Vaccinated Australians promised more freedom even as COVID-19 cases mount

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday pledged more freedom for vaccinated citizens, even as the country’s second largest state reported its second highest daily rise in new COVID-19 infections this year.

Morrison said federal and state leaders would discuss vaccine passports and expanding home quarantine when they meet for a national cabinet later on Friday.

“You will see vaccinated people being able to move and do more things,” Morrison told radio station 3AW.

“They’re less likely to get the virus, transmit the virus, get a serious illness and end up in hospital,” he said. “And so, that won’t put the pressure on the public hospital system.”

Health officials have warned that the current Delta outbreak is likely to strain the healthcare system when states go ahead with plans to lift lockdowns in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and some regional areas.

Victoria on Friday reported 510 new cases, the majority in state capital Melbourne, and one new death. The state reported 514 new cases on Thursday, the highest in the current outbreak.

Morrison has advocated a reopening of the country in line with increasing vaccination rates. He confirmed on Friday that 70.6% of the population over the age of 16 has received a first dose.

Under the federal government’s national reopening plan, states and territories have been urged to gradually ease tough restrictions, including border controls, once 70-80% of the country’s adult population is fully vaccinated. Not all state and territory leaders agree with the reopening plans.

Morrison said the national cabinet would consider when to start winding back hotel quarantine in favour of home quarantine for travellers arriving in Australia.

New South Wales and Victoria are testing facial recognition software that allows police to check people are home during COVID-19 quarantine, expanding controversial trials that have been criticised by privacy campaigners.

Even with the fast-moving Delta outbreak, Australia has largely avoided high numbers seen in many comparable countries, with some 81,000 cases and 1,129 deaths, through swift lockdowns and hotel quarantine for international travellers.