National cabinet has agreed to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for residential aged care workers, and the federal government has announced a new indemnity scheme allowing GPs to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to any Australian adult.
The decision comes as Australia's coronavirus outbreaks have reignited calls for vaccinations to be increased amid concern about the highly contagious Delta strain sweeping the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday night said national cabinet leaders had endorsed mandatory vaccination for residential aged care workers, in a bid to complete what was supposed to be the first phase of the rollout and protect some of the country's most vulnerable people.
"This is not something any government should do lightly ... we have been considering this matter for some time now based on the best possible medical advice," Mr Morrison said.
Of the 910 deaths in Australia from COVID-19, 685 have been aged care residents.
Mr Morrison said the aim of the mandatory plan was to complete the aged care vaccination rollout by mid-September, through a combination of state health orders and commonwealth measures.
$11 million support package
In a bid to ensure there are no unintended consequences, such as aged care workers leaving the sector, the federal government will provide $11 million to allow aged care facilities to provide paid leave to staff to be vaccinated.
The Aged & Community Services Australia welcomed the announcement, including the $11 million support, but said the critical issue would be ensuring easy access to supply.
"The reason there is low rates of vaccination has little to do with our workers," ACSA CEO Patricia Sparrow said.
"The best way to improve vaccination rates is to make it as easy as possible for aged care workers, including through on-site workplace vaccination.
"Our workers were given priority as 1A and 1B at the beginning of the year, yet they are still waiting to be vaccinated. It's not their fault."
"We simply have not seen the level of urgency, planning or clear communication needed from the federal government and this must be corrected urgently."
Nepalese-born personal care worker in aged care, Sanu Ghimere, told SBS News that workers want the vaccine, but it is hard to find a suitable time for the appointment and to have financial support whilst getting the vaccine.
"We are not in priority. Some of my colleagues they got vaccine that was leftover (in aged care facilities).
"Some of my friends have problems to get an appointment and some of my colleagues are scared of its reaction.
"After the second dose, I got sick for six days. So some of my colleagues cannot afford being sick."
National cabinet also agreed to mandatory post-quarantine testing for returned travellers, which must occur two to three days after they leave.
Further, there will be a ban on accommodating low-risk domestic travellers next door to high-risk international arrivals, which triggered an outbreak in Queensland.
This could be done by separating them into different accommodation or floors in the one facility.
Mandatory vaccination and testing of all quarantine workers will be rolled out, including those involved in transporting people to quarantine.
Travellers who have gone through 14-day quarantine in one jurisdiction will be able to enter other jurisdictions without having to quarantine for a further 14 days.
Under 40s allowed to get AstraZeneca vaccine
In a bid to encourage broader vaccination, the federal government will also provide a no-fault indemnity scheme for GPs who administer COVID-19 vaccines, meaning those under the age of 40 can now get the AstraZeneca vaccine if they wish.
Medical clinics have since been inundated with booking requests, with some GPs blindsided by the announcement late on Monday.
Karen Price from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has welcomed the decision.
Dr Price said as long as people understood the low risk of rare blood clots, she would have no hesitation giving a well-informed patient under 40 the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Korshid also welcomed the indemnity cover.
Dr Khorshid said the change would give doctors extra protection and may help speed up the national rollout.
"It removes another barrier, particularly for those GPs that are concerned about providing it to anyone under the age of 60," he said.
Mr Morrison said it was hoped with the changes to the vaccine program and improvements in supply, Australia could "move through the balance of the program over the course of this year".
Pfizer vaccine supplies constrained
COVID-19 task force commander John Frewen told reporters while Pfizer supplies remained constrained, there were ample AstraZeneca doses for people over 60.
He warned the disease would not be eradicated in the near future.
"We will have to get more comfortable with the idea that there will be ongoing outbreaks in the COVID space," he said.
"But with all of those mitigation measures we can hopefully keep people alive, keep people from getting seriously ill and then as quickly as we can transition back to normal life as quickly as we can.
"Vaccination underpins all of that."
With Sydney in lockdown, NSW recorded 18 new coronavirus cases and all but one confirmed as linked to existing cases.
The number was down from 30 on Sunday and came from 59,000 tests.
Queensland is on the verge of another lockdown in the state's southeast after two new local cases, with more than 160 returned mine workers being tested.
Masks will be mandatory across large swathes of the state, home visits will be capped at 30 guests and venues will need to adhere to a one person per four square metre rule.
In South Australia - which hasn't recorded a new case - beefed up restrictions include masks in high-risk settings and reduced densities in pubs, cafes and restaurants.
Western Australia recorded one new case in a woman who briefly came into contact with another person who had visited Sydney.
In the Northern Territory, an outbreak linked to a central Australian mine has grown to seven cases, sparking an extension of a snap lockdown until at least Friday.
Almost 7.4 million Australians have been vaccinated.