Health Minister warns vaccines not enough to open borders as Morrison hits the panic button

Health Minister Greg Hunt has warned borders may stay shut beyond mass vaccination rollout.

Regular National Cabinet meetings are back on the agenda as Prime Minister Scott Morrison scrambles to get the national vaccination program back on track after a shambolic start.

The National Cabinet will meet fortnightly to hammer out who is exactly in charge of rolling out the vaccines after public squabbling broke out between state leaders and the federal government over who was to blame for the very low rate of people actually getting the jab.

“There are serious challenges we need to overcome caused by patchy international vaccine supplies, changing medical advice and a global environment of need caused by millions of Covid-19 cases and deaths,” Morrison said.

“This is a complex task and there are problems with the program that we need to solve to ensure more Australians can be vaccinated safely and more quickly.

“I have requested that Nat­ional Cabinet and our health ministers move back to an ­operational footing — to work together, closely, to tackle, head on, the challenges we are all facing with making our ­vaccination program as good as it can be.”

The last attempt at uniting the country in its fight against the pandemic ended with infighting and squabbling as state leaders went their own way on border closures against federal government wishes.

“There are issues we are ­trying to deal with as a federal government, and I have been upfront about those,” Morrison said.

“But among the states and territories, they are also tackling their own unique issues and working together we are all going to be in a better position to find the best solutions.”

In the meantime, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has warned that getting everyone vaccinated will not likely result in Australia’s international border reopening.

“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up, and this is a discussion I had with Professor Murphy in just the last 24 hours, that if the whole country was vaccinated, you couldn’t just open up the borders,” Hunt said.

Quite what the point of vaccinating everyone is if it makes no difference to the current border situation was not made clear.

Other countries much further ahead in their vaccine rollout are already planning for international access again, with the UK and Israel flagging a return to international travel in May.

Deloitte Access Economics partner Adele Labine-Romain said that while Australia remains closed to world it is losing billions in lost revenue.

“Every quarter that we delay this is a quarter we push recovery back and we run the risk of cutting ourselves off from the world,” she said.

“If everyone else is opening up and we’re not, we’re missing out on that first demand.”

Of course, there are exceptions to the travel ban. Morrison and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan are heading off on a global tour to persuade Europe to loosen export controls of their vaccine production now that AstraZeneca has been taken off the menu in Australia for those under 50.