(Australian Associated Press)
There appears to be nothing but green lights ahead for a national coronavirus vaccine rollout early next year.
Health Minister Greg Hunt is not expecting any more setbacks after being forced to dump a vaccine trial at the University of Queensland.
Mr Hunt expects to have early assessment of two leading vaccines – one from Pfizer and the other from AstraZeneca – by the end of January.
Australian regulators will then be asked to give the drugs the tick of approval, putting the national rollout on track to begin in March.
Mr Hunt spoke to the global chief executive of AstraZeneca at the weekend.
The company is working to finalise issues including the size of the first vaccine dose and the time before the follow-up shot.
“There are no red flags at this stage. There are only green lights,” Mr Hunt told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.
The minister’s comments came as New Zealand committed to forming a travel bubble with Australia by the end of March 2021.
NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the timeline was conditional on Australian government support and case numbers remaining low.
Mr Hunt said Australia was ready to do its bit as soon as New Zealand was ready.
“It’s good for the economy, good for our airlines and it’s good for both countries,” he said.
Meanwhile, the mental and emotional toll of coronavirus on Australians appears to be easing, with fewer people feeling nervous or overwhelmed.
A survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has shone a light on the hidden impacts of the pandemic.
The survey followed up on wellbeing questions first asked in August, when Victoria was at the peak of its second wave and nationwide restrictions remained in place.
Far fewer people were feeling restless or fidgety in November than when the questions were originally asked.
There was also a significant drop in the percentage of people feeling nervous or that everything was an effort.
The survey also revealed changes in the spending habits of Australian households.
Australians uncomfortable spending time in large shopping centres because of coronavirus are increasingly turning to online sales.
One in three people now prefer to shop online, the ABS has found.
Two in five people say they feel somewhat uncomfortable shopping at large complexes due to coronavirus.
In another big shift towards online services, almost one in six Australians used telehealth services for medical appointments in November.
State and territory governments continue to record very few cases of coronavirus, with all new infections linked to hotel quarantine.
NSW recorded another three cases in hotel quarantine on Monday.
State health authorities are treating 70 active coronavirus cases, with one person in intensive care.
Most people (94 per cent) are being treated in non-acute, out-of-hospital care, including returned overseas travellers in special health accommodation.
Victoria has recorded one more infection in hotel quarantine, with seven active cases in the state.
South Australia reported its first COVID-19 case in more than two weeks – a man in his 40s in hotel isolation.