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Australia could reopen 'well before' end of year: PM


Scott Morrison has raised the prospect of reopening to international travel before the end of this year, while defending harsh restrictions lasting longer than most of the world.

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Australia appears set to ease tight restrictions on overseas travel when the nation hits 80 per cent vaccination coverage for people aged 16 and above.

The prime minister said the first steps would allow Australians to leave and fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents to return home.

“That will occur before the end of the year. It could happen well before that,” he told American broadcaster CBS News while in the United States.

While debate over internal borders continues as immunisation rates rise, the federal government is hardening its stance on international travel.

The prime minister was also quizzed about major contrasts between Australia and the US on pandemic management.

“We’re different societies,” Mr Morrison said.

“In Australia, when it comes to public health, we’re a very pragmatic nation. The virus doesn’t care what you believe. The virus cares about how it can come and take your life.

“We’ve introduced what we believe are practical controls that have saved tens of thousands of lives.”

More than 700,000 people have succumbed to the disease in America while Australia’s death toll is 1243.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the federal government was responsible for lockdowns in Victoria, NSW and the ACT.

“The sort of restrictions that are in place right now, to be very clear, are in place because of Scott Morrison’s failure when it comes to the vaccine rollout and when it comes to quarantine,” he told reporters.

Morrison said lockdowns were regrettable but he looked forward to restrictions being eased soon.

“Our rates of vaccination on a daily basis per capita have even exceeded those that were achieved in the United States and the United Kingdom at their peak,” he said.

“That is getting us to a place where we’ll be able to open again.”

Australia angered the Chinese government after calling for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 last year.

The prime minister said he had been unable to make a final conclusion on whether the virus jumped to humans from a wildlife wet market or from another source.

“I’m one of many who have been frustrated that we haven’t been able, as yet, to get those answers, and we need to persist with those answers,” he said.

He said the World Health Organisation needed to be allowed to get to the bottom of the issue.

Victoria recorded 705 new local cases and one death on Monday.

In NSW, there were 787 infections and 12 deaths as the state government outlined detail on easing restrictions when 80 per cent double-dose vaccination rates are reached.

Nationally, 51.5 per cent of people aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated, while almost 76 per cent have had one dose.

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