The travel bubble from New Zealand to Australia has been reopened after health authorities on both sides of the Tasman were satisfied cases of a highly infectious variant of COVID-19 were contained to three people.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd recommended to the Australian government that the pause in flights from NZ that started last Monday did not need to be extended any further.
Prof Kidd recommended pre- and post-flight screening be implemented for the next ten days, as there is still a small risk of further cases being detected.
“The Commonwealth has accepted this advice, meaning green zone flights will commence this afternoon,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement on Sunday.
For people to travel from NZ to Australia, they must also have been in NZ for 14 days and have been in quarantine as necessary.
The decision came as Australia reported another day of zero locally acquired cases.
“It is two weeks since we had a case of COVID-19 in our community,” Prof Kidd told reporters in Canberra.
“This is the longest period of no cases of community transmission of COVID-19 since February 16-29 last year.”
More broadly, Mr Hunt said the average rolling day average for COVID-19 case across the world dropped from 700,000 on January 10 to 550,000 now.
“So that’s the first significant signs of dropping global cases,” Mr Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.
“There is a lot more to go, and they will be ups and downs. But this is a sustained drop in global cases around the world, not just in one jurisdiction but in a number of jurisdictions.”
Mr Hunt also announced the 5800 community pharmacies across Australia are being asked to assist with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine in the coming months, as they do with the flu jab.
“They are experienced, they are trained in dispensing medicines, and … that means more points of presence for Australians in terms of where they can receive their COVID-19 vaccine,” Mr Hunt said.
Pharmacies would participate from what is known as Phase 2A of the rollout, which starts with vaccinations of people in their 60s.
The initial phases deal with the elderly, health care and high-risk workers.
Mr Hunt said Australia is on track for the rollout commencing from late February and completing in October.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration gave approval to the Pfizer vaccine last week for the first vaccinations in February.
Mr Hunt said the alternative AstraZeneca vaccine is still subject to TGA approvals, but the latest advice is that will be completed on time and is on track for rollout in early March.
He said the government has spoken to the European Union, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, as well as the World Health Organisation in the past 24 hours, over vaccine supply concerns following regulatory steps by the EU.
“The guidance from the EU is provisional and preliminary at this stage, so I will remain cautious, but that guidance is that the EU regulatory steps are not aimed at Australia, and not expected to affect Australia,” he said.
“But we will continue to engage with the EU on a daily basis.”