Morrison backs ‘necessary’ Sydney lockdown as fifth vaccine enters debate

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Sydney residents who are forced not to work because of the pandemic will have access to federal payments of up to $500 from the tail end of this week as Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed the New South Wales government’s decision to lock down the city of 5 million.

Mr Morrison praised the Berejiklian government for treating a lockdown as a last resort rather than rushing into a closure. “But at the end of the day, this is what’s necessary to stay on top of this latest outbreak,” Mr Morrison said in a video from the Lodge in Canberra, where he is in quarantine after returning from Europe.

Public transport, restaurants and cafes saw sharply diminished patronage even before the strictest round of rules were imposed.Credit:Janie Barrett

Eligible people who work or live in the seven local government areas that faced restrictions first – the City of Sydney, Waverley, Randwick, Canada Bay, Inner West, Bayside, and Woollahra – will be able to access the federal payments from Thursday, followed by the rest of Sydney on Sunday, July 4.

That follows a decision by Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly to declare a federal coronavirus hotspot covering Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong on Saturday. Residents of those areas will also eligible for the cash payments.

Among the questions Mr Morrison is expected to face in his second week of quarantine is whether to add another vaccine, produced by medical giant Johnson & Johnson, to Australia’s arsenal as the government’s vaccination advisors examine whether to recommend its use.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said there was no change to the federal government’s decision to restrict the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over 60, which had been made on a risk-reward weigh up before the NSW outbreak.

But he said that decision and a call on whether to use the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which was provisionally approved for use in Australia by the medical regulator on Friday, would be examined by the government’s vaccine advisers this week.

“Whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will become one of the vaccines utilised in Australia is up for further discussions over the next week or so,” Professor Kidd said.

Services Australia is administering the federal coronavirus disaster payments. People who have lost more than 20 hours of work a week will get $500 while those who have lost less will get $325. The different eligibility dates for the different reasons are the product of the different times when they faced state movement restrictions and were designated as federal hotspots.

Only people who have less than $10,000 in liquid assets, such as cash in the bank, are eligible. Welfare recipients are excluded as are people who have pandemic leave they can take.

In some respite for those Sydneysiders, mutual obligations requirements, which force people on welfare to go to job interviews, have been suspended for people in the City of Sydney, Waverley, Randwick, Canada Bay, Inner West, Bayside, and Woollahra until Tuesday, July 6. That is expected to be expanded to all the locked down areas.

Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said the lockdown and outbreak were Mr Morrison’s fault because of the delayed vaccine rollout and hotel quarantine failures.

“Scott Morrison has failed to do his job leaving Australians dangerously exposed and millions today are paying the price for his stubborn incompetence,” Mr Butler said.

He added that Australia should have negotiated to buy more vaccines but did not say outright that the government should buy the Johnson & Johnson jab. Australia is already using the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, and has foreshadowed using the Novavax and Moderna vaccines pending approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

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