Australian Leaders Eye Major Reopening by Christmas

Scott Morrison is set to advance plans to reopen Australia by Christmas as infection rates plummet a..

Scott Morrison is set to advance plans to reopen Australia by Christmas as infection rates plummet across the country.

The prime minister will chair Friday’s national cabinet meeting and the top agenda item is a framework to further lift restrictions around the country.

The blueprint received in-principle support from premiers and chief ministers at the last meeting but has been criticised by doctors who warn it moves too fast.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said allowing large gatherings, more people indoors, returns to workplaces and public transport could deliver the wrong message.

“It represents a significant change in direction, sending a message to the community that will drive complacency,” Khorshid said.

“Living with the threat of COVID-19 means that sensible restrictions must remain part of our lives for the foreseeable future.”

The Australian Industry Group, which represents some of the country’s biggest employers, says committing to reopening domestic borders is a crucial step toward the eventual easing of international travel restrictions.

“We now have among the globe’s tightest travel restrictions,” Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said.

“Our low case numbers and improved quarantine arrangements make it highly desirable for business and family connections that international travel should start to ramp up.

“However, it would be plainly embarrassing that a person from Singapore or Japan could travel to Queensland or Western Australia before a person from Victoria could set foot easily in those states.”

Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles urged the prime minister to show leadership.

“He needs to bring people along on a process which sees our borders open up before the end of the year,” Marles told the Nine Network.

The leaders will receive Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s review of contact tracing systems around the country.

Vaccine distribution is also up for national cabinet discussion after Pfizer reported its candidate had a 90 percent effectiveness rate in late-stage clinical trials.

Morrison is expected to outline the federal government’s vaccine policy including the requirements for states and territories to assist with distributing vaccines when they are approved.

Australia continues to post tiny numbers of new coronavirus cases, with no community transmission on four of the past five days.

Victoria has marked a 13-day streak without new infections while NSW has gone five days straight without a locally acquired case.

International arrival caps will be also debated with 35,000 Australians who want to return home still stranded overseas.

Special repatriation flights from New Delhi and London arrived in Darwin this week bringing home a combined 319 people.

There have been four flights into the Northern Territory capital since a deal was struck to use a mining hub outside of Darwin for two-week quarantine periods.

“There is strong demand for the next four flights,” a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman told AAP.

National cabinet is also due to talk about the bushfire royal commission report and the National Federation Reform Council meeting next month.

Matt Coughlan, Daniel McCulloch in Canberra

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