Australia reaches grim pandemic milestone

·3-min read

Australia has smashed its own record for new coronavirus infections as the death toll exceeded 1000 and the disease claimed its first Indigenous victim.

There were 1375 new local cases across the nation on Monday with 1290 detected in NSW, where there were also four deaths.

That took the national toll to 1003 since the start of the pandemic.

A unvaccinated man in his 50s who died at Dubbo hospital was Australia's first Indigenous coronavirus death.

There were 73 new cases in Victoria, which has been unable to stamp out an outbreak despite an extended lockdown.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wants business leaders to join the government's push to open state borders and reduce lockdowns when vaccination coverage reaches 70 and 80 per cent.

But Labor has accused the coalition of using debate over the reopening plan as a distraction from the current crisis.

Mr Frydenberg said state and territory governments would not receive the same levels of lockdown support when the thresholds were met.

"You could have the ridiculous situation where somebody in NSW could travel to Canada before they could go to Cairns," he told the Seven Network.

"Somebody in Victoria could travel to Singapore and Bali before they could go to Perth."

WA Premier Mark McGowan, who has signalled he will maintain border restrictions even at higher vaccination rates, described the treasurer's comments as odd.

"NSW is in a catastrophic situation and he's worried about people flying to Bali," Mr McGowan said.

"Perhaps instead of attacking us they should show a bit of gratitude and appreciation for what Western Australia has done."

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the focus on the reopening agreement was a distraction from problems with the vaccine rollout and quarantine.

"This government has not looked at where the mistakes have been and set about correcting them," he told ABC radio.

"They've been too busy with their spin and marketing to worry about that."

Mr Albanese said the plan was silent on interstate borders but insisted WA's zero-case goal was not in conflict with the agreement.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said state governments needed to change strategy and loosen some restrictions while vaccination rates rise.

"These are desperate, desperate times for business. We're probably at crunch point now," he told Nine.

Australia has fully vaccinated 34.41 per cent of its population aged 16 and over, while almost 55 per cent have received one jab.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said Friday's national cabinet meeting of leaders focused on significant risks associated with opening at 70 per cent vaccine coverage.

"Even the prime minister is now changing his language and tone that 70 per cent is not the magic number, it's a very gentle step forward," he said.

He expects the ACT, which recorded 12 new cases on Monday, to reach the targets well ahead of the rest of Australia based on current trajectories.

"Let's stop talking about 70 because it's not safe at 70, but 80 is the more realistic step," Mr Barr said.

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