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Daniel McCulloch and Matt Coughlan
(Australian Associated Press)
Scott Morrison insists he shares the frustrations of more than half the Australian population in lockdown.
But the prime minister continues to deny the bungled vaccine rollout is responsible for the widespread restrictions.
Just 14 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, with Australia lagging behind most of the world.
But Mr Morrison said countries with much higher vaccination rates were going back into lockdown as the globe grappled with contagious strains of coronavirus.
He singled out “gobsmacking” rates of coronavirus in the United Kingdom, where deaths were rising despite widespread vaccinations.
“I understand there is great frustration. Believe me, I feel the same frustration,” he told 5AA radio.
“This latest Delta variant has thrown a completely new curve ball on this issue, which every single country in the world is wrestling with.”
The prime minister insisted total urgency was being applied to the vaccine rollout, despite earlier arguing the national program was not a race.
Mr Morrison again blamed delays on multiple updates to expert advice on the AstraZeneca jab, describing the ATAGI recommendations as “a big problem”.
But he said the rollout was ramping up significantly, with more supplies and vaccination centres being added.
The prime minister was repeatedly asked to apologise for low vaccination rates leading to lockdowns during a round of radio interviews.
Mr Morrison said the nature of coronavirus meant some problems were out of the government’s control.
“I’m accountable for the vaccination program and everything that’s happened in it,” he told KIIS FM.
“I’m also accountable for fixing it and that’s what we’re doing.”
The government is under increasing pressure to reinstate JobKeeper wage subsidies with more than half of Australia’s population in lockdown across NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
Instead, people who lose work in designated hot spots can access weekly payments of between $375 and $600.
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said national wage subsidies, which initially paid out $1500 a fortnight before being scaled back, were proven to work.
“As time goes on and we have these lockdowns it really does look like an incredibly stupid decision to end JobKeeper and replace it with something inferior,” he said.
Cabinet’s expenditure review committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss support measures the government has repeatedly tweaked.
The prime minister defended the disaster payment rate because it mirrors JobKeeper’s October to December level.
In NSW, 388,000 claims worth $186 million have been approved during its outbreak, while 58,000 people in Victoria have received $26 million.
The federal government has activated income support payments for South Australians.
Mr Morrison indicated areas in SA not declared hotspots would still receive support.
The state government is expected to foot the bill for people outside Commonwealth-defined hotspot zones.
Victoria recorded 22 new local cases on Wednesday, while a new infection has been reported in SA taking Adelaide’s cluster to six.
Orange in central-western NSW has been locked down after a delivery driver passed the virus to another person.
NSW is bracing for a potential spike in infections after recording 78 new cases on Tuesday.