“We have to be able to get our people home and get critical medicines in so we have faith Victoria can continue to maintain and operate their system,” he said.
“We agree with what the Premier said earlier this week, that Victoria is capable of managing quarantine, testing and tracing.”
Last week, Mr Andrews said Victoria’s hotel quarantine system – which has accepted about 36,000 returned travellers compared to about 125,000 in NSW – was better than NSW’s, even as the Holiday Inn cluster in Melbourne was growing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has already said the federal government won’t take over the running of hotel quarantine.
Separately, a senior federal government source said the view was other states had managed to clamp down on quarantine outbreaks, including outbreaks of the UK variant in Perth and Brisbane, and that “this isn’t a problem in quarantine, this is about problems in contact tracing”.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Saturday that Victorian contact tracers had taken too long to get in touch with people exposed to the latest outbreak of the coronavirus.
During two meetings of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer came under pressure to explain why almost half of the close contacts from the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel cluster were not contacted within the benchmark 48 hours on Tuesday.
Mr Andrews has attributed to COVID-19 outbreak that caused Victoria to enter lockdown on Friday night to a returned traveller using a nebuliser in a quarantine hotel.
The traveller, who has asked not to be named, said he was granted permission to do so twice but Mr Andrews and COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria commissioner Emma Cassar on Saturday said the passenger did not declare the medical device, which can help aerosolise the virus, to staff at the hotel.
Mr Andrews said on Saturday that just five more planes already en route to Melbourne would be permitted to land and that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had agreed to the request to suspend flights.
“There’ll be five more flights arrive between now and midnight. And we think there’s about 100 passengers on those, there’ll be appropriately taken care of. But there’s no further flights beyond those five until, at the earliest, next Thursday,” he said.
“Just in terms of the broader issue of hotel quarantine, I’ve asked our experts to look at a risk assessment in terms of these issues, in light of this rapidly, infectious, fast moving and very, very infectious UK strain.”
In the interview, Mr Hunt also welcomed a fatwa, or religious ruling, by Australia’s peak Muslim body that supported the vaccine rollout as the government ramps up a $31 million information campaign targeting 3.7 million Australians who speak languages other than English.
He was cautious about saying on what day this week the Pfizer vaccine would arrive in Australia because of concerns over potential last-minute delays.
But in a sign of the federal government’s growing confidence about its vaccine rollout, Mr Hunt said he had spoken to Pfizer Australia again on Friday and the vaccine was on schedule.
“We are on track for three things. [First], the vaccine commencement at the start of the last week in February with Pfizer,” he said.
“Second, subject to TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] approval, the commencement of the international AstraZeneca vaccine in early March which will deliver approximately 1.2 million doses across the month.”
“And then third, we are on track for CSL to deliver one million doses [of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine] per week from late March, with two million doses to be delivered by the end of March. That will then continue at approximately a million [doses] per week.”
Once the Pfizer vaccine arrives in Australia the shipment will be physically checked by the Therapeutic Goods Administration before distribution to vaccine hubs around the country, where the doses will be stored at ultra-low temperatures.
The vaccine rollout has been described by the government as the most complex logistical exercise in Australian history.
Labor Health spokesman Mark Butler criticised the federal government on Saturday for ducking its responsibilities on borders and quarantine and demanded to know when the vaccine rollout would start.
“So much for Scott Morrison’s guarantee that Australians would be in the front of the queue. It’s time for Scott Morrison to definitively say when the vaccinations start and is he going to deliver his promise to vaccinate 4 million Australians by the end of March?”
National cabinet agreed on February 5 to increase the international arrival cap with NSW taking 3010 per week, Queensland taking 1000, Western Australia taking 512, South Australia taking 530 and Victoria agreeing to raise its cap from 1120 to 1310 per week.
The government’s $31 million information campaign is targeting culturally and linguistically diverse communities with information about the vaccine and Mr Hunt said the federal government had worked closely with cultural communities on it.
“We do know from the UK that vaccine hesitancy has been higher among many people of culturally and linguistically diverse origins,” he said.
“The Islamic community went away, did their research, and of their own volition issued this statement. Religious rulings are entirely a matter for that community, but the confidence it provides to that particular community is important and valuable.”
A new fatwa from the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils’ Sharia Board stated “we, the Muslim community must not promote or disseminate unsupported conspiracy theories in relation to any matter and must stick to proven facts.”
“We, the Muslim community must consider the matter of vaccination rationally. Once the medical professionals consent to a vaccination program, we advise that believing Muslims should…take the means of healing (including vaccination if deemed necessary) and rely on Allah to heal us.”
In a message to fellow Victorians caught up in another lockdown, Mr Hunt acknowledged “this is immensely hard for so many people”.
“Whether it’s wanting to get together on Valentine’s Day or for small businesses, cafes and florists who planned for this to be a critical part of their economic recovery, this will be a very hard time for many of them…but having said that, we know how to do this”.
The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age last week revealed Australians will be able to tap and display COVID-19 “proof of vaccination” certificates on their phones using the Express Plus Medicare app and their MyGov accounts.
Australia has thus far placed orders for 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for 10 million people, 53.8 million of the Oxford-AstraZeneca (including 50 million to be made locally), 51 million of the Novavax jab and 30 million through the global COVAX facility.
James Massola is political correspondent for the Sun-Herald and
Sunday Age. He was previously south-east Asia correspondent in Jakarta and chief political correspondent. Before that he was political correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.