Treasurer Josh Frydenberg believes Australia’s health system will cope with a rise in coronavirus deaths and cases when the country reopens.
The Morrison government is applying sustained pressure to state governments considering backing away from nationally agreed vaccine targets.
Mr Frydenberg said Doherty Institute modelling guiding the plan out of the pandemic showed a zero-case aim was unrealistic.
“We have to learn to live with COVID,” he told the Nine Network on Wednesday.
“It means deaths, it means serious illness and indeed means more cases. But our health system is built to cope. We have put in place a surge capacity for that.”
He said there was no other alternative to opening up when it was safe to do so.
“We can’t live in lockdown forever,” Mr Frydenberg said.
Under the Doherty modelling and plan agreed to by state and territory leaders, the chances of lockdowns are reduced when 70 per cent of the population aged 16 and over is fully vaccinated.
At 80 per cent, only highly targeted lockdowns are likely to be used and state borders are expected to be open.
But the premiers of Western Australia and Queensland have called for updated advice because the initial modelling was based on relaxing restrictions with about 30 cases a day.
With ongoing lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, Australia had more than 800 COVID infections on Tuesday.
NSW has 753 of those, while Victoria reported 50 and the ACT detected a pandemic-high of 30.
The institute has said the targets can be maintained with hundreds of daily cases.
As the reopening deal begins to fracture, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will chair a national cabinet meeting of state and territory leaders on Friday.
Mr Frydenberg believes premiers and chief ministers are picking up on public sentiment supporting the plan.
Nine newspapers have published polling showing 62 per cent of voters support the staged national reopening agreement.
Just 24 per cent support states and territories going their own way.
Australia has fully vaccinated 30.27 per cent of its population aged 16 and over and 52.78 have received one jab.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has accused Mr Morrison of pretending the Doherty Institute research ruled out lockdowns at 70 per cent coverage.
“Mr Morrison is a barrier to the end of the tunnel, not the light. He’s the gaslight on the hill,” Mr Albanese told a caucus meeting.
He said Mr Morrison desperately wanted to argue he was pro-freedom while casting everyone else as being against reopening.