The first batches of vaccine are shipped across the country on Sunday ahead of Australia’s most complicated logistical exercise yet and anti-vax protests fail to attract “millions” of supporters.
The Victoria epidemic also appears to be “increasingly under control”, with Australia not having recorded any cases of the coronavirus on Saturday.
The federal government will coordinate the immunizations of residents and staff of senior and disabled care facilities, with a flying squad of 500 immunizing nurses to be deployed across the country.
States, which are preparing to receive their first shipments, are tasked with vaccinating everyone, starting with frontline health and quarantine workers in major hospitals.
The federal government allocated 12,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Victoria in the first week of the program.
“People will see over time that the vaccine works, that it protects individuals, that we don’t see any quality or safety issues and there will be growing confidence,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Brett Sutton told the journalists.
Professor Sutton said people should ignore the vocal minority of conspiracy theorists.
“The staunch anti-vaxxers are in a very small minority… I will ignore them, frankly, and I encourage you to do the same,” he said.
It comes as hundreds of people protested on Saturday as part of the Millions’ March against Compulsory Covid Vaccination in major cities and regional centers of Cairns, Coffs Harbor and Albany.
Controversial celebrity chef Pete Evans, who was blocked from social media, paraded with anti-vaxxers from Hyde Park through the city of Sydney and addressed the crowd after the keynote speakers.
Protesters marched with placards with slogans such as “collective immunity from vaccines is a scam” and “your body, your choice”.
“I’m not sure what to add, but I will seek the truth,” said Mr Evans without shoes to applause.
“I don’t have the answers. No one is coming to save you except you.
“Each of you must stand up in all your capacities.”
Hundreds of people gathered in Melbourne’s Fawkner Park and police arrested around 20 people.
Fifteen of them will be fined for violating instructions issued by the state health chief, while five have been charged with resisting arrest, obstructing police and refusing to provide details.
Victorian police used pepper spray on some protesters as they moved past the cords and at times appeared to lose crowd control, an AAP photographer said at the scene.
While some people were covered in pepper spray, the crowds chanted “freedom, freedom”.
The rally started off peacefully but as the speakers addressed the crowd “people started to get quite excited,” the photographer said.
Speakers made comments such as “God is on our side” and “this is a fight between good and evil”.
One speaker was interrupted by a police directive asking people to divide into groups of 20 – the maximum number currently allowed for public gatherings in Victoria – which sparked taunts.
Videos taken by Reignite Democracy Australia, an organization set up to oppose the Victorian government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, show a speaker congratulating the crowd for coming.
The woman spoke of feeling “so lonely” during the long Fourth Stop closures in the city last year and as if she was not allowed to question government decisions.
According to a survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, men (76 percent) are more likely than women (71 percent) to agree or strongly agree to receive the vaccine.
There is also stronger support for people over 65 than young Australians.
The federal government has said time and again that it will not force people to get vaccinated.
However, high-risk settings such as elderly care facilities may be able to compel employees to receive the vaccine, and companies and individual sites may make vaccination a requirement of entry.
Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley is still cautious, but ready to say things are “getting more and more under control” on his patch.
“We are still approaching the (Holiday Inn) outbreak with the utmost vigilance and caution, and we are always prepared for the possibility of new locally acquired cases,” he said.
However, further easing of restrictions next Friday is likely, with just 25 active cases in the state and one person in hospital.
Six Victoria hospitals will become vaccination centers as new vaccines become available. These are Albury-Wodonga Health, Ballarat Health, Barwon Health, Bendigo Health, Goulburn Valley Health, and Latrobe Health.
Professor Sutton also warned that there could be more cases in the Holiday Inn cluster and said authorities will look at how quickly the vaccine can be deployed before completely relaxing restrictions.
The travel bubble resumes
The one-way travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand has resumed, according to the Department of Health.
Starting Sunday, people will be able to travel from New Zealand to Australia without having to quarantine for 14 days.
But if they’ve been in Auckland in the two weeks before departure, they’ll need a negative coronavirus test. This condition will remain until March 1.
The travel bubble was quickly stopped earlier this month after a COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland.
Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly said briefings from New Zealand showed recent cases are now at low risk.
“We will continue to act quickly to protect Australians as circumstances change, but we will always strive to act as quickly when these situations are brought under control or resolved,” he said in a statement on Saturday evening.