Australia buys two COVID-19 vaccines in $1.7bn deal
Almost four million doses of a successful coronavirus vaccine will be available in Australia from January as the federal government locks down a $1.7 billion manufacturing deal for two different options.
Under the agreement to be announced on Monday more than 84.4 million doses of two vaccines - one from the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca and one from University of Queensland/CSL - would be made in Australia and available "progressively" throughout 2021 provided the drugs pass trials.
The deal includes early access to 3.8 million doses of the University of Oxford vaccine in January and February.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said by securing production and supply agreements Australians would be "among the first in the world" to secure a safe and effective vaccine "should it pass late stage testing".
"Australians will gain free access to a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 if trials prove successful," Mr Morrison said.
"There are no guarantees that these vaccines will prove successful, however the agreement puts Australia at the top of the queue, if our medical experts give the vaccines the green light."
Mr Morrison said Australia was also committed to ensuring countries in the Pacific and regional areas of Southeast Asia got early access to a coronavirus vaccine.
Both of the vaccine agreements allow for additional orders to be negotiated and for doses to be donated or on-sold with no mark-up to other countries or international organisations.
The University of Oxford vaccine has entered Phase three trials, and to data has generate strong immune responses with no significant safety concerns.
The University of Queensland vaccine has been developed in Australia, with scientists recently announcing pre-clinical testing showed the vaccine was promising and already effective in animal models.
NSW SCHOOLBOY STRANDED IN QUEENSLAND FOR HOLIDAYS
Regional families in NSW are pleading with states to adopt national COVID-19 hotspot guidelines as an "arbitrary" rule leaves a Year 6 boy the only student at his school unable to go home this holidays.
Not a single premier has adopted definitions developed by Australia's top public health officials to determine if community transmission of coronavirus in an area is a risk, with harsh border measures and unfounded fears tearing bush communities apart.
Under the definitions proposed by the Australian Health Principal Protection Committee and adopted by the federal government last week, a metropolitan area is considered a COVID-19 "hotspot" if there are 30 or more cases over three days, while a regional area is considered a risk if there are nine cases.
Analysis by The Daily Telegraph has found no local government areas in NSW considered "regional" would be classed as a hotspot under the official commonwealth definition, however farmers and families remain unable to cross into Queensland for work or school.
No single local health districts in the state meets the "hotspot" threshold, according to the latest NSW Health information.
The district with the highest number of cases in the four weeks to September 4, was South West Sydney with 46 cases, followed by Western Sydney with 45, South East Sydney with 31 and Northern Sydney with 21 cases.
Despite living in a coronavirus-free district, Justine McNally's son Henry Maunder, 11, is boarding in Year 6 at Toowoomba Anglican School in Queensland and is the only student unable to get home to their northern NSW property for the holidays due to border closures.
"I think they need some kind of robust online system so on a case-by-case basis they can assess the risk of where you're from, not just a blanket postcode or government area," she said.
The family live about 35km from Moree, which was added to a "travel bubble" list of border towns by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday but Henry's house is 10km outside the postcode exemption limit.
"I think (Henry's) quite a stoic child, but he's very frustrated by it, and I think on Friday he was most disappointed because he knows now all these other children in our district are coming home."
The Moree local council area has had zero coronavirus cases in the last four weeks according to NSW Health data, and would not be considered a hotspot under the federal government guidelines.
Ms McNally said even Emma, 9, misses her older sibling and thinks the system is "not fair".
Henry said he felt the COVID-19 rules designed for the cities did not take into account his usual school holiday routine in the bush.
"Usually I just stay on our property, and maybe I see a couple of friends, but I don't really go anywhere into the big towns or cities," he said.
"I like going home for harvest and helping Mum and Dad."
Regional Education Minister Andrew Gee said boarding school children were "victims of the new politics of COVID" and urged state premiers to "get cracking on finding solutions".
"We've got footy executives sipping cocktails on the pool decks of luxury hotels yet at the same time we've got country families being forced apart and country boarders being treated worse than prisoners under Queensland government isolation rules," Mr Gee said. "It's a disgraceful situation."
Isolated Children Parents' Association president Claire Butler told The Daily Telegraph the failure to adopt clear hotspot rules to allow rural students to return home was "completely unacceptable".
"Nothing has changed with COVID in any of the local government areas they reside in, these children need to come home for the school holidays, recharge in isolation on their properties and return straight back to boarding," she said.
Ms Butler said the feedback from remote NSW children who were forced into quarantine in South Australia for two weeks in the first lockdown was "never again". "We are pleading for compassion for all rural and remote families," she said.
VICTORIAN CONTACT TRACING NOT UP TO NSW STANDARD
A "crushing" blow has been dealt to Victorians ordered to remain in lockdown for longer after the state failed to follow the NSW "way forward" with effective contact tracing to contain its coronavirus outbreaks.
The federal government has renewed its offer to help Victoria improve its tracing system, with deputy chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd declaring the commonwealth "stands ready" with further assistance.
"Contact tracing in Victoria … is now arguably one of the most important tasks in Australia," he said on Sunday.
"NSW has shown us the model of high-performance contact tracing, which is keeping community transmission in that state at a low level."
Prof Kidd said there was clear evidence Victoria's time frame out of lockdown "could be accelerated" if the state had "improved contact tracing".
"We know that it is essential that every single case of COVID-19 is being followed up every day so that we can prevent further transmission and stop the spread," he said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews called Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday morning to inform him of the state's two-week lockdown extension and five-step reopening plan, which federal health authorities are now considering before formally responding.
But in a statement Mr Morrison said the government would like to see Victoria's restrictions lifted "as soon as it is safe to do so" amid fears of the long-term impact on mental health and the economy.
"(Extending) lockdown arrangements will be hard and crushing news for the people of Victoria, and a further reminder of the impact and costs that result from not being able to contain outbreaks of COVID-19," Mr Morrison said.
"The proposed road map will come at a further economic cost."
He said the "most effective" way to reduce community transmission of the coronavirus was a strong testing, tracing and quarantine system.
"In NSW, this has enabled the Berejiklian government to respond to multiple outbreaks while permitting businesses and people to carry out their daily lives in a COVID-safe way," Mr Morrison said.
"This is the way forward. Restrictions are not substitutes for strengthening health systems to cope with the virus, especially when community outbreak is brought under control."
Mr Andrews said Victoria's contact tracing team was doing an "amazing job" tracking down more people even as the task "got greater".
"It has never been bigger in any state at any time and yet they are getting better and better day on day," he said.
Originally published as Australia buys two COVID-19 vaccines in $1.7bn deal