Australia to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination drive as more doses arrive

FILE PHOTO: A sign for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic is seen as high-risk workers receive the first vaccines in the state of Victoria’s rollout of the program, in Melbourne, Australia, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will ramp up its COVID-19 immunisation drive with more shots to be rolled out from next week, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday, after a second shipment of the vaccine reached the country overnight.

About 166,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and Germany’s BioNtech arrived late Monday, authorities said, as the country entered the second day of a nationwide inoculation programme.

Total weekly doses will be raised to 80,000 next week from 60,000 doses this week, with the number expected to reach 1 million a week by the end of March when CSL Ltd begins to locally produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Australia on Monday began mass COVID-19 vaccinations for its 25 million people after the arrival last week of a first batch of more than 142,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine.

“The consistency of supply has been strong and heartening … and that just gives Australians confidence in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccines and confidence in terms of the reliability of supply,” Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

Border closures and speedy contact tracing have helped Australia keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with an easing of restrictions putting the economy on a recovery track.

The government has decided to raise the base rate of the unemployment allowance by A$25 ($19.78) a week from April 1, Australian media reported, as it looks to end a coronavirus job subsidy due to an improving labour market.

Australia has reported a total of just under 29,000 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. The country’s two most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria reported no new local cases on Tuesday.

($1 = 1.2637 Australian dollars)

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