Australia has eye on vaccination drive even though coronavirus under control


FILE PHOTO: People wait in line at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing clinic at Mona Vale Hospital in the wake of a new outbreak in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney, Australia, December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia recorded no new local coronavirus cases on Sunday, maintaining a recent run of success in keeping the virus at bay, but nevertheless is keen to press on with its vaccination campaign from next month, government officials said.

Australia's first batch of the Pfizer vaccine is due to arrive in February and its campaign will then begin with people over 70, adults with underlying medical conditions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the front of the queue.

"We have the virus under control here in Australia but we want to roll out the vaccine," Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a news conference.

The campaign was on track despite the low transmission numbers and shortage of supply of the Pfizer vaccine seen in some other countries, he said.

People can apply to get the vaccine from Monday.

Recent government figures showed an overall 95.09% rate for regular vaccinations for five-year-olds in the December quarter, suggesting a positive attitude towards vaccinations among the public.

"This will help save lives and protect lives - it is also a very important sign of confidence as we prepare for the COVID vaccine roll out," Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Twitter.

Hunt said Australia has had no community cases anywhere for nine of the last 10 days.

Australia has fared better than most other developed economies in the pandemic through swift border closures, lockdowns, strict hotel quarantine for travellers and widespread testing and social distancing.

It has had just under 28,800 cases in all, the overwhelming majority in Victoria state, and 909 deaths.

Victoria saw its 18th straight day of no local transmissions and there were no new community cases in New South Wales and Queensland, which had outbreaks in recent weeks, health data showed.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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