Australia news LIVE: Treasurer reveals inflation set to surge; COVID … – Sydney Morning Herald

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Thanks for joining us for our live coverage today. In case you missed them, here are the day’s major headlines:
The Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approved Moderna’s paediatric vaccine for children aged between six months and five years but Health Minister Mark Butler said there is currently a “very limited supply” of the vaccine in Australia.
Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the nation’s environment is a “difficult, confronting and sometimes depressing story”, following the release of a new report outlining major extinctions and wildlife losses in Australia. However, she said she is not “ruling things in or out” around logging and forest conservation.
The Reserve Bank of Australia said Australian households are well-placed to cope with higher interest rates due to high rates of savings and improved lending standards, ahead of another expected increase in the cash rate in August.
There were 50,258 new COVID-19 cases and 75 deaths recorded nationally as both the chief medical officer and health minister urged Australians to wear masks and get their booster shots amid an outbreak of the highly infectious new BA.5 variant.
We’ll be back tomorrow with the latest news.
The new COVID-19 Omicron subvariant, BA.5, is much more infectious than earlier variants and poses an increased risk of reinfection for those who have already had COVID-19.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly and Health Minister Mark Butler are urging people to wear masks to stop the spread of the new variant.
“Vaccines do not stop the transmission of this virus; this variant is unusual in that case,” Kelly said on Tuesday.
Watch his remarks here:
Health Minister Mark Butler urged parents of children aged between six months and five years to get their kids vaccinated against the flu.
“Our vaccination rates for influenza for under-five-year-olds are lagging where they historically have been at this point in the flu season,” he said.
“As we know, through tragic experience, children under the age of five, and particularly children under the age of two, are a very high-risk category for influenza.”
About 1300 Australians have been hospitalised with influenza this flu season, the minister said, with more than 700 of them children under the age of 16.
“Go out and make an appointment today … it’s a very important protection for some of our youngest kids,” the minister said.
Returning to the federal environment minister’s National Press Club address, and Tanya Plibersek was asked by this masthead about logging and land clearing.
Today’s State of the Environment report says that 86 per cent of Australia’s threatened species are subject to multiple threats that result in habitat destruction and degradation, such as logging and mining.
Asked if national standards on regional forestry agreements needed to be addressed before they are due to be reviewed in 2023, Plibersek said it was still early days in her new role and would look at it.
Six weeks into the job, I’m not going to start ruling things in or out, and I haven’t even begun to do the amount of consultation that I want to do with state and territory governments, with environmental and business stakeholders on some of these big questions. 
I know those regional forestry agreements are all coming up for renegotiation in coming years, and those conversations with state and territory government will be important conversations to have.
More than 5 million Australians are yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster, six months or more after receiving their primary course, Health Minister Mark Butler said on Tuesday.
“Two doses of COVID vaccines just are not enough to provide you with full protection, particularly against these Omicron subvariants,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Five million Australians are yet to receive their COVID-19 booster shot.Credit:AP
“The third dose rate just isn’t shifting fast enough, and I strongly urge people who are eligible for a third dose but have not yet had it to go out and get that booster. It will provide you with extra protection, particularly against the possibility of severe disease.”
The minister said fourth dose rates among aged care residents had improved, with up to 76 per cent having received their fourth jab, up from about 52 per cent last month.
“This will have a dramatic impact on the protection of our most vulnerable members of the community, members or residents of aged-care facilities,” he said.
Butler said prescription rates for the antiviral drugs Paxlovid and Lagevrio, which are now available on the PBS to those aged 70+ and those aged over 50 with two or more risk factors, had “increased sharply” since access was broadened.
“They will have a dramatic effect on hospitalisation numbers if we’re able to continue to expand that number,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has urged Australians to wear masks indoors as the latest wave of COVID-19 puts pressure on hospitals.
“We need to do that collectively to slow the spread of the virus,” Kelly said at a press conference with Health Minister Mark Butler, at which both men wore masks.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has urged Australians to wear masks indoors as the latest wave of COVID-19 puts pressure on hospitals.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
“We know that wearing masks do reduce the spread and protect yourself and protect others if you’re away from home and indoors in a crowded place. I really very strongly suggest that you do wear masks,” he said.
“This will not be forever, but for the next few weeks, this is the way we can actually influence the spread of the virus, protect vulnerable people in our community and also protect our healthcare systems … this is our leadership role for the community.”
On Tuesday, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which Kelly chairs, published a statement outlining concerns about the rapid spread of Omicron variant BA.5, which the advisory group presented to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and state leaders at Saturday’s national cabinet meeting.
Kelly said the message to the government was that the new variant “is circulating in the community and it poses a significant new threat … because it’s much more infectious than earlier variants [and] it’s also very good at escaping immunity”.
He urged people to get their third or fourth booster shots, work from home if possible and use antiviral medications that “help to protect the vulnerable”.
Asked if mask mandates should be reinstated, Butler replied: “That is not the advice that was issued by the chief health officers last week.”
Butler said the number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 had “increased very dramatically over recent weeks” from fewer than 3000 to more than 5200 patients, close to the January peak of 5300 cases, while Kelly said the current wave was only just beginning.
“This third Omicron wave for 2022 is proving to be a very, very significant one,” the minister said.
“There were 300,000 cases or thereabouts reported over the last seven days. The real number is likely to be more than double that.”
He said hospitalisations were “almost certain to increase further” over the coming weeks.
Parents of young children in Australia will have to keep waiting for COVID-19 vaccines, with the federal government yet to secure doses of the Moderna vaccine approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration on Tuesday.
Health Minister Mark Butler said there was “very limited supply” of the Moderna vaccine for children aged between six months and five years, which is given in two separate 25 microgram doses.
There is ‘very limited supply’ of the Moderna vaccine, the health minister says.Credit:AP
The minister said there was “very limited supply of this Moderna product across the world and … fierce competition by countries in North America, Europe and other parts of the world to get their hands on this very limited supply”.
“My department is in active negotiations right now with Moderna for Australia to secure as many doses as we possibly can from this very limited global supply. And those negotiations are continuing,” he told reporters in Canberra.
On Tuesday, the TGA gave provisional approval for the vaccine to be used in under-2s but the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is yet to make a recommendation to the government for it to be used in this age group.
“If ATAGI does approve that vaccine to children of that group, or a cohort within that age group, then supply of that vaccine also needs still to be arranged,” Butler said.
“This is a very, very new product … It was only first approved by the FDA in the United States a matter of weeks ago and has only been rolling out to children of that age in the US over a few weeks.”
Moderna’s mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, Spikevax, is widely available for older children and adults, but in higher doses. Pfizer is yet to submit data to the TGA for its mRNA vaccine for under-5s.
Butler urged parents to get their young children vaccinated against influenza, which has been sweeping the nation and putting pressure on hospitals.
Federal Health Minister Mark Butler has held a press conference with Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.
You can watch it below:
All states and territories have now reported today’s official coronavirus numbers.
Australia recorded 50,258 cases of COVID-19 today and 75 additional deaths from the virus.
There are 5239 people in hospital with the virus. Of those, 158 are in intensive care units.
The Reserve Bank believes Australian mortgage holders are, on the whole, well-placed to cope with higher interest rates, thanks to high rates of saving and better lending standards.
In a speech today, deputy governor Michele Bullock said households have been able to set aside about $260 billion in savings during the pandemic, which will help some cope as their mortgage repayments increase in size.
Reserve Bank deputy governor Michele Bullock says households should be able to withstand a sharp increase in interest rates.Credit:Louise Kennerley
The RBA is expected to lift the official cash rate by half a percentage point to 1.85 per cent at its next meeting in August, and financial markets expect the cash rate to reach 3.5 per cent by the middle of 2023.
Speaking to the Economic Society of Australia’s business lunch in Brisbane, Bullock acknowledged that not all households were in the same financial situation and recent borrowers were more vulnerable than people who’d been maintaining a mortgage for a number of years.
“Highly indebted households are especially vulnerable in the event of a loss of real income through higher inflation, particularly if combined with rising interest rates, and a decrease in housing prices,” she said.
Read more of her speech, and the Reserve Bank’s thinking, here.
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