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This is the end of lockdowns as we've known them: Hunt

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Hard COVID-19 lockdowns would not return to NSW following the state’s reopening from restrictions, according to the health minister.

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As NSW emerges from, in some places, more than 100 days of lockdown, Greg Hunt said he was confident the state’s hospital system would be able to handle a potential surge in the number of virus presentations.

“I’m confident that NSW has made the right decision, they’ve made the right decision on vaccinations, on lockdowns and contact tracing,” Hunt told ABC Radio National.

“Many people would say a 100-day lockdown was too long but what they have done is strike the right balance, it has been incredibly difficult, it has been hellishly difficult for so many people.”

Health experts and medical bodies have expressed concern about a spike in case numbers in hospitals as movement increases across NSW and restrictions ease.

However, Hunt said the NSW hospital system was ready to withstand potential pressure and that vaccine uptake rates were helping.

“I would say NSW has been tested and their hospital system has been tested with 1500 cases a day and now it’s down well below that,” he said.

“The hospital system is well-prepared, and around the country those systems are being prepared and vaccine uptake’s a very important part of that.”

Victoria has recorded 1612 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths, as trials begin of the state’s vaccine passport system.

The state has more than 19,000 active infections, after 73,138 tests and 34,279 vaccinations in the 24 hours to Monday.

Monday signals the first day regional areas will begin trialling a system to check the vaccination status of people wanting to visit a business.

The system will be used in Melbourne once lockdown lifts and businesses can reopen, with 14 regional venues participating in the trial, including gyms, pubs, cafes, churches, real estate agents, move theatres and beauticians,

It comes as COVID-19 booster shots will be made available from Monday for severely immunocompromised Australians.

Hunt said the national advisory body on immunisations was expected to provide advice by the end of the month on how a national program would be rolled out for rest of the population.

He said 150 million doses of boosters shots have been secured for 2022 and beyond.

Currently, vaccine rates nationally are at 82.2 per cent for people over 16 with a first dose, while almost 62 per cent are fully vaccinated.

While NSW will ease lockdowns from Monday, the ACT will also end its stay-at-home orders from Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has championed the power of coronavirus vaccines to restore Australians’ freedoms as he exited quarantine and NSW ended a 100-day lockdown.

The prime minister has been isolating at The Lodge in Canberra after returning from a trip to the United States.

Morrison, who will return home to Sydney, urged fully vaccinated residents in his state to enjoy their restored freedoms with a bevvy of restrictions lifting in NSW.

He also sent a message to people in states that have avoided major lockdowns and rampant outbreaks, like Western Australia and Queensland.

“We need those vaccines to ensure that when COVID inevitably comes, that in those states you will be able to continue on as you have,” the prime minister said on Monday.

“So let’s keep going, Australia, with the vaccination program.”

WA and Queensland trail the nation on double-dose vaccination rates, while the ACT and NSW have a commanding lead ahead of Tasmania and Victoria.

Almost 62 per cent of people aged 16 and above across Australia are fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

There were 496 new local cases and eight deaths reported in NSW on Monday, while Victoria registered 1612 infections and eight fatalities.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the focus should shift from daily case rises to hospitalisations as immunisation rates rose.

“The Delta genie is out of the bottle so we’ve got to learn to live with the virus,” he told 2GB radio.

Frydenberg said the effectiveness of lockdowns was being diminished each day the highly contagious variant circulated.

Health Minister Greg Hunt believes health systems in NSW and Victoria are prepared to cope with any rise in cases as restrictions lift.

“What we’re doing in Australia is giving ourselves the best chance to get on with our lives. Our hospital systems are well prepared,” he told ABC radio.

Mr Hunt said the government was planning for booster shots to be available to everyone if the expert immunisation panel gave the green light at the end of the month.

Up to 500,000 people with severely compromised immune systems gained access to third jabs from Monday to boost their protection.

The health minister said international evidence was showing vaccines were offering strong ongoing protection against hospitalisation, serious illness and death.

NSW lifted restrictions after passing 70 per cent double-dose coverage, a mark locked-down Victoria is expected to reach before the end of the month.

The ACT’s lockdown ends on Friday.

 

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