Australia sees no changes to COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans after UK approval

(Reuters) – Australia expects no changes to the timeline for its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans, Health Minister Greg Hunt said, after Britain approved Pfizer Inc’s vaccine on Wednesday, the first country to do so.

Britain said it would start inoculating high-risk people from early next week with the vaccine, developed by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE.

“Our advice remains that the timeline for a decision on approval is expected by the end of January 2021, and our planning is for first vaccine delivery in March 2021,” Hunt said in a statement issued late Wednesday.

Pfizer’s is one of the four COVID-19 vaccines the Australian government has agreed to buy for a total projected supply of nearly 135 million doses. It has already committed to buy vaccines from Novavax, AstraZeneca and CSL Ltd should trials prove successful.

Australia has largely contained the community transmission of the virus but New South Wales (NSW), its largest state, on Thursday reported a new case for the first time in nearly a month after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive.

Five family members of the worker were tested overnight and all returned a negative result for the virus, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told broadcaster Seven News.

The report of the new case comes a day after NSW eased a raft of restrictions at weddings, bars and dancing venues marking the biggest lifting of curbs since March when lockdowns were enforced to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Australia has reported nearly 28,000 cases of COVID-19 and 908 deaths since the pandemic began but estimates there are fewer than 100 active cases remaining, mostly returned travelers from overseas in hotel quarantine.