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Health Minister Hunt hopeful of early 2021 vaccine

Greg Hunt hopeful of coronavirus vaccine
Photo: Hunt hopeful of early 2021 vaccine
Health Minister Greg Hunt says the AstraZeneca Oxford coronavirus vaccine is on track for Australian use early next year after clinical trials resumed.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is quietly hopeful about the prospects of a vaccine for Australians as early as the first quarter of 2021 after clinical trials of the AstraZeneca Oxford coronavirus vaccine resumed.

UK medical authorities have given the go-ahead for clinical trials to resume following the suspension last week over a reported side-effect in a patient.

The Australian federal government has a deal for 34 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine to be distributed next year if trials succeed.
Mr Hunt said the suspension was an ordinary part of a safeguards process whenever there is an adverse event.

"For us, number one is safety, that trumps everything," Mr Hunt told Sky News' Sunday Agenda program.

"There is genuine cause for hope and optimism for Australians on the path to a vaccine."

Mr Hunt also announced from Monday Victorians will have access to additional mental health support with 15 new dedicated clinics opening.

"Our government recognises that the ongoing restrictions are having a significant impact on the wellbeing and mental health of individuals and communities in Victoria, and is committed to ensuring that support is available," Mr Hunt said.

The clinics are part of a $31.9 million mental health package announced in August.

There was also some good news for businesses caught up in the Victorian lockdown with the state government offering $3 billion in support measures, including cash grants up to $20,000 and payroll tax deferrals for 2020/21.

Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was clearly unimpressed by Victoria's lockdown extension, wanted to see the state government provide financial support before dipping into the commonwealth's coffers.

"I will speak with the prime minister about the package this arvo to brief him on the details on it, and just as he had foreshadowed, not unreasonably, the federal government was keen to see what we will do," Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters.

The positive news came as Victoria reported seven more deaths, bringing the state's death toll to 723 and the national count to 810 since the start of the pandemic.

Still, Victoria also announced 41 new infections, keeping the state on track for its plan to ease lockdown restrictions in coming weeks.

Mr Hunt later told reporters six out of eight states and territories have recorded zero cases and that the Victorian 14-day average continues to fall significantly.

"That's an achievement for all Victorians and all Australians," he said.

NSW recorded nine new COVID-19 infections, including one where the source is unknown.

Meanwhile, the political row over Queensland's closed borders rolled on.

Australian Medical Association President Chris Perry told those attacking state Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young for the closure to "back off".

"Leave her alone. We think this chief health officer is doing a great job," he told reporters.

But Home Affairs Minister and Queenslander Peter Dutton said there was no justification for borders to be closed in his state at the moment other than a political one.

He told the ABC television Insiders program he would be happy to double of the number of international arrivals if Queensland relaxed its 14-day quarantine period.

Opposition home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said Mr Dutton should get on with his day job rather than attacking Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk over the past week.

"Not a peep out of him about what's going on in Liberal states that have exactly the same border closure policies as Queensland," she told reporters.

"Peter Dutton should stop playing partisan state politics. We don't have time for this. We're in the middle of a global pandemic."

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