Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens will work with his state and territory counterparts this month to advise national cabinet on how Australian life could return to normal over the next year.
Mr Morrison said the review would include an assessment of the new strains of the virus that have emerged, the improvements in terms of the testing and tracing regime, quarantine arrangements, public response and the impact of the vaccines.
“I want to understand the risk settings better so we can better manage the pandemic and ensure our economy can grow and Australians can return to normal life,” Mr Morrison said.
“Right now, a breakout of a case has a particular context. Three months from now, when vaccinations are occurring, where there is a downward pressure on the risk of serious, serious illness, then the risk is different.”
As the virus runs rampant in the United States and Britain, which has been in a month-long lockdown with a daily death count in the thousands, Mr Morrison said there “isn’t a country in the world… who wouldn’t want to trade places”.
He said the hotel quarantine system accommodating returned citizens would remain the “primary” defence against the virus, with international arrival caps to return to previous levels for NSW and Queensland within weeks to provide greater capacity.
He said South Australia would increase its cap to 530, Victoria would increase its cap to 1310 while arrangements were still being worked through with Western Australia, despite a backlog of about 40,000 people still unable to enter the country.
“Over 211,000 people have gone through that process, and the number of breaches we’ve had – albeit, when they do occur, they’re serious — is incredibly small in comparison to that large volume,” he said.
The first roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to begin within weeks, with an initial aim of providing about 80,000 doses per week for those who “need protection the most”. They include aged care and disability care residents and workers, frontline health care workers, and quarantine and border workers, before that number is ramped up as other vaccines are approved.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there were only nine people in Australian hospitals with COVID-19 on Friday, with none requiring intensive care treatment.
He said priorities for designing post-pandemic policy settings would focus on those most at risk of exposure — quarantine workers and people being cared for in hospital.
“They’re the ones at most high-risk of exposure and those that are at most risk of severe disease, which is our older Australians, particularly those in aged care facilities, health care workers as well are in that set,” Professor Kelly said.
“We’ll start with those and that will really change that conversation about if we’re looking to mainly make sure that people aren’t getting severe disease, mainly not dying from COVID-19, that changes a whole range of things and that’s where this committee will be really important.”
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra