Aussie PM denies vaccine rollout tied to lockdown

Scott Morrison insists total urgency is being applied to the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, despite...
Scott Morrison insists total urgency is being applied to the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, despite earlier arguing the national programme was not a race. Photo: Getty Images
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to accept the bungled vaccine rollout is fuelling coronavirus lockdowns sweeping Australia.

More than half of the country's 25 million people are under lockdown after a third state adopted movement curbs to rein in the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus.

Australia's infections and deaths are well below other developed nations, but its use of lockdowns, prompted by a sluggish vaccination campaign, is putting pressure on the federal government, with polls at their lowest in a year and just months before elections are due to be held.

Morrison insists he shares the frustrations of  Australians living under heavy restrictions. The state of South Australia yesterday joined New South Wales and Victoria in lockdown.

Just 14% of the country's population is fully vaccinated, with the nation lagging behind most of the developed world.

The main vaccine in the government's arsenal, developed by AstraZeneca Plc, has been recommended for use only for people aged over 60 by the country's drug regulator due to a remote risk of blood clotting, while a vaccine made by Pfizer Inc has been restricted to over-40s due to limited supply.

Morrison was repeatedly asked to apologise for low vaccination rates leading to lockdowns during a round of radio interviews.

But he said the nature of coronavirus meant some problems were out of the Government's control.

"I'm accountable for the vaccination programme and everything that's happened in it," he told KIIS FM on Wednesday.

"I'm also accountable for fixing it and that's what we're doing."

The country's most populous state, New South Wales, recorded 110 new cases on Wednesday, with at least 60 spending time in the community while infectious.

Victoria recorded 22 new local cases on Wednesday, while a new infection has been reported in South Australia, taking Adelaide's cluster to six.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Australia had stopped thousands of daily cases despite low vaccination rates.

"What we need to do now is quash it, because with the vaccination rates the way they are, we won't be able to live freely and safely unless we're able to quash this current outbreak," she said.

Mr Morrison said countries with much higher vaccination rates were going back into lockdown as the globe grappled with contagious strains of coronavirus.

"I understand there is great frustration. Believe me, I feel the same frustration," he told 5AA radio.

"This latest Delta variant has thrown a completely new curve ball on this issue, which every single country in the world is wrestling with."

Morrison insisted total urgency was being applied to the vaccine rollout, despite earlier arguing the national programme was not a race.

He again blamed delays on multiple updates to expert advice on the AstraZeneca jab, describing the ATAGI recommendations as "a big problem".

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the Government's policy failures were to blame for lockdowns.

"If this Government had fixed the rollout of the vaccine, and put in place national quarantine facilities, we wouldn't have these lockdowns," he told 2SM radio.

There is also increasing pressure to revive JobKeeper wage subsidies because of lockdowns.

Instead, people who lose work in designated hot spots can access weekly payments of between $A375 ($NZ396) and $A600.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said the lockdowns had shown the decision to dump JobKeeper was incredibly stupid.

Cabinet's expenditure review committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss support measures the Government has repeatedly tweaked.

Morrison defended the disaster payment rate because it mirrors JobKeeper's October to December level.

PM's APPROVAL RATING SLUMPS

Scott Morrison's approval ratings fell to the lowest level in more than a year, according to a poll published on Monday, as a the sluggish vaccine rollout dented voters' confidence in his conservative government.

A Newspoll conducted for The Australian newspaper showed Morrison's public support dropped two points to 51% over the last three weeks, the lowest level since he faced criticism early last year over his response to devastating bushfires.

Morrison's Liberal-National Party coalition government also slumped to its lowest electoral position this term, the Newspoll showed, trailing the opposition Labor Party 47-53 on a two-party preferred basis.

If the poll result was replicated at an election, the conservative government would suffer "a significant defeat" against centre-left Labor, The Australian reported.

After a 2019 general election gave the coalition a wafer-thin majority, Morrison's popularity initially surged during the Covid-19 crisis as measures including closing the international border, social distancing and speedy contact tracing kept Australia's overall exposure relatively low.

The country has recorded just over 31,900 cases and 914 deaths.

But delays with the vaccine rollout - just 13% of the country's adult population are fully vaccinated - have frustrated voters.

- AAP and Reuters 

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