Australia PM says COVID-19 vaccination drive on track to meet targets

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he remained optimistic the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive would finish on time by October despite initial delays as it reported zero new local cases for the 11th straight day on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A medical worker swabs a member of the public at the Bondi Beach drive-through coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre as the city experiences an outbreak in Sydney, Australia, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Australia began mass inoculation for its 25 million population on Feb. 22 but missed its targets in the first two weeks as the pace of vaccination slowed after two elderly people were inadvertently given four times the recommended dose.

Morrison said the vaccination rollout targets will be met as the government looks to ramp up the immunisation drive when Australia begins the local production of vaccine by the end of the month.

“Yes, I do remain confident about that but that doesn’t mean we won’t hit obstacles. It doesn’t mean there won’t be the odd frustration, the odd logistics issue ... that is to be expected with a project of this scale,” Morrison told reporters.

Australia has been gradually easing restrictions after reporting zero or low-single digit cases over the last several weeks helping put the economy in a faster recovery path.

Morrison on Tuesday said the government would spend A$1.2 billion ($920 million) to expand its wage subsidy scheme for apprentices, the first step in weaning the economy off a larger COVID-19 employee aid programme.

New South Wales state, which has not reported any local cases for more than seven weeks, said it was in talks with Tasmania state to quarantine international students on their behalf as it looks to revive the lucrative sector.

Tasmania has rejected the proposal saying priority would be given for seasonal workers and its own international students, Australian media reported.

Australia has reported just over 29,000 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths, with border closures and speedy tracking systems helping keep numbers relatively low.

($1 = 1.3091 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Lincoln Feast.