'Mustering cats': Joyce on stubborn states

Barnaby Joyce has likened striking unanimous state agreements on coronavirus to mustering cats as he warned an ongoing zero-case pursuit would lead to economic collapse.

© Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS Australia could achieve zero COVID outbreaks, “but we’ll go broke”, Barnaby Joyce says.

The acting prime minister said states should rejoin the nation when vaccination coverage reached nationally agreed targets of 70 and 80 per cent.

“If you wanted to have zero outbreaks and nobody getting COVID, you could do that, but we’ll go broke. The economy will collapse,” he told reporters in Tamworth on Tuesday. 

Mr Joyce described state borders as arbitrary lines and colonial relics that were an odd way to determine the epidemiology of a virus.

“It’s kind of crazy,” he said.

But Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the federal government needed to treat states and territories with more respect in a bid to get all leaders on the same page.

“To do that, you need to have less politics and more substance,” he said.

Mr Joyce said getting states to agree was like “mustering cats”.

“They’ve made decisions that I probably would have preferred had been made on a national basis rather than on a state basis,” he said.

Mr Joyce said parochial arguments about keeping states safe with measures that worked at the start of the pandemic would not hold water at 70 and 80 per cent vaccination coverage.

“So the debate moves on and it goes from ‘you’re saving me’ to ‘you’re annoying the hell out of me’,” Mr Joyce said.

Leading coronavirus experts believe there is now strong evidence the Delta variant is deadlier than other strains the nation has previously fought off.

The Doherty and Burnet institutes have backed the findings of a Canadian study showing unvaccinated people who contract Delta are twice as likely to need intensive care treatment.

Death is one-and-a-half times more likely than the Alpha variant.

Delta cases continue to rise in NSW, where there were 1022 new infections and 10 deaths on Tuesday.

Victoria recorded an outbreak-high 603 cases and one death on the first day of a two-week construction shutdown which followed violent protests.

Australia has fully vaccinated 47 per cent of its population aged 16 and over while 72.1 per cent have received their first dose.

Pfizer has signalled it will seek regulatory approval in the US, Europe and elsewhere for its shot to be used on children aged five to 11 after promising clinical trial results.

Mr Albanese urged the government to plan for pediatric vaccines in anticipation.

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