Scott Morrison flags changes to COVID-19 approach after National Cabinet meeting

COVID-19 testing requirements for interstate travel could be cut as states and territories look at adopting common definitions for what makes someone a virus contact and when.

Federal, state and territory leaders have agreed to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s strong recommendation masks be worn indoors across the board.

But mandates will be left up to states and territories.

The federal government will increase payments to GPs and pharmacies delivering booster shots by $10 as states and territories prepare to ramp up their jab clinics.

Updated modelling will be prepared by the Doherty Institute to forecast what Prime Minister Scott Morrison describes as “real cases” and not “speculative assumptions”.

“We are taking Omicron very seriously, as you would expect us to,” he told reporters on Wednesday following a meeting of National Cabinet.

“But at the same time, we are confident that we will be able to continue to ensure we can face down the most recent challenge.”

The AHPPC will provide advice about whether traditional PRC tests are required for interstate travel at all, or whether rapid antigen tests can be used.

It will also provide advice within a fortnight for a national definition of a casual virus contact.

“We cannot have different rules in different places about what a close contact is and what a casual contact is,” Mr Morrison said.

“There is even an argument which says that there shouldn’t be any requirement to have a casual contact definition at all when you’re dealing with such a high volume of cases.

States and territories agreed a return to lockdowns was highly undesirable.

Mr Morrison urged people to wear masks, but said they didn’t need to be forced.

“Think of the person you’re going to meet this weekend. Think of Christmas Day where you will see elderly relatives,” he said.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is still considering whether to bring forward the time frame for booster shots from five months.

The prime minister cautioned bringing forward eligibility could backfire if too many people tried to get a third jab at once.

“It can actually lead to a situation where those groups that you want to prioritise to get those boosters can be crowded out,” Mr Morrison said.

He reiterated Australia was very unlikely to reach a worst case scenario of up to 200,000 daily cases under various scenarios modelled by the Doherty Institute.

Assumptions factored into the figure included Australia’s booster shot program remaining the same and the Omicron variant proving as severe as the Delta strain.

Other factors included states and territories not tightening public health measures, people not changing their own behaviours in the face of rising case tallies, and the absence of hospital surge capacity.

“That (200,000 figure) is not a scenario that is envisaged any way shape or form,” Mr Morrison said.

New daily infections in NSW jumped again on Wednesday to 3763. There were two more deaths. Victoria recorded 1503 new cases and six additional deaths.

Both Queensland and the ACT recorded daily case highs of 186 and 58, respectively. Tasmania notched up 12 more cases.

South Australia recorded 198 new infections.

More than 1.6 million people have received a booster shot.

Australia has 20 million vaccines in stock. Just over a quarter are in fridges at GPs, pharmacies and state hubs or en route to them.

The national double-dose vaccination rate for people aged 16 and older is inching towards 91 per cent.