Government extends support as COVID bites

Responding to the health and economic impacts of the COVID pandemic will be the focus of parliament.
Responding to the health and economic impacts of the COVID pandemic will be the focus of parliament.

The federal government will focus on measures to limit damage to the economy as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc in NSW and Queensland.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will on Tuesday introduce to federal parliament a draft law to make changes to worker and business support.

Labor will support the bill if it is consistent with what the government has previously said it would do.

It is understood the bill will allow the roll out of national business support payments for those impacted by significant lockdowns and make the payments tax-free.

As well, the draft laws will allow the tax-free treatment of COVID-19 disaster payments for workers over the 2020/21 tax year.

Parliament is sitting under tight health restrictions, with the public banned from Parliament House and many MPs and senators video-linking to debates from their home states.

It is expected around 85 MPs will be present in the House of Representatives and 45 to 50 senators in the upper house.

While the focus of the debate will be on the government's pandemic response, health authorities' concerns are growing about the impact on children - especially those with underlying medical conditions.

Approval has now been given for children as young as 12 who have impaired immune systems or come from other vulnerable groups to get priority access to Pfizer vaccines.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said this meant about 220,000 children would be able to get a Pfizer vaccine.

A broader step to approve the vaccination of all children aged 12 to 15 for COVID-19 could be given within weeks.

Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said the Delta variant was posing new challenges in terms of children and young adults.

Vaccine task force commander Lieutenant General John Frewen has indicated the government could change its approach to focus on vaccinating "key transmissibility younger groups", including people aged under 40.

It comes following evidence that young adults are more likely to contract COVID-19 and transmit it.

"They are often more mobile and likely to engage in activities such as visiting multiple venues at night and more likely to work in casualised and frontline jobs," Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price said.

"So even though their chances of suffering severe effects or dying from COVID-19 may be less than older people, it makes sense to get them vaccinated."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will emerge from The Lodge after two weeks of restrictions to attend parliament and deliver a simple message.

"Get vaccinated, full stop," he told 5AA radio.

So far 12.4 million people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with 19.2 per cent of the over-16 population fully vaccinated.

Locked-down Sydney detected another 207 new local cases on Monday.

Queensland extended its lockdown until at least Sunday after recording 13 new local infections, taking a Delta variant cluster to 31.

Australian Associated Press