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National cabinet meets as COVID cases rise

The prime minister will discuss an indoor mask mandate with state and territory leaders after the ACT reimposed the measure and other states weigh it up.

Scott Morrison will use the “informal” national cabinet meeting on Wednesday to urge states to hold the line on restrictions, having dismissed a return to lockdowns.

“We’re not going back to lockdowns. We’re not going back to shutting down peoples’ lives,” he said.

“We’re going forward to live with this virus with common sense and responsibility. There will be other variants beyond Omicron and we have to ensure we are putting in place measures that Australians can live with.”

National cabinet will also receive advice on whether three jabs will be needed for someone to be defined as fully vaccinated, as well as if the time frame between a second and third jab should be shortened.

But Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid poured cold water on the thought that early boosters would be a silver bullet in stopping the spread, saying more people being eligible won’t help the pace of the rollout.

“I know everyone’s desperately keen to get their booster but changing eligibility doesn’t magically mean the rollout is going to go faster,” he said.

“The problem with rolling out boosters is your access to vaccinators, to people who actually put the needle into the arm. We don’t have the capacity … to actually deliver more boosters than are being done at the moment.”

More than 1.3 million Australians have received a booster shot and the double-dose vaccination rate for people aged 16 and older has surpassed 90 per cent.

Dr Khorshid said sensible measures like wearing masks or simple social distancing requirements were needed to put a “handbrake” on the spread without destroying Christmas while the booster rollout caught up.

He also called upon leaders to enact a national plan in direct response to the Omicron variant.

“Omicron … may be mild, but we just don’t know,” he said.

“Now is not the time to be taking risks with people’s lives and with our economies going into next year.”

It comes as the Nine newspapers cite modelling being prepared for national cabinet predicting up to 200,000 cases a day by late January or early February if there are no low to medium level restrictions in place.

NSW had a record 3057 new infections and two more deaths on Monday, while Victoria recorded 1245 new cases alongside six additional deaths.

Meanwhile South Australia reported 154 new infections, Queensland 86, the ACT 16, the Northern Territory 14 and Tasmania four.

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