,CANBERRA - Australia on Monday begun accelerating the pace of COVID-19 inoculations after Canberra approved local manufacturing of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine. Australia's Minister for Health Greg Hunt said about 1,000 general practitioners will now be able to administer AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine. "It's a signature day for Australia," Hunt told reporters in Canberra. Anyone aged 70 and above, people with underlying health issues and members of Australia's indigenous population over 55 years old - about 6 million people in total - are now eligible to receive the inoculation. Previously, Australia's nascent COVID-19 vaccination programme has been conducted at a small number of hospitals and by specialist teams. So far, just over 1% of Australia's 25 million population has received at least one dose of either AstraZeneca's or Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine amid tight global supplies. But Australian supplies are set to be bolstered after the country's pharmaceutical regulator on Sunday approved the local production of the AstraZeneca vaccine by CSL. Within 12 weeks, CSL is expected to produce 1 million doses of the vaccine each week. All adult Australians are expected to be vaccinated by the end of 2021, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said, after initially targeting end-October. While Australia's hastens the pace of its vaccine roll-out, it is under less pressure to do so than many of its global counterparts. Australia has reported just over 29,000 coronavirus infections and 909 COVID-19 deaths, far fewer than many developed countries, helped by international border closures, lockdowns and strict social-distancing rules. REUTERS
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