Australia returns to ‘war footing’ amid COVID-19 vaccine crisis

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s national cabinet will begin meeting twice a week from Monday, marking a return to a ‘war footing’ in the country’s battle against the coronavirus pandemic amid the turmoil of its agenda national vaccination.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that a return to more frequent meetings of the federal and state leadership group was needed to address “serious challenges” caused by uneven international vaccine supplies and evolving medical advice .

“It is a complex task and there are issues with the program that we must resolve to ensure that more Australians can be vaccinated safely and faster,” Morrison said in a statement.

Australia fared much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with just over 29,400 COVID-19 cases and 910 deaths.

No new cases were reported on most days this year and authorities quickly contained small outbreaks, but the country’s immunization program hit major roadblocks.

Morrison earlier this week abandoned his goal of providing at least one dose of vaccine to nearly 26 million people nationwide by the end of the year after limiting the rollout of his favorite vaccine AstraZeneca.

The discoveries made by the European medicines regulator on rare cases of blood clots in some adults receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine have been a blow to Australia because the country had based its vaccination campaign largely on this inoculation, with plans to manufacture 50 million doses locally.

Australian officials reshuffled the schedule in response, doubling a previous order from Pfizer to 40 million shots and limiting AstraZeneca doses to people under 50.

The deployment has also been affected by export restrictions imposed by the European Union on vaccines as the bloc seeks to consolidate its own supplies.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan is due to travel to Europe this week to demand the release of around 3 million doses of previously promised AstraZeneca vaccines.

Morrison created a national cabinet of federal, state and territorial leaders early last year to coordinate action against the pandemic. There have been shootouts in recent weeks between different levels of government over who is responsible for delays in vaccine deployment.

The return to twice-weekly meetings, at the same frequency as at the height of the crisis last year, would continue for the “foreseeable future,” Morrison said, without providing details of potential measures to be taken. .

(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)