Spiking COVID-19 case numbers in New South Wales and Queensland and the threat of a sixth lockdown in Victoria have intensified the focus on Australia’s embattled vaccine rollout, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has again downplayed the need for financial incentives to drive uptake in vulnerable communities.
New South Wales authorities on Thursday counted 262 new local cases, with at least 43 active in the community during their infections period.
To the north, Queensland tallied an additional 16 local cases, as the state’s south-east endures a lockdown which now extends to Sunday, August 8.
And six new cases in Victoria have raised the spectre of yet another lockdown, with the Herald Sun reporting senior government officials are discussing a snap three-day closure to contain the state’s most recent outbreak.
The high transmissibility of the Delta strain has forced the federal government to look past border closures as the nation’s primary defense mechanism, with vaccination rates now widely understood to be the pathway out of pandemic-era restrictions.
Australia is posting record week-on-week vaccination rates, and the latest government estimates suggest the national vaccination rate could hit 80% by the end of the year.
But Health Department data also suggests the regions subject to the harshest lockdowns also have some of the lowest vaccination rates nationwide.
Nevertheless, Morrison today rebuffed the push by Labor to pay every fully vaccinated $300 before December 1, saying Australians are already incentivised enough.
“I’m not for bad ideas,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “I’m not for spending $6 billion largely paying people who have already done it.”
“The vaccine comes with a built-in incentive,” the Prime Minister added. “That it reduces the risk of you harming yourself, harming your family members, and harming your community. And that’s why it’s important.”
The idea that Australians would accept $300 to take the jab is a “vote of no confidence in the Australian people,” Morrison said.
“It’s just a bad idea. Incentives can be helpful. But not that one.”
The staunch opposition to a paid incentive system comes one day after Lieutenant General John Frewen, head of the nation’s COVID-19 response taskforce, suggested now is not the time for further incentives.
“I’ve said incentives is something we will consider,” he said. “But right now, Australians are coming forward. In the last seven days, we’ve had 1.2 million doses going into people’s arms.
“Demand is still exceeding supply right now, so the time for incentives, I think, maybe later in the year when we’re getting into some of the more hesitant sort of group.”
Australians are more motivated by the promise of renewed international travel and an end to sporadic and financially ruinous lockdowns, he added.
“We’ll look at all of the sorts of possible alternatives,” Frewen said. “I mean there’s cash. There’s the ideas of lotteries, all of these things have been discussed.
“But what is resonating with people right now really is being able to get back to the sort of lifestyle we used to enjoy; international travel, not having to do quarantine, not having to go into lockdowns and those sorts of things.”
Private organisations have signed off on plans to join the vaccine rollout by immunising their own staff, and Frewen said “it will really be up for the jurisdictions to decide” if they wish to establish drive-through vaccination clinics.
As of Thursday, 20.8% of the eligible adult population over 16 has received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. 42.4% have received one dose.