Press Conference - Canberra, ACT

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13 Jan 2022
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon. I’m joined by the Chief Medical Officer and General Frewen. We have to be very clear about our objectives. This is a key point of discussion we had with premiers and chief ministers today. What what is it that all of these measures are designed to achieve? That was set out very clearly in the National Plan. That objective in this phase of dealing with the pandemic is to minimise serious illness, hospitalisations and fatalities, and to maintain those baseline restrictions to support that goal. So the idea that our measures, as governments across the country, Commonwealth and at a state and territory level, is to prevent everyone in the country from being infected with the virus, that is not the objective. That is not a realistic objective. It’s not a practical objective. Nowhere in the world are they trying to achieve that, virtually. And that is not something that we are trying to achieve. What we are trying to achieve is to ensure that we can keep our hospitals under the least pressure that can possibly be put on them, that we can maintain the strength of our hospitals through this pandemic and we recognise that, of course, our hospitals and our health systems are under significant strain at present. That is unavoidable when you have a pandemic operating at this scale with this latest variant of the virus. The pressures on the hospital system is things that we have been working to ensure that we can cope with for a very long time. And hospitals again, despite the pressures there, and I thank all the staff who are working in those, in those hospitals who are under significant strain. But we are, at this stage, continuing to manage the number of cases coming into hospitals within those tolerances. It’s not easy. It’s putting a lot of pressure on people. But it is being achieved and that remains a very important objective for all of us as we continue to manage this pandemic.

The other thing we’re trying to do at exactly the same time is keeping our economy functioning. Now this is a closed system, it’s a finite system. As we have progressed with the Omicron variant, which, remember, has two key characteristics. The first one is it’s highly transmissible, and the second one is it’s less severe. Now both of these facts, particularly the latter one, it wasn’t till several weeks ago that that was able to be confirmed. And so the suggestion that somehow restrictions may have been lessened earlier when we had no clear evidence at that time that the severity was less, would have been a very, very unwise decision, and that’s not the decision we took. Once we became aware that the severity was less, then that has enabled us to move to ensure we can relax some of the restrictions in critical workforces. And so this is a constant daily process of balancing the need to keep people at work and to protect our hospitals. And that’s why it changes almost daily. Because this balance changes daily.

We will go through a period where this peaks, and then we’ll be into another phase about how we’re managing it from there on, and different states and territories will enter those peaks at different times. But they will enter that peak and they all understand that, some sooner than others. It’s possible that New South Wales may have already passed it. But we’ll see as the weeks unfold over the next little while.

So the key point we wanted to stress today, and that I want to stress today, is this is a constantly moving target. We know what we have to hit - keep our hospitals going, keeping our health system strong and keeping as many people at work. The less restrictions you put on people to get them at work, the more pressure that can potentially put on your hospital system. And vice-versa. The more you try to protect your hospital system, the more people you’re taking out of work, which disrupts supply chains. So this is a very delicate balance that needs to be constantly recalibrated. And so today, I think, was another very good discussion in getting those trade-offs right and making sure we get those trade-offs in place.

The workforce implications was a critical discussion today and I’ll make some further announcements about what was agreed, but just let me remind people about the decisions that we’ve already taken. The redefinition of close contacts is still only quite recent and through the meetings of the National Coordinating Mechanism, led by Joe Buffone with the support oversight Minister of Karen Andrews, we are already getting feedback that those measures, particularly in the supermarket distribution systems, are already having a positive impact. But we need to go further. The close contact rule, remember, is that you’re a close contact if you have someone in your own accommodation setting that has the virus, ok. That’s when you’re a close contact. You’re not a close contact because you happened to be here today and one of you might have COVID. You’re not a close contact if you’ve gone to a bar or to a restaurant or another venue and there happened to be a case there. This notion of exposure sites, which means you’re a close contact, that’s Delta. That’s in the past. Close contact is if you’re living with someone in an accommodation type environment and you’re in that situation for that protracted time. That’s if you’re a close contact.

And of course, the other one is if you’re symptomatic. And if you’re symptomatic or you’re a close contact, you should get tested and you go to the testing centre and they’ll either give you a rapid antigen test or they will give you, and all free, a PCR test, depending on what is necessary in both of those cases.

Now the biggest armoury we have to fight the virus is the vaccination. And yesterday, as General Frewen will outline, we had the best day on dose administration since I think it was the 5th of October. We had 346,349 doses administered yesterday. Now of those, 254,112 were boosters. And that’s tremendous. That is absolutely tremendous. We had in total now, with five to 11 year-olds, we have got 141,587 doses admitted to children aged five to 11. Now that’s, in three days, over six per cent of that population, and those doses continue to roll out, and there’s 1.1 million children’s dose vaccines on shelves, in fridges, in those more than 6,000 points of presence where people can access those vaccines.

Could I also remind parents with children aged, in the secondary school age, to go and get their - so the 12 to 15 year-olds, we have already passed the 80 per cent first dose for that group. We need to get to the second dose. We’re over 75 per cent, so we’re closing in on it. So a reminder, and it’s not just five to 11 year-olds that are on the back to school list, make sure for the 12 to 15 years, if they haven’t had their second dose, to go and get those as well.

I also want to note that reinfection on Omicron can occur. So all this nonsense about COVID parties, it’s ridiculous, ok. Reinfection can occur with Omicron. And so if you think you can go out there, get the virus and get it over with, that’s not how it works. That’s not how the virus is writing the rules. So continue to take the precautions, continue to exercise common sense, continue to be responsible and managing your own health and the baseline measures that are in place to support you and the health of others.

Today we agreed the concessional access to rapid antigen tests, which will commence on the 24th of January, after discussions with the Pharmacy Guild, and that will be done on a 50-50 basis. The pharmacies will source those supplies and you will be able to get it along the terms that I announced last week. And I thank the states and territories to their agreement on that. That will be funded 50-50 under the COVID Health Agreement, Partnership Agreement. So that is, just to be clear again, 10 tests in total over three months with a maximum of five a month. And you go to the pharmacy, you present your relevant concession card, which we have announced before, and they can process that and provide you with that test from the 24th of January. Obviously supplies are limited, just as they are for the rest of the community, and that’s those arrangements.

We also discussed the key priorities for rapid antigen tests, particularly those provided publicly, and they are, firstly, the health and aged care workforce - the Commonwealth, of course, looks after aged care, and the states and territories look after the health workforce - and for symptomatic and close contacts, which is provided through the state testing centres, and thirdly, for vulnerable communities. So that’s particularly Indigenous communities and a good note there, just like 12 to 15-year-olds, our double dose vaccination rate for Indigenous communities is now gone over 75 per cent. Our first dose is also [inaudible] at 80 per cent. That’s a tremendous result in Indigenous communities and I want to thank particularly all of those in those Indigenous communities and Indigenous leaders for the great work they’ve been doing right across the country.

To further ease the pressure on supply chains, we extended the easing of restrictions for close contacts. So that’s the one which enables someone who may be a close contact, they get a negative RAT test and go straight back to work. They don’t have to isolate for that period. They just go straight back to work. Now the most immediate extension of that is to all transport, freight and logistics employees. So not just those directly involved in food distribution, but all in the transport, freight and logistics sector. And that also will include those who work at service stations, to ensure that they continue to be staffed and people can get access to those services. We will also be extending it to, if it hasn't already been done, and in many cases it has, it will cover all health welfare care and support, emergency services, which includes law enforcement, correctional services, energy resources and water and waste management, food, beverage and other critical goods supplies. So that’s the food distribution system and production system. I’m not talking about hospitality, there. Telecommunications, data, broadcasting and media. And it will also extend to education and child care. But I’ll address that separately now.

Well before I do that, let me note the Commonwealth has already lifted the 20-hour rule on student visa holders. That decision’s already been taken. That was taken yesterday, after the meetings we had yesterday. So students will have no hour restrictions on them being able to, available for work in Australia if they’re already here. I also note that students can return, that’s been in place for some time now. Backpackers can also come to Australia now under those work and holiday visas. So they’re all able to enter the country, both of which - students and backpackers - if they are double vaccinated. And that is a necessary condition for entry to Australia.

But moving back to schools, one of the most important ways of ensuring that our workforce is not depleted, and we heard today from the Treasury Secretary that we could be looking at an up to 10 per cent absenteeism from our workforce at any one time at its peak. That's 10 per cent of your workforce taken out by COVID. Now that is the impact of a highly contagious infection and and virus. And that is going to have an inevitable impact on your workforce and then that has to be managed. If schools don't open, then that can add an additional five per cent to the absenteeism in the workforce. So it is absolutely essential for schools to go back safely and to remain safely open if we are not to see any further exacerbation of the workforce challenges we’re currently facing. So schools open means shops open. Schools open means hospitals are open. It means aged care facilities are open. It means essential services and groceries are on the shelves. That's what schools opens mean, and it's very important they go back. And the health advice is they can go back. And the Chief Medical Officer may make further comments on that.

We agreed some key principles today and they are, and next week the detailed operational plans will come back, which will deal with the role of surveillance testing, with rapid antigen tests, where that's deemed necessary, it will deal with how that applies to staff in particular, it’ll deal with mask wearing in, and those arrangements are being worked through by the states and territories now. But the first principle is that child care and schools are essential and should be first to open and last to close wherever possible, with face-to-face learning prioritised. Now we note in particular in South Australia and in Queensland they have delayed the full reopening of schools by two weeks. That is on the basis of the estimated peak of the virus in those states and to align those opening times around that issue, so there is some specific medical reasons while they are doing that in those two states which is recognised and understood by the other states and territories. But we note that in both of those cases, those states will have the ability for children of essential workers, which covers all of those groups I mentioned before, to be able to send their kids to school on that day. So they are still addressing the key workforce need and we hope they’ll be getting as best a possible education for the children of those essential workers when they go back.

The baseline public health measures continue to apply. That no vulnerable child or child of an essential worker is turned away. That responses must be proportionate and health risk based. That child care services and schools are equipped to respond on the basis of public health advice, with support from public health authorities where required, and the wellbeing of children and education staff to be supported. So supporting essential workers in education and child care will be important, and the Commonwealth and the states are working together to have 50-50 funding arrangements in place to ensure that is put in place certainly by the time school comes back, and we’ll have a bit more to say about that next week. Not unlike how last week we talked about concessional access. We were able to detail those plans over the course of this week and bring them into agreement now.

So a fairly busy day with the focus very much on keeping Australians at work and keeping Australians out of hospital. We keep achieving that as best as we possibly can, that enables us to push through. That is done through a combination of getting people vaccinated, ensuring we continue to have sensible precautions in place and those public health social measures in place, whether they be in schools, workplaces or anywhere else, and that can limit. But the goal is not to stop everyone in the country getting COVID. The goal is to protect our hospitals and keep our society and economy functioning as we ride this latest wave of Omicron. Paul.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thanks, Prime Minister. So my main role today was to talk through the epidemiology of the disease here in Australia and to remind the premiers also about this being a global pandemic. And I think that's really important for us to remember here in Australia. For the last two years, we have not really had to cope with the issues we are facing in the last few weeks. And all of the issues we talked about today in terms of essential workers, of changes to the test, trace and isolate and quarantine system, to achieve that balance between control of the virus and the the effects on society and the economy, are really important. But these are not new in the global pandemic. These are exactly the issues that every other country, other than us, New Zealand and some Pacific Island countries, have learnt to cope with for the last two years. And so we have plenty to work through in relation to what they have done.

Just as a reminder, there are now 315 million people have been diagnosed with this disease in the world. Yesterday alone, there were 2.2 million people. Through the whole pandemic in Australia, we have had over a million now, and, sadly, 2,500 thousand deaths. But that is a very different situation to the rest of the world. But in the last few weeks, we have now caught up with the rest of the world. About half of our cases that have been diagnosed through the entire pandemic here in Australia have been diagnosed since the beginning of the year. So that does give a different scope to what we are trying to achieve. We are not eliminating this virus. We are not protecting everyone from getting this virus in the coming weeks and months. What we are doing is protecting our hospitals and our intensive care units and that is being achieved.

We have had plans in place since the beginning of the pandemic and and re-planned last year exactly for this sort of event. And so we have every week we have a common operating picture, which we we publish, which talks about where are the stress, stressors in the system - in aged care, in health care, in ICU, and as well as the cases, TTIQ and so forth. And through every single jurisdiction, there’s a traffic light system, green being good, red being more more concerning. For every jurisdiction, it is green for hospitals. In some of the jurisdictions, it is amber for ICU, but there is still the majority of, so nationally, 18 per cent of our ICU capacity is currently being used with people with COVID. So there is plenty of room. There is plenty of scope for that.

What we are trying to do now is to make sure that that remains the case, whilst balancing all of the issues that the Prime Minister has talked about in terms of the rest of society and the rest of health, indeed. If there is not food on the shelves, that is a problem. If there is not emergency services operating, that is a problem. We need to balance those two things and that's what we're doing.

The final thing I'd say, I said at a previously presser earlier this week, is that there are, this is a new phase for all of us and we need to learn about living with the virus, and living with the virus may mean that you may contract COVID-19. For the vast majority of people, the overwhelming majority of people, this will be a mild illness. So you need to be ready for that. You need to go, know where to go to get further information and advice if needed, and there is a 1800 number - 1800 020 080 - that is the health direct number. It is manned 24/7. You can always get information and depending on what that information you share, your issues will be escalated, including to a health practitioner and advice be given. You can go to your general practitioner for advice as well. There are telehealth options available for general practitioners. You do not need to see them. But they are available, they have guidelines, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have excellent guidelines, and that's also accessible to anybody, not just to GPs. And finally we have a health website,, with a lot of information and ability to go to other places to get more information if required. So I encourage people to use those free resources.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Professor Kelly. General Frewen.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL JJ FREWEN, COORDINATOR GENERAL OF OPERATION COVID SHIELD: Thanks, PM. Good afternoon everybody. As the PM has alluded, the vaccine rollout is proceeding strongly and we are again gathering momentum. Yesterday 346,000 doses were delivered, that is just shy of a record day for the overall rollout. As the PM has mentioned, we did 254,000 booster shots. That is a record day for boosters. And we also did 250,000 doses through primary care, and that is a record day for primary care. We’ve got, now we’re seeing the additional capacity of pharmacies coming into play. We’re also still looking forward to the states and territories coming back to their full capacities as well, which means we’ll be able to get even higher numbers in the days and weeks ahead. We're just shy of 95 per cent of the nation have now had their first dose, and in terms of boosters, 48.6 per cent of eligible people have had their boosters. A week ago, that was only 36 per cent. So boosters are proceeding well, and I thank all those people who’ve come forward.

With relation to the rollout for five to 11-year-olds, again, the PM mentioned we have done 142,000 kids already. That is 6.2 per cent of that eligible cohort within three days. We did 35,000 doses on the first day of the program on Monday, 51,000 doses on Tuesday, and 55,000 doses yesterday, and again thanks to all those parents who’ve brought their kids forward. I know there’s a lot to do in preparation for the new school year but we hope to see increasing convenience through GPs, pharmacists and state hubs, with increasing opportunities for kids to get vaccinated.

With respect to aged care sector, I'd like to commend the vaccine providers who have worked tirelessly throughout the Christmas and New Year, period including conducting vaccinations in aged care facilities on Christmas Day. Of the 2,590 aged care facilities across the country now, we have already done booster visits to around 1,700 of those, and all the remaining facilities have been allocated providers and all will have visit, booster visits scheduled within January.

And just in closing, I do want to thank all health workers who are working across the vaccine rollout again for all of their great efforts and all of the hard work that they’ve done across the Christmas, New Year period. I also want to thank the, all the workers in the distribution network. The national distribution network is, you know, experiencing some strain at the moment, but the record numbers of deliveries of vaccines that have been done across the recent weeks has been greatly appreciated. And again I encourage everyone to come forward, if you haven't done so already, to either get your first dose, your second dose, your booster, or if you're a parent, to get your kids forward for their vaccinations as soon as you can.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, has there been any economic modelling or cost-benefit analysis on the universal provision of free rapid antigen tests. And do you believe that those costs would be greater than the cost we've seen imposed on the economy through people's difficultly to actually source them?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we've already addressed this issue at earlier meetings and our position hasn't changed. The focus of the rapid antigen tests should be as we've set them out firstly for health care and aged care workers and then for those who are symptomatic and close contacts. We're working directly with industry. We've had major meetings with industry this week which have confirmed back to us again for those large companies that they have been sourcing their rapid antigen tests now for some period of time, going back many months as indeed the Commonwealth has going back to August of last year. Before Omicron even onset. So the targeted uses of rapid antigen tests in the workforce, but particularly for health and aged care workforces, is very important. And the more broader testing of the community for those who are symptomatic and those who are close contacts, and that's where the government is focusing its resources.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER: That the position that we've adopted and we've been taking that position based on health advice all the way through.

JOURNALIST: Are rapid antigen tests going to be given out for free in schools, do children and teachers count as those more vulnerable groups. And then sorry, just secondly, you keep saying that the variant or the the variant rather is more mild, but we're still seeing record deaths around the place. You've drawn this dichotomy between we either have lockdowns or we don't, we have complete freedom. Is there more of a middle ground that we can find considering the number of deaths we're seeing coming out of the bigger states?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll let Paul talk about the incidence. I mean, you've got a lot more people with the virus and it's 75 per cent less severe. And so basically the maths has changed. So if you've got a much bigger number of people who've got the virus but a smaller proportion with severe illness, well, that number can be bigger simply because you got more people with a virus. But the medical fact remains that the Omicron variant is a far less severe form of the virus than Delta, and that's just a medical fact. But more people are getting it. And so the challenge that it presents is you get more people furloughed taken out of the workforce with mild illness. I mean, most people in Australia now, if not all, will know someone who has had the virus. And most of those stories are stories of mild illness. Couple of days, you know, pretty unpleasant with fevers or whatnot, but then making a recovery and no need to go to hospital and and things of that nature, that's that's the majority experience. But when it comes to fatality numbers, over two and a half thousand, that is obviously devastating. And but at the same time, when you compare that to the rest of the world, Australia still has one of the lowest death rates of COVID of any country in the world. And that is a result of the the many practises we've put in place over many years to to achieve that outcome.

So we're simply saying that Omicron is very different to Delta and we have to change how we manage it. I mean, one of the biggest game changes on Omicron was when it was determined that the vaccines didn't prevent transmission. Now that changed everything. Before Omicron, we had a double vaccinated population, which protected us very strongly against the Delta variant and meant that we could be moving and opening up, and that's exactly what we were doing. Now Omicron comes along, highly transmissible. The vaccine doesn't prevent that transmission. It does have a very positive effect on reducing the severity of the illness, which combined with a less severe strain, means it presents less of an individual risk to every person who contracts it. But that's what you now manage in this environment. So what you were doing before and what you might thought was necessary before, for example, before, PCR tests dealt with all the cases. But in Omicron on that volume, they can't, and that was a completely different set of circumstances that evolved as a result, and we've been adjusting to that, particularly since we were able to confirm the severity was less and we understood the impact of the vaccinations’ effect on transmission as well as serious illness, but Paul.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: I think that it's very important to know that we cannot protect everyone from this virus as I've said and there will be a very small proportion of people who will have severe illness and unfortunately, some that will die. There is a very clear link between death and not being vaccinated and between death and not having a third vaccination, if you're eligible for that at the moment. So there are two very, very important things that we need to take into account. But there are consequences of this approach we're taking now. It is the approach that was decided at national cabinet based on the medical advice to move ahead with opening society, when all we had was Delta. Omicron has changed things, but there's been some positives to that. And then the most positive is it is a far less severe illness for most people, but that you still need to take care.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, the children question?

PRIME MINISTER: We did have a very extensive discussion about that today, and we took some advice from the Expert Medical Panel - the Chief Medical Officer and the AHPPC. We will be confirming our views on that over the course of the next week, and we are working through some arrangements for that. And, if that were to proceed, there are two issues. There is the testing surveillance testing of teachers, both in child care and in school settings and then in school settings. Primary is different to secondary because in secondary, mask wearing, things of that nature is more effective than with younger children. Try and keep a mask on a six year old for a whole day. That's obviously going to be far more challenging and they also will not have the same level of vaccination as in the secondary school population. So there are the issues we're working through. The role of potentially the role of surveillance testing for students, but also what is a more high priority necessity for teachers. Because as we've often seen through the course of the pandemic, one of the key ways of entry of the virus into an education setting is actually through staff just like we've seen in aged care settings. And that's why that would be a priority also. So we will have more to say about that next week. We had a very extensive discussion on it today. There are a range of views across the states and territories about what the best way forward is there, but we agreed that we would come to a position next week. And so parents and teachers and those working in schools, teachers' aides and so on will be well aware of what the arrangements are before school goes back.

JOURNALIST: Thanks, Prime Minister and also Professor Kelly. Was there any epidemiology projections presented to national cabinet today. And just on the projections, or the thinking around potential peak caseloads. You suggested New South Wales might have already peaked. It's uncertain. But could you talk to us and elaborate a bit about the expectations around peak caseloads in the various states or nationally?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll ask Paul to speak to that. Other than to note that we did look at the case looking at New South Wales and the impact on furloughing of workforce of schools not going back. So that was the particular modelling work that was done today and that was presented by the Secretary of Treasury, Dr Kennedy, which was very important to understand. But I'll allow Paul to address the other things about when things peak and for how long.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So we've got a lot of real data now we can chart that. So we know that in the past couple of weeks, there's been a levelling off in terms of hospitalisations, particularly in New South Wales. That's the real data that we see from New South Wales shared with the National Incident Centre. So but you know, we need to be clear that the case numbers we have at the moment, we know that's not the full picture in terms of cases in the community and the rapid antigen tests will assist us with that. But there are many people in the community in the community right now who have not been diagnosed. So it's a bit hard to tell exactly where we are. What we know from from previous forecasting that we do every week is that New South Wales is a bit ahead of the other states and it's not surprising they started earlier and but that they are close to peaking, if not already would be my suggestion, the other the other states are a little bit further behind that, but I think end of January, early February is probably where we will start to see a change and that's what we've seen around the world. There's been a very rapid rise in cases, a peak and then a decrease in some places.

PRIME MINISTER: What we're particularly looking at when the data is being presented is obviously the case issues. But even more significantly, there's the hospitalisation, ICU figures and they're interesting to watch at the moment, and that will be different by state and territory as well.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why has a decision about Novak Djokovic's visa yet to be made, and how long is your government going to let this drag on for?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I refer you to Minister Hawke's most recent statement and that position hasn't changed, and there are, these personal ministerial powers able to be exercised by Minister Hawke, and I don't propose to make any further comment at this time.

JOURNALIST: The aged care sector at the moment, according to some providers, is in a diabolical shambles in their own words, and the problem is a lack of access to rapid antigen tests. How has it come to this? And if big private retailers, for example, have amassed big stockpiles of rapid antigen tests, is it time for them to either hand them over or to have them compulsorily acquired by the government for these most vulnerable people?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, no, I wouldn't agree with your characterisation of what is held by the supermarkets or the retailers. What I said was that they had acquired tests to be able to test their workforce in distribution centres, which keeps food on the shelves. So that's a very important objective and that is a very important objective of all of all governments. We have already had 10 million rapid antigen tests that the Commonwealth had acquired, and we have 78 million in total on top of that coming, some of which have already arrived. Right around the country there is over 200 million. So aged care are being provided with rapid antigen tests.

The workforce challenges in aged care, though, are very real. We know that they are in health care as well. That is a simple consequence of large numbers of people contracting COVID and being close contacts. Now, not anyone can just go into an aged care centre and provide care, that is a skilled occupation. And those of you who have elderly relatives who are in aged care would be very concerned about who was coming in to provide care. And they are, there are important regulations that sit around that. I've seen the suggestion that Defence Forces can go in and operate in aged care. No, that's not the case. The Defence Forces are not a shadow workforce for the entire economy, economy or the health workforce. There are limited numbers of people in the Defence Forces that can be used in acute situations and indeed have been. That was particularly the case in the second wave in Victoria in 2020, where they went in. But there are not large numbers of people who are in the Defence Forces that are available to go and replace workforce in the aged care system. That's why these furloughing arrangements are very important and that's why we've moved on them, and that's why we continue to move on them and continue to support them in the rapid antigen testing. And while we continue to support them in the booster shots that are going to people in aged care.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] about the critical nature of that workforce situation. If it's a non-critical workforce that has access to these rapid antigen tests at the moment, shouldn't they be handed over.

PRIME MINISTER: They are critical workers.

JOURNALIST: If they're retailers who are not in a critical workforce?

PRIME MINISTER: No, but the tests that I'm referring to for people working in distribution centres. So if you want food on the shelves, they need to test their staff turning up at the distribution centres and driving their trucks and producing their food. They are essential workers, very essential workers. So I support the use of the tests for those, that those supermarkets and others have to keep food on the shelves. That's what they're for.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible], are you ruling out the ADF of helping them out in any way with cooking, cleaning, etc?

PRIME MINISTER: Look, we don't rule anything out. I just want to be very clear that I just want to dispel this notion that the Defence Forces can come in and replace workforces all across the country, whether it be in aged care or health care or transport or in food production or anything like that. I mean, the Defence Forces can provide very important support. General Frewen is a case in point and we have people with specialist knowledge and skills, including people with specialist medical knowledge and skills that can assist, but that of itself is not going to solve that issue. What's going to solve that issue, increasingly is a pushing through, ensuring that we can get as many of those staff not isolated and back working in aged care facilities as quickly as possible, and to ensure that we manage all the other demands in aged care facilities as best as we possibly can with rapid antigen testing and so on, which is being provided, the personal protective equipment, the training that was put in place over the last two years. We're working very closely with the aged care sector and we are under no illusions about the stresses and strains that are there. But those stresses and strains are being caused by a large number of people getting the virus or being close contacts.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you've now spread out the close contact rules and you're saying you want to maximise the number of people who can be at work and to minimise the number of people in hospital. RAT tests are crucial to that. Have you got an assessment about whether across those sectors there are enough RAT tests available to allow people to actually facilitate them and get back to work if they feel that they might be vulnerable? And is there a role for the federal government given that we've got, as you say, a series of peaks and that this is going to go on for a long time, is there a role for the federal government to be providing a RAT test supply across those sectors that you're opening up? And just one other thing, if I may. National Cabinet in November said that you should look for national standards in RAT test registration. Obviously, states are doing different things now. I'm just wondering whether there's any attempt to get a uniform registration system in place?

PRIME MINISTER: Of the results of the test, yeah. Well, the states are acting on that now. I mean some of them are doing them on a mandatory basis, other doing otherwise. What is important is the states are just getting the information, frankly, about as many of the positive results as they can. None of us are under any illusion that that is as a perfect population of results. And you know, we factor that in when we look at these numbers and you watch the trend and you look for consistency. But again, that is less the priority than looking at hospitalisation, ICU and ventilation numbers. I mean, they are entire populations. And so you do get a very strong indication of what the trends are and the impacts on the hospital systems there. The issue of cases is a is a lead indicator. The important indicators is what the impact directly is on the hospital systems as well. So those states are doing their thing, they're getting the results reported in. They were doing that, you know, the day after we made the decision to start moving more towards rapid antigen testing and away from PCR. There's no doubt, by the way, though, that the health position is that PCR tests are obviously superior to rapid antigen tests, but obviously that can't be done in every case, particularly when you're dealing with the volumes that we are now dealing with, which is very different to what was the case when we were dealing with Delta. Now just remind me, Laura?

JOURNALIST: Given your opening up, that definition of close contact, a lot more essential industries and services?

PRIME MINISTER: I understand. Well, what we need to do is focus our rapid antigen test on the sectors that need the most and where there are sectors like in the supermarkets and so on that can self-supply and meet their own needs, which they are telling us they are, great. We're doing it for aged care. State governments are doing it for health care workers and those workforces. Many workforces were moving on supplies already, going back many, many months. But one of the things we are particularly working with at the moment and Minister Ruston has been working with the small business sector on this on where there may be gaps for small and medium sized businesses in critical supply chain parts of the economy and whether there is a need to fill some gaps in those areas.

So that is exactly what the national coordinating mechanism and the states and territories and ourselves are working on to plug those gaps and an obvious one, which we'd always envisaged that there was the possibility that we would be providing, whether it is to early childhood educators in childcare and preschools or to teachers in primary school and secondary school, it was always envisaged that there would be a role for the federal and state governments in both of those areas. And indeed, I'm sure there will be, but that will depend on the regime that the states and territories want to put in place for their schools.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, today you noted double dose vaccination, today, you noted that double dose vaccination is a requirement to enter Australia. Does your government still regard unvaccinated non-citizen, non-residents as a potential threat to public health? And should such a person keep an Australian visa if they were allowed in?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, given the other matters that are being considered at the moment, all I will simply say is that the reason we've had since the 15th of December, where fully vaccinated eligible visa holders could travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption and to enter those states that were allowing them to enter quarantine free. That individual has to show that they're double vaccinated or must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. That is the policy. That policy hasn't changed. That is the policy. And of course, we would expect authorities to be implementing the policy of the government when it comes to those matters. Now that relates to people who are coming to Australia. So these are non-citizens, non-residents, they're visa holders, and they may have acquired a visa recently. They may have acquired a visa some time ago and be returning when some of these issues weren't even stand at the time. And so that's why it's important we have to distinguish between the visa and then the condition to enter the border. They're not one and the same thing, and they're often conflated and shouldn't be. They are two things. You can have a visa, just like you can be a citizen or a resident returning and the condition for you to come in and what happens after that will depend on vaccination status and so on. If you're a citizen, a resident, of course, you can come back into your own country, but you would be able to have to quarantine in those circumstances. If you're not a citizen or resident, then the health rules we have in place to protect our borders and our border protection policies have been central to the government's achievements when it comes and Australia's achievements more generally and having one of the lowest death rates, strongest economies and highest vaccination rates in the world. Thank you very much.

Oh, and one last thing, indulge me this, happy anniversary, Jenny. I hope I get to see you soon.