sharing jabs directly and through financial aid, the British government announced.
Leaders are also to come up with a plan to extend vaccine manufacturing.
Mr Johnson, who is hosting the three-day summit in the coastal village of Carbis Bay, said the UK would provide 100 million surplus doses, most of them to be distributed through the COVAX vaccine-sharing program.
Before the summit, President Joe Biden said the US would donate another 500 million vaccine doses to 92 poorer countries and the African Union by June next year.
COVAX co-chair Jane Halton told Times Radio she was “delighted and excited” about Mr Johnson’s announcement.
“We’ve been calling to target the vulnerable around the world. So let’s assume we get to one billion by the end, that will be extraordinarily welcome.”
However, about 11 billion to 12 billion vaccine doses were necessary to immunise the entire global population, Ms Halton warned, adding that so far only about 2.2 billion doses had been administered, about 77 per cent of which had gone to just 10 countries.
“And I don’t think you have to be very creative to figure out that those are the wealthiest in the world,” the COVAX chair said.
The G7 comprises the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Canada. On Saturday, the leaders of Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa are invited as guests as well.
Melbourne lockdown ends
Melbourne emerged from a two-week lockdown on Friday, its fourth in a little over a year.
Victoria recorded no new community transmission of the virus on Friday, the first such day since May 24.
There are 75 active cases in the state, including those in hotel quarantine.
Under loosened restrictions for Melbourne, masks remain mandatory indoors and outdoors and people must stay within 25km of their homes unless working or studying, caregiving or getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
A ban on home gatherings remains in effect, but up to 10 people can meet outdoors, students can return to schools, retail can reopen and hospitality venues can resume seated service.
Police investigate couple as border flouters caught
Investigations are also continuing into a Victorian couple who travelled through NSW to Queensland before testing positive.
Health Minister Yvette D’Ath had a warning for any other Victorians who could put Queenslanders at risk by breaking the rules.
“We will be making sure you are found. You cannot come into this state if you are from a hot spot and put our state at risk,” she told reporters.
Five other Victorians have also been caught flouting border pass rules, Queensland police said on Friday.
In the Northern Territory, security staff will guard a COVID-19 isolation room at the territory’s largest hospital after an infected patient was allegedly found wandering around the hospital unsupervised.
Support for businesses in lockdown
Australian businesses losing money in future lockdowns will receive support from state and territory governments under a new funding model.
Victoria and NSW will devise nationally consistent payments after national cabinet agreed the federal government would pick up the tab for household support.
Under the arrangement, the federal government will offer payments of up to $500 for workers who lose income when a hotspot-designated area is locked down for more than a week.
Speaking in his home town of Melbourne on Friday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was important for mental health and the economy to avoid lockdowns in the future.