Morrison asks national cabinet to meet twice a week after Covid vaccine program flounders

Scott Morrison has asked the national cabinet to meet twice a week “for the foreseeable future” in an effort to get the Covid-19 vaccination program back on track.

Last Thursday, Australia’s vaccine rollout was thrown into disarray after an advisory was slapped on the AstraZeneca vaccine warning people under 50 it may cause extremely rare but potentially deadly blood clots.

On Tuesday, health authorities concluded a second case of a rare blood clot syndrome in Australia was “likely” linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Morrison late on Sunday admitted that all Australians may not be vaccinated by the year’s end as a consequence of a recalibration of the program. The prime minister said in a statement uploaded to Facebook there would be no new timetable to replace the previous October target.

In a new statement issued on Tuesday night, Morrison said he had requested that national cabinet and health ministers “move back to an operational footing – to work together, closely, to tackle, head on, the challenges we are all facing with making our vaccination program as good as it can be”.

“There are issues we are trying to deal with as a federal government, and I have been upfront about those,” the prime minister said. “But amongst the states and territories, they are also tackling their own unique issues and working together we are all going to be in a better position to find the best solutions.”

Morrison said the national cabinet would gather next Monday and then meet twice a week “for the foreseeable future until we solve the problems and get the program back on track”.

The latest Guardian Essential poll indicated Australians are frustrated with the slow pace of the rollout. The new poll showed voter approval of the Morrison government’s handling of the pandemic dropped eight points in a month.

More than half of voters in the Guardian Essential poll sample think the Coalition needs to step up and take more responsibility for ensuring Australians are vaccinated against Covid-19 as quickly as possible.

Voters were asked to identify which tier of government or what factors were most responsible for problems with the vaccination rollout from a list including Canberra, the state governments, international supply chain problems, and unavoidable production delays.

Canberra topped that list, with 42% of the sample identifying the Morrison government. Problems with supply chains and production were next (24% and 18%). Only 7% of the sample thought the states were responsible.

With the government battling the impact of a string of abuse and harassment scandals that have rocked the Australian parliament, as well as problems with the vaccine rollout as the second winter of the pandemic looms, the poll indicated Morrison’s approval rating has hit its lowest level in 12 months.

The prime minister said in the new statement the government was “throwing everything at these issues” in an effort to get the vaccination rollout right “and to be open and transparent about how we are tracking”.

The new case of clotting occurred in a woman in her 40s who received the AstraZeneca Covid jab in Western Australia, according to the Therapeutic Goods Administration. She is receiving treatment in hospital and is in a stable condition.

Australia on Tuesday also recorded its 910th coronavirus death – the first since 19 October. The 80-year-old man contracted Covid-19 overseas and tested positive on day five of hotel quarantine in Queensland, before being transferred on 23 March to Prince Charles hospital, where he subsequently died.

On Tuesday, the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said 56,000 vaccinations had occurred in the past 24 hours despite some state programs being “paused or varied” to deal with the new AstraZeneca warning.

Asked if the warning had caused a spike in vaccine hesitancy, Hunt said health authorities “had anticipated potentially a significant drop but that is not what we have seen at this stage”.

Labor has rounded on the government, accusing it of botching the vaccination rollout. The opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, said Morrison has left Australia vulnerable by not seeking a diversity of vaccine supply.

“The fact that the government hasn’t done that, has left us vulnerable,” Albanese said. “They essentially put all their eggs in the AstraZeneca basket and the chickens have come home to roost.

“Now we have a state whereby the government has given up on a timetable for the rollout. Now, that will have real consequences for business that requires certainty.”

Morrison said serious challenges in the program were caused by “patchy international vaccine supplies, changing medical advice and a global environment of need caused by millions of Covid-19 cases and deaths”.

“This is a complex task and there are problems with the program that we need to solve to ensure more Australians can be vaccinated safely and more quickly.”

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