Scott Morrison has reached out to the families of elderly people who've died during the coronavirus pandemic to reassure them they have not been forgotten.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Australians to be prepared for more coronavirus deaths, particularly amongst the elderly, after an aged care royal commission heard stories of neglect and apathy.
Some 352 people have died during the crisis so far, mostly in Victoria where more than 160 deaths have been linked to aged care homes. Twenty-one people died in Victoria alone on Wednesday and most were aged over 70.
"It's so important that as we continue to move through this difficult time that we stay focused on protecting the most vulnerable," Mr Morrison said in a video posted on Facebook.
"They are the elderly in our community; (we need to) not just (look) after their health but wherever possible ... ensure they are treated with dignity and respect."
The aged care royal commission this week examined the impact of the pandemic on the elderly and heard more than 68 per cent of the people who've died were aged care residents.
That is one of the highest COVID-19 death rates amongst older people in the world.
Geriatric specialist Professor Joseph Ibrahim told the commission on Wednesday residents were treated as second-class citizens and "hundreds ... will die prematurely because people have failed to act" to protect them.
"I want to assure you that where there are shortcomings in these areas they will be acknowledged and lessons will be learned," Mr Morrison said.
"We know that in the days and weeks ahead there will be more difficult news ... we need to continue to brace ourselves for that."
But Mr Morrison also said there was hope that the crisis in Australia, particularly in Victoria, would ease.
"We can see an improvement and while it's still very early I want to encourage you to keep doing what you're doing. It will save lives, it will save livelihoods," he said.
Meanwhile, Australia's top medical officers are increasingly confident a coronavirus vaccine will emerge.
"We are every day becoming more and more optimistic - cautiously optimistic - but optimistic nonetheless of a COVID-19 vaccine being produced," national Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said on Wednesday.
"I am constantly astonished by the speed and the pace with which the global community is racing towards finding effective vaccines and treatments for COVID."
Russia this week became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, an announcement that was met with scepticism in the global health and science community.
The drug has only been studied in dozens of people, far less than the tens of thousands needed to prove if it is safe and effective.
More than 150 vaccines are being developed and tested around the world with 25 in human clinical trials.
Dr Coatsworth called on Russia or any other country claiming to have found a vaccine to make all the information available for scrutiny.
"No matter who wins this race, any effective, safe vaccine needs to be immediately provided to the world," he said.
Victoria recorded 410 new cases on Wednesday, which was higher than the previous day but in line with a downward trend in the past week.
NSW recorded 18 new infections, with most tied to known outbreaks.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.
If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus