Australian government urges states to stick to COVID-19 reopening plans

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australia’s federal government warned state leaders on Wednesday that current emergency economic supports may be withdrawn when the country hits a 70-80% COVID-19 vaccination rate, even if individual states and territories decide to retain border controls.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged states and territories to stick to a four-stage national reopening plan agreed last month, as some have suggested delays given persistently high new daily case numbers in Sydney.

“I wouldn’t use the term sanctions … but there should be no expectation on behalf of premiers and chief ministers that our emergency economic support will continue at the scale that it is currently when we reach the 70-80% targets,” Frydenberg told broadcaster Seven News.

Australia, grappling to control a third wave of the coronavirus, has locked down more than half of its 25 million population in its largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and capital Canberra while also racing to vaccinate millions.

Around 31% of people above 16 in the country have been fully vaccinated while 54% have had at least one dose.

Under the national reopening plan announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month, greater freedoms and special rights for the inoculated would kick in when 70% of adults are vaccinated. The international border would gradually be reopened at 80%.

Some economists predict the tough restrictions will push the A$2 trillion ($1.45 trillion) economy to the brink of its second recession in as many years.

In Victoria, new cases fell for the second straight day, with 45 new cases detected, down from 50 a day earlier, as officials seek to boost the vaccine rollout by allowing anyone over 16 to book an appointment from Wednesday.

A sudden surge in users looking to book an online appointment has crashed the system with many venting their frustration in social media platforms.

Australia’s coronavirus numbers are still relatively low, with just over 45,700 cases and 984 deaths.