School return on national cabinet agenda

A 'Welcome Back to School' banner (file image)
The prime minister said state and territory governments will decide on school return dates. -AAP Image

A safe return to schools for students and teachers in the wake of rising Omicron cases of COVID-19 will be on the table when national cabinet meets.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders will on Thursday also discuss free rapid antigen tests for vulnerable people, as pressure mounts on the government to provide universal access.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said schools were safe to reopen, despite most five to 11-year-olds yet to receive their first vaccine dose.

"We've seen 492,000 school children (be vaccinated) in a matter of days starting with the program last week," Mr Hut told ABC Radio.

"(On Wednesday), 56,000 children came forward with their parents, and we will pass the half a million mark today.

"It is increasing by 50,000 a day on week days and it shows Australians are coming forward and they're protecting their children and they're helping to protect the school environment."

The interval between doses for five to 11-year-olds is set at eight weeks, and Mr Hunt said the timing between vaccinations won't be lowered to get more children fully vaccinated sooner.

National cabinet will meet to consider a unified approach for a return to schools.

However, the prime minister said how states and territories will use RATs for students and teachers will be a matter for each jurisdiction.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said there would be enough RATs coming into the country to meet the demand from schools.

"We are confident we can work with the states and territories around the return-to-school plan to make sure they can occur safely, securely, including the use of rapid antigen tests where necessary," he told ABC TV.

It comes as the medical regulator overnight approved two new oral treatments for COVID-19.

They include the Pfizer-made Paxlovid, along with Lagevrio, made by the manufacturer Merck.

The products are the first oral treatments to be approved in Australia and will be used for adults who don't require oxygen and are at increased risk of hospitalisation.

Mr Hunt said 500,000 courses of Paxlovid has been ordered while 300,000 Lagevrio courses have been ordered by the government and is expected to arrive in coming weeks.

"They will help people at risk from going from mild to moderate symptoms and have been deemed by medical professional to lessen the risk of progression to more serious conditions," he said.

"They will build on what we are already doing with intravenous treatments in hospitals."

The Therapeutic Goods Administration said the new treatments are not a substitute for a vaccine.

As hospital systems across the country struggle with the influx of cases, Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie suggested defence force members be called in to assist.

"You have about 70,000 defence force personnel, full-time ones, and they are quite capable," she told the Nine Network.

"Give them instructions and they will follow them, they will do whatever. Somebody needs to get in and help the first responders out."

Wednesday was another deadly day for Australia, with 64 fatalities recorded.

Of those, 32 were in NSW, 18 in Victoria, 11 in Queensland and three in South Australia.

The country on Tuesday recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic with 77 deaths.

There were more than 32,000 cases reported in NSW on Wednesday, while Victoria and Queensland had 20,769 and 19,932 cases respectively.

SA had 3482 cases, Tasmania 1185 and the ACT 1467.