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(Australian Associated Press)
Australia is eyeing a path to normal life after the latest positive coronavirus vaccine trials boosted hopes of ending the world’s pandemic nightmare.
AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s candidate reported a 90 per cent effectiveness rate in late-stage trials and will seek Australian regulatory approval in coming weeks.
The federal government has a deal for 33.8 million units of the vaccine, one of four with Australian agreements.
“We have a pathway to not just a COVID-safe Australia but a fully safe Australia – a return to normal,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
Mr Hunt said health workers and elderly people would be the first to receive the free vaccine, with the wider population set for the jab before the end of 2021.
“The news from overseas means we are on track for first vaccines from March,” he said.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is considered easier to transport because it requires normal refrigeration rather than ultra-cold temperatures.
Pfizer’s candidate, which Australia also has a deal to source, has also reported 90 per cent effectiveness but requires temperatures below minus 70C.
Mr Hunt said the mix of vaccines meant the nation was closer than ever to finding a solution.
“We have enough to vaccinate the Australian population three times over,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said all of Australia’s contracted vaccines were on the road to being safe, successful and effective.
“It’s my sincere hope that we’re another step closer to really beating this pandemic,” he said in a social media video.
Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowen criticised the government for not sealing more vaccine deals.
“World’s best practice is to have five or six contracts in place with various vaccine providers,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“It’s important that we spread our risk as a nation.”
Australia is also edging closer to having open state borders at Christmas, with Queensland committing to drop travel restrictions as infection rates remain low.
Victoria now has no active coronavirus cases and on Tuesday extended its streak to 25 days without a new infection after crushing a deadly outbreak.
NSW has gone 17 days without a locally acquired case, while South Australia appears to be on top of a cluster that spread to 27 people.
Queensland will open its NSW border on December 1, when the travel restrictions for Victoria will also be dropped provided there are no new infections.
A Queensland decision on SA has been delayed as health authorities keep a close eye on case numbers.
WA remains defiant with Premier Mark McGowan unapologetic for his hard border stance that continues to shut the state off from large parts of the country.
About 150 Australians will land in Canberra on Thursday to start two weeks of hotel quarantine amid sustained high demand to return home.