ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has pushed back against a blunt federal government warning that states and territories won't receive support if they lock down after reaching vaccination targets, saying it would be "electoral suicide" for the Coalition to abandon areas struggling with Covid.
His comments follow growing pressure from Commonwealth leaders for states and territories to fulfil a national deal to reopen the country at 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates, amid rising discord over the plan.
Mr Barr on Sunday said federal government leaders had not been helpful in suggesting the Commonwealth wouldn't provide financial support for residents in lockdowns and living in jurisdictions with 70 per cent vaccination rates.
The Chief Minister also said he didn't expect the Coalition government would follow through on the warning as the federal election loomed.
"Does anyone seriously think that they are just going to abandon parts of Australia that are experiencing Covid outbreaks? I don't think they will, and I think it would be electoral suicide if they did," he told reporters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier on Sunday pushed for states and territories to follow the reopening plan, agreed at national cabinet this month, saying the use of lockdowns to suppress the virus after the nation hits a 70 per cent vaccination rate would do more harm than good.
He said while it was unlikely there would be a return to zero infections - as states and territories had earlier achieved through lockdowns and other restrictions - the goal was to suppress rather than eliminate Covid.
"You can't go with lockdowns forever, and at some point you need to make that gear change, and that's done at 70 per cent because that's where we're advised from the medical science, that you can make that gear change," he said.
"Once you do that, then you can move into focusing on the public health issues of hospitalisation and serious illness."
The Prime Minister said Covid case numbers were "not the whole story", and that reopening the nation with higher infection rates would not ultimately change case numbers later.
However states and territories are disputing the reopening plan and argue it was based on Doherty Institute modelling assuming the nation would reduce restrictions while it had low case numbers.
Mr Barr said under the reopening roadmap, at 70 and 80 per cent state and national vaccination rates, the use of lockdowns would be targeted and less frequent, and there would still be a need for other public health measures.
"We need to be very clear this broad brush language of 'open up' should not be taken to mean there will be no public health directions, no public health settings and nothing in place to support the unvaccinated," he said.
Under the national reopening plan, a state or territory can ease restrictions once it reaches a 70 per cent vaccination rate, and when the national average hits the same figure. Once the figures reach 80 per cent, lockdowns would be limited even further.
Federal Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly acknowledged the Doherty Institute's modelling for the reopening plan was based on lower case numbers, and flagged it was doing further modelling to account for larger Covid case numbers.
He expected it would not result in major changes to the national plan to reopen.
"To be very clear, there is agreement at national cabinet at the moment, and all states were unanimous of that," he said.
"The more nuanced local elements of that will be worked out over the coming weeks with the Doherty modelling as part of but not the only element that we would consider in relation to that."
He said that ATAGI was working on advice about vaccinating people aged 12-15, and that he expected it would this week provide advice about a wider vaccination program for that age group.
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Opposition leader Anthony Albanese called for clarity about the reopening plan, saying the public wanted certainty.
The director of epidemiology at the Doherty Institute, Jodie McVernon, told Sky News on Sunday that the original plan envisaged low or minimal transmission for the country to be opened up at 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates.
Professor McVernon said with a high caseload it was not possible to have a "freedom day" and restrictions had to be gradually eased.
The Prime Minister on Sunday also supported the use of lockdowns as Covid cases grew in NSW and Victoria, and continued emerging in the ACT.
"Right now, of course we need to make the lockdowns effective."
- with Karen Barlow
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