Hospital funding topped up to handle COVID

·3-min read

The federal government has agreed to top up the funding of state and territory health systems ahead of a predicted surge in COVID-19 hospitalisations.

The minimum hospital funding guarantee will be extended until June 30 next year.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the extension was made due to the impact COVID was still having on health systems, particularly in NSW and Victoria which are still dealing with outbreaks.

"Australians can rest assured they have access to a world-class health system whenever and wherever they need it," Mr Hunt said in a statement on Friday.

"This extension will provide security of funding for our critical public hospitals while the national plan is implemented."

The guarantee previously gave jurisdictions an extra $532 million in funding in 2019/20 as part of the national health reform agreement.

There was $25.5 billion in funding for public hospitals as part of the agreement in 2019/20.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said hospital systems across the country were equipped to handle a potential surge in cases going forward as restrictions ease.

"We're prepared for the worst and we're thankful for what is one of the best results we're seeing," he said.

"We have put in place the plans to deal with the surges here in NSW and Victoria."

At the first national cabinet meeting in more than a month on Friday, the prime minister and state and territory leaders agreed to release updated modelling on how the health system will cope living with COVID-19 and surge capacity at different levels of community transmission.

The Doherty Institute modelling, which was the basis for the national plan, will be published "in coming days", Mr Morrison said.

In addition, the federal government has committed to implement a COVID-19 vaccination program for five to 11-year-old children, if backed by the national medicines regulator and immunisation advisory group.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly informed leaders of the emerging scientific evidence showing the benefits of vaccinating the age group, after US regulators approved the Pfizer vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

States and territories will also consider changes to isolation requirements for fully vaccinated primary close contacts, including no or minimal quarantine for up to 7 days, under phase C of the national plan.

That is triggered when the country hits its target of 80 per cent of the national population being fully vaccinated, poised to occur sometime on Friday.

The latest figures released put the national COVID-19 jab rate at 79.6 per cent, after more than 181,000 vaccines were administered on Thursday.

Mr Morrison described the pending milestone as a breakthrough, as states across the country move to reopen their borders.

It comes as West Australian Premier Mark McGowan revealed long-awaited plans to reopen the state to eastern jurisdictions after months of hard border policies.

The border with WA will reopen when the state hits 90 per cent of the eligible population being fully vaccinated, with the rate currently sitting at 65.4 per cent.

Mr McGowan said the 90 per cent target was expected to be reached in late January or early February.

Meanwhile, NSW and Victoria reopened borders for free travel between the states on Friday.

NSW recorded 249 new cases of COVID-19 in its most recent reporting period on Friday, along with three deaths.

In Victoria, 1343 infections were reported, along with 10 virus-related deaths.

The ACT recorded six new cases and one new death.

A three-day lockdown in Katherine continues and a lockout in Greater Darwin is scheduled until midnight on Sunday, after a second person was diagnosed with the virus in the Northern Territory.

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