National cabinet has wrapped up without agreeing to change the definition of “fully vaccinated” against COVID to three doses, despite a strong push from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
Speaking ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Mr Andrews said third doses were just as important as the first and second.
“This is not a two-dose thing [or] two doses and a bonus – it is absolutely critical and essential,” he said.
“International evidence, our own experience, the views of experts and hopefully confirmation of both ATAGI and national cabinet today will mean everyone knows and understands this is a three-dose project.”
His push came as authorities in NSW urged people to turn up for booster shots, saying that hundreds of thousands of appointments going to waste across the state.
Asked directly if national cabinet might agree to update the definition to three doses on Thursday, Mr Andrews said he “certainly hopes so”.
“Hopefully we get that confirmation today,” he said.
Mr Andrews said people wanted their three-dose status to mean something – but any changes wouldn’t come into effect immediately.
However, earlier, Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutewin flagged the likelihood of the decision being delayed as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation was still considering whether to change its advice.
If it did, it would be up to states and territories to amend their respective public health orders.
Also on Thursday, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said it was critical the health advice from experts be followed.
“What is clear is that the booster shot makes a major difference in terms of the Omicron variant in particular,” he said on the NSW south coast.
“Over a period of time it will be considered you would have to have had a booster in order to be fully vaccinated …. we know the protection [of a second dose] reduces over a period of time.”
Earlier, NSW Health deputy secretary Susan Pearce said appointments were “going begging” because many people believed they didn’t need a booster shot.
“There’s a perception in the community that Omicron is milder and so therefore a booster is not necessary,” she said.
“But to prevent severe disease, that booster is absolutely critical.”
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said more 36 per cent of eligible people in NSW have had their third COVID-19 jab – but that wasn’t good enough.
“The numbers of boosters are not where we need them to be to keep people safe,” Mr Hazzard said.
“In [the Royal North Shore Hospital] today, there are seven people in ICU and not one of them has had the booster.”
Mr Hazzard said redirecting health staff to run vaccine hubs but having so few people turn up was “ridiculous”.
“They could be caring for people elsewhere,” he said.
Meanwhile, national cabinet was also to discuss the state of the health system, following one of the deadliest days of the pandemic with 87 fatalities on Wednesday.
Australia’s retail sector has urged to extend isolation exemptions to staff in the industry.
Isolation rules for workers in some essential sectors were expanded earlier this month, and there is a growing push for retail staff to be added to the list.
The exemptions would allow workers to go back to their jobs after being at a COVID-exposure site, provided they tested negative to the virus on a rapid antigen test.
Australian Retail Association chief executive Paul Zahra said it was time to live with COVID.
“If you can expand isolation exemptions for certain groups, it makes sense to expand it further to other categories of retail,” he told ABC Radio.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has stepped up its push for international tourists to return to the country.
The chamber’s chief executive Andrew McKellar said such a move would be a way to boost the post-pandemic economy.
“We are urging government to get ahead of the curve, start talking to the industry about how quickly it can happen,” he told ABC TV.
“We do think in the weeks ahead, as the pressure comes off the health system, then the rationale for keeping these international border restrictions in place can be revisited.”
Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said more planning was needed to allow the international travel sector to recover following years of uncertainty.
“We need to look at sensible solutions and it would be helpful if we actually had a national government that was leading,” she said.
In NSW, there were 29 virus-related deaths and 117,316 cases, with nearly 10,000 of those coming from PCR tests.