Scott Morrison live covid update: National cabinet to be held over growing Omicron cases

Scott Morrison is addressing Australia after leaders met about rising Omicron cases. You can watch live here.

The Prime Minister has urged Australians to wear masks in indoor public settings as part of a suite of new measures to tackle rising Covid cases rise across the nation.

He gathered with state and territory leaders today as part of an emergency national cabinet meeting to discuss the growing Omicron threat.

Previously, national cabinet was not scheduled to meet until February 2022, but rising Covid-19 cases, particularly in NSW, prompted Prime Minister Scott Morrison to call a snap meeting.

The meeting was held virtually, with booster vaccinations and the reintroduction of key restrictions, such as masks, the main topics of discussion.

Following the meeting, Morrison said they “had a positive meeting” and that they are taking Omicron very seriously.

“Omicron, we all agree, presents another new challenge, but we have faced so many challenges already during the course of this pandemic,” he said.

“On each occasion, we’ve worked together to ensure that our response across the country and across governments has been able to deliver one of the lowest death rates in the world from Covid, one of the strongest advanced economies in the world coming through Covid, and thirdly, one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.”

Masks ‘strongly recommended’

He said that masks were a key tool going forward and that Aussies should be wearing them in indoor public spaces, even if they are not mandated.

Mask wearing is “strongly recommended” he said.

“And that is mask wearing in indoor spaces in public areas is of course highly recommended, whether it’s mandated or not,” he said.

“That’s what we should be doing in the same way as we go into the summer season.

“People will be slapping on their …sunscreen. There’s no rule or requirement to do that. But it is strongly recommended health advice. It’s in the same category.

“And so Australians have common sense and they know what they need to do to protect their own health.”

‘Different role’ for QR codes

Mr Morrison said QR codes will play a “different role in the future”.

“What that means is, is the QR code system is not being used to police people or to impose sanctions on people,” he said.

“What it’s being used to is to ensure that people can be alerted through the QR code system about if they’ve been at a particular place where an infection has been identified.”

He says if a person is not a close contact they will be able to “self manage their response to ensure that they can take appropriate action.”

Vax hubs restored

He also said state vaccination hubs that have been rolled back will be put back in place.

“Now as the country moves past 80 per cent. Then we did see the demand at state based clinics decline. And as a result, some of those facilities were withdrawn,” he said.

“There’s about a quarter of them, which was stood down. They now need to be ramped up again.”

Vax payments increased

Morrison said the government is going to increase payments to GP and pharmacies for vaccine appointments by $10.

“I can announce I advise the premiers and treatment is today that we’ll be increasing the payments to GPS and pharmacists,” he said.

“We’ll be increasing them up by $10 a day in addition to what they’re already getting now. And we think that’s important, particularly over the summer months, when normally just like many other Australians, they’d be looking to take leave.”

National definition of ‘casual contacts’

He said that he and state leader will also agree on a national definition of “casual contact” in the next fortnight.

“We’ve agreed today that we must have a common definition right across the country on what is a casual contact and what are the implications of being a casual contact isolation requirement for a PCR test and things of that nature.

“We cannot have different rules in different places about what a close contact is and what a casual contact is.

“And there is even an argument which says that there shouldn’t be any requirement to have a casual contact definition at all.

“What matters is how you’re managing those close contacts and how they’re defined and what you have to do”.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Morrison dismissed the idea that lockdowns could return, instead saying he had written to all the premiers with the latest “sensible” advice from medical experts.

“There are important messages about the strong recommendation about mask use inside and things like that, and that is very sensible,” he said yesterday.

“One of the key messages is, yes, we’re going to need to continue to calibrate how we manage this virus and how we live with this virus in the face of Omicron.

“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.”

Cases rise

The meeting comes as NSW’s Covid-19 cases hit a record high on Wednesday, 3763 new infections and two deaths.

Victoria confirmed 1503 new cases and six deaths.

Queensland recorded 186 new locally acquired infections on Wednesday, with the Omicron variant now the dominant strain in the state.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also announced that the state would be further tightening its mask restrictions.

Masks are already mandatory at supermarkets and on public transport, but from 5am on Thursday they will also be required in cinemas and theatres. Hospitality staff will also be required to wear masks.

Ms Palaszczuk said the changes were “very practical and sensible”.

“It’s very encouraging that we aren’t seeing people very sick and hospitals but these are early numbers and our projections are the numbers will escalate very quickly unless we do something is like wearing masks,” she said.

The ACT and Tasmania have also already moved to reintroduce mandatory mask wearing in public indoor settings.

Despite the growing cases, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has continually resisted calls to follow suit and reintroduce mandatory mask wearing and other restrictions, instead encouraging people to take “personal responsibility”.

He has urged residents to get their booster doses and is calling for the interval between second and third shots to be brought down to four months.

However, that could soon change, with Mr Morrison hinting today that he had spoken with Mr Perrottet regarding “practical” responses to the rising cases.

“I have spoken to the NSW Premier quite regularly because that is where we’ve seen the biggest surge in cases. Practical decisions will be taken there” he told Nine’s Today.

National cabinet will also receive advice on whether the wait time between the second and third Covid-19 vaccines should be shortened and whether residents should be required to have three vaccines in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

Originally published as Scott Morrison to speak after emergency Omicron meeting

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