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PM to face pandemic head-on upon return

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will be briefed on Australia’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, seen as a top priority for his newly-elected government.

Mr Albanese returned from Japan on Wednesday after attending the Quad summit in Tokyo alongside US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Nahrendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

He has instructed health officials to prepare a briefing on COVID-19, as one of his first domestic agenda issues to tackle upon his arrival in Australia.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation announced the expansion for the eligibility of the winter booster dose on Wednesday.

People with health conditions or a disability will now be able to receive a fourth COVID-19 jab from May 30.

The decision is expected to allow more than 1.5 million additional people to receive their fourth vaccine dose or second booster.

A fourth dose has not yet been recommended for the rest of the population.

Interim Health Minister Katy Gallagher said there were no supply issues for the vaccines going forward.

“The reason why it has not been expanded more across the general population is based on evidence,” Senator Gallagher said.

“We have accepted the ATAGI advice in full, but the benefits of having a fourth dose for everybody are not ATAGI’s view at the moment.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Penny Wong will visit Fiji on Thursday in a bid to cement Australia’s relationship with the Pacific nation amid growing Chinese influence in the region.

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi will also visit the Solomon Islands this week, along with Fiji, in a tour of the Pacific.

Senator Wong said she would become a “frequent visitor” to the region in the lead up to the Pacific Islands Forum.

“China has made its intentions clear,” Senator Wong said.

“So too are the intentions of the new Australian government. We want to help build a stronger Pacific family.

“We want to make a uniquely Australian contribution including through our Pacific labour programs and new permanent migration opportunities.”

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