Digital Snapshot

by Eva U Wagner

Updates from the Antipodes

Digital Snapshot #19/21

2 July 2021

A potpourri of current affairs topics from Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific brought to you by KAS Australia and the Pacific. The weekly digital snapshot showcases selected media and think tank articles to provide a panorama view and analysis of the debate in these countries.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect KAS Australia’s position. Rather, they have been selected to present an overview of the various topics and perspectives which have been dominating the public and political debate in Australia and the Pacific region.

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AUSTRALIA Following the latest National Cabinet (2 July), Prime Minister Scott Morrison may have announced the country’s pathway out of the pandemic. In his press conference, he said the National Cabinet had agreed to a four-phase plan, including the setting of vaccination targets. The details of those targets are yet to be determined, as are the measures to achieve the them. The targets would be decided once modelling showed how many people would need the jab for it to be effective against the spread of the Delta variant. The PM also announced that the cap on international arrivals would be halved (3035 down from 6370 per week). The latter is considered a win for the State Governments of Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, whose Premiers were calling for lower caps until a larger share of their population is vaccinated. The National Cabinet also agreed to trial a shorter 7-day home quarantine period (instead of 14 days in hotel quarantine) with a small number of vaccinated travellers, most likely in the State of South Australia. Reaching the second vaccination target would mean international travel caps would lift for unvaccinated and vaccinated travellers. The third phase would see Australia deal with the coronavirus as it does with the seasonal flu. The fourth phase would see the country return to pre-pandemic travel and life.

In the run up to this decision, several Australian States and Territories recorded new cases of local transmission, and in response imposed temporary lockdowns. This includes Alice Springs, Brisbane, Darwin, Sydney and Perth. The measures affect nearly half of the Australian population, and will likely have a severe impact on the tourism sector, which in the absence of international tourists is dependent on domestic holiday makers.

The Australian State and Territorial Governments’ measures may appear extreme again. They may be explained by research suggesting that Australia’s ICU capacity (9.4 ICU beds per 100,000 people) was relatively low compared to that of the US (34.7), Germany (29.2) and other European countries, at least in the beginning of the pandemic. The number of ventilators available in the country would also be a driving factor. While the Australian Federal Government may have ramped up those numbers since then, availability of medical practitioners, nurses and other health care workers is unlikely to have increased, given that the country’s external borders have been closed since March 2020.

Another factor would seem to be the slower than anticipated rollout of vaccinations. As at the end of June, about 30% of the Australian population had received their first dose, and just over 7% had two doses. Australia primarily relied on AstraZeneca, which may be locally produced. However, the Government with a view to side-effects (blood clotting) first restricted the administration of this vaccine to people over 50, and later on to people over 60. As a result, Australia became largely dependent on the import of the Pfizer vaccine, and admission and (future) delivery of the Novovax and Moderna vaccines (see Australia’s vaccine agreements). PM Scott Morrison has since announced that people under 40 could ask their GP for an AstraZeneca shot. His announcement was rejected by the State Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia, who said that they did not want to see young people, who would be likely to survive a coronavirus infection, die from a vaccine. Finally, the protection of remote communities and their vulnerable indigenous population would have informed the decision-making.

As far as bilateral relations are concerned, Australia and Germany have recently signed a letter of intent to set up a bilateral hydrogen accord with the objective to enable the import of sustainably produced hydrogen. The Accord includes three major initiatives:

  • Establishing the German-Australian Hydrogen Innovation and Technology Incubator (HyGATE) to support real-world pilot, trial, demonstration and research projects along the hydrogen supply chain. Australia and Germany have respectively committed up to $50 million and €50 million to establish HyGATE.
  • Facilitating industry-to-industry cooperation on demonstration projects in Australian hydrogen hubs.
  • Exploring options to facilitate the trade of hydrogen and its derivatives produced from renewables (such as ammonia) from Australia to Germany, including through Germany’s H2Global Initiative, which supports long-term supply agreements with German industry.

The Accord comes after the announcement last year of an Australian-German supply chain feasibility study of hydrogen produced from renewables (see Joint Declaration of Intent).

NEW ZEALAND Following the abovementioned cases of local transmission in various Australian States and Territories, New Zealand has temporarily suspended the travel bubble. Quarantine-free travel is scheduled to resume as of 5 July, however, only with the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Tasmania. And, travellers will now have to provide a negative Covid-19 test result.

New Zealand’s capital Wellington has temporarily gone to Alert Level 2, after an Australian tourist tested positive. The Alert Level has meanwhile been lowered to Alert Level 1 again.

The vaccination rollout in New Zealand has so far seen 705,000 people receive the first dose, and 445,000 the second inoculation (population: 5 million). In order to keep the pandemic under control, the country remains closed to almost all travellers.