Doorstop interview in Melbourne on 25 July 2020
Read the transcript of a doorstop interview in Melbourne with Minister Hunt about coronavirus (COVID-19) talking about the support of the Australian Defence Force and additional measures being taken to assist with the aged care outbreak in Victoria.
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care
I want to start by thanking all Australians, but especially all Victorians and people in the greater Melbourne metropolitan and Mitchell Shire, for their extraordinary work in observing the mask requirements, for their distancing, for their care for each other.
It really is an example of Australians at their absolute best, of the cohesion, unity, the support and frankly the simple humanity.
Against that background, we look around the world and we see that there are now 15.7 million cases, that there have been, in the last few days, over 270,000 cases a day on a number of those days.
That there are now sadly, very sadly, 640,000 people who have lost their lives, and that includes approximately 6,000 a day or more in recent days, so there is a global acceleration.
This pandemic is, sadly, being just that. It is a genuine global pandemic and it is a once in 100-year event, in terms of the threat it poses.
Within Australia, now, with the latest figures today, the National Incident Centre has advised me just prior to joining you that there are 13,950 cases and very sadly, 145 Australians have lost their lives.
I do want to comment briefly on New South Wales.
We see continued stable numbers. Nine community transmission cases today, eight of whom, at the latest advice I have, are identified in terms of the source of transmission.
Victoria, we see that they are stable, but significant numbers. Stable, but significant.
I just heard the Premier and the Chief Health Officer and the Chief Health Officer, I think, fairly reflected the fact that they are concerning numbers, but Victorians, through their combined actions and all of the measures that are being taken, as difficult and as challenging as they are, are maintaining them.
Now, we hope to see them go down, but we need to see a week of sustained numbers before any of us can begin to declare that we are on the path to success.
Against that background, the Commonwealth role is to provide support for Victoria, and particularly, I would like to give an update on two fronts.
One is the support of the Australian Defence Force.
The second as additional measures being taken to assist with the aged care outbreak in Victoria.
In terms of the ADF, a short time ago, I spoke with Commodore Mark Hill, the leader of the ADF contingent in Victoria. 1,470 members of the ADF, approximately, and their roles, which are now being carried out, include monitoring isolation, checkpoint assistance, in particular, assisting with testing, and especially with tracing.
Two things are most significant here.
One is the central coordination, the assistance that they are providing the Victorian government and the Victorian public health unit in particular, with the tasking and coordination of tracing.
The advice I have today from Commodore Hill is that Victoria has again been able to contact or reach out to all of those who would need contact tracing as confirmed cases in the last 24 hours.
Very, very important national progress. Important for Victoria, but important for the nation.
I want to thank all of those who are involved in helping to achieve this significant milestone.
We still have to go further, there is still more to be done, and that is why Commodore Hill has also confirmed to me, that there are today 28 ADF teams on the streets, following up cases for contact tracing.
As the premier indicated yesterday, sometimes, for whatever reason, with no criticism or no judgement, simply unable to receive a call. Phone tag may be played. But the ADF are on the streets following up each and every one of those cases where direct phone contact has not been confirmed.
And that is an immensely important step.
It is about making sure that the spread doesn't continue. It is about saving lives, protecting lives, and that is our ADF, working in partnership and at the request and under the instruction of the Victorian government, with Commonwealth support, to protect Victorians.
The second area I wish to address is in relation to aged care.
There are over 260 residents and over 265 staff that have been found to be positive.
Those numbers have been up dated since I was advised with a slight increase from the Victorian government, to 536.
That covers residents in 23 facilities, staff in 45 facilities, and what we see is that it is a significant reflection of community transmission.
Where ever community transmission is higher, there is no immunity for our magnificent and courageous aged care workers.
So focusing on supporting this is an absolute priority.
As such, I am pleased to inform that in our partnership with the Victorian government to help take care of our aged care residents, facilities, and workers, we have moved to establish a Victorian aged care response centre.
The commonwealth and Victoria have moved to establish a Victoria aged care response centre. This will be at the Victoria State Control Centre.
It will be jointly managed by Emergency Management Australia, Emergency Management Victoria and Vic Health.
Its tasks will include quality control, workforce prevision, prevention of outbreaks, rapid response, supporting providers, communications to families and others.
Participating members include the ADF, The Australian Government, The Victorian Government, The Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioners Team, clinical leadership, geriatricians support, and emergency management support.
From the Commonwealth end Joe Buffone, a well-known emergency management leader with experience both in Victoria and nationally is leading that programme.
That is a very important step forward in helping to coordinate, helping to ensure rapid response where these cases are occurring.
I’ll leave it at that, but I will say that as difficult and as challenging as it is, my overwhelming view is that we will see over time, not immediately these numbers fall.
Until that time there will of course be cases that follow inevitably from this deadly disease of people going to hospital, of people being in intensive care situations and sadly there will be lives lost.
So it is incumbent on all of us to continue what we are doing, to keep that distancing, to maintain the masks, and to look out and to respect each other.
I will invite Alison McMillan.
Thank you Minister. I too thank you Minister, just want to thank everyone who has been part of this response now over a significant amount of time, but obviously I am particularly focussed on health care workers and those out there today, tomorrow and into the future, working tirelessly to care for those in residential aged care, in the community, in mental health, in palliative care.
Across the sector we have nurses, midwives, doctors, and our allied health colleagues working to preserve the life of as many as we can.
So it is really a call out to all of them for their tremendous work.
And we will continue to work with all of those partners, particularly I think, and I thank and am grateful for the work of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the AMA, the Australian Medical Association, for their partnership in this.
It’s certainly been a very positive way to work together.
And that takes me, Minister, to the Aged Care Response Centre, which I and my colleagues including Joe Buffone, have been working to establish in the last 48 hours.
It’s not to say that there hasn’t been over many, many months’ people working incredibly hard to work with the aged care sector to maintain the safety of all of those residents. Those most vulnerable.
But now we have realised and reached a point where we bring together in our leadership group as been said, in the state control centre in Melbourne, augmenting that partnership and that collaboration of working together.
So not only can we manage the outbreaks and the situations and particularly managing the workforce challenges that we have right now, but hopefully we can get ahead of the curve to some extent and further augment the work with the sector and providers, so that we can have the ready if an outbreak does occur and hopefully build their resilience, so we can see a minimized spread across the sector.
This is a challenging area and we have certainly seen across the world that these are the areas that we see outbreaks and we must be ready to respond quickly.
So we’ll continue to augment our efforts into the future, to build on the work that has been underway for quite some significant time now.
Thank you very much. Happy to take questions. I think we will start with Taylor.
Good afternoon, Minister. Is Australia doing enough to secure commercial arrangements with drug manufacturers if a vaccine becomes available overseas?
And are you confident that international governments will be willing to share this and not use it as a political football?
Yes, vaccine development and vaccine procurement are at the absolute top of Australia’s international and domestic priority list.
Previously I have been very cautious about the progress of vaccine development.
Today I can say I am now more confident that we are moving closer to a vaccine that will help protect people all around the world and in particular of course, Australians.
The Prime Minister and I have both spoken internationally this week with colleagues about international licencing arrangements.
I have spoken with CSL this week about both domestic productions but also if it’s another country that first produces a vaccine, Australian licencing as part of a shared global arrangement for production here.
So our best belief, our expectation, and our objective is to have global licencing arrangements (inaudible). Queensland molecular clamp.
CSL will work to licence internationally.
If it’s others, we’re looking for them to licence internationally and to share with Australia and the discussions that I’ve had with the US Secretary of Health, with the UK Secretary of Health, with a number of other European Leaders this week as part of an international round table, are in line with the Prime Minister’s discussions.
That we believe that this will be the case.
We’re also reaching out and working directly with international and domestic manufacturers.
So I now believe that we are closer to a vaccine and I am confident that when that happens, if that happens, knowing that there is still no certainty, that we will be in a position to provide vaccine for all Australians.
I understand the aged care sector is calling for infected residents to be moved to hospitals. Is this something that, that task force that you mentioned will be addressing or is this going to happen?
So infected residents are obviously considered on a case-by-case basis.
A commonwealth standard that we have set and Alison has helped oversee is that where there is a clinical need, that there must be places in either, state or private hospitals.
We are confident and I have had that re-affirmed to me this morning.
Our officials have reached out to Victoria. We have confirmation of significant capacity to accept residents with clinical needs and that remains our fundamental commitment and requirement.
Thanks, Minister. There’s an assumption in the economic statement this week, that says travel will start to resume from January and gradually scale up as one of the things underpinning the economic forecast.
Do you believe that given the outbreak in Victoria that, that schedule is still on track?
Look, we have not changed our overall view, and overall advice. As a general principle we don’t see travel this calendar year.
That’s been stated by the Prime Minister and medical advisors as well as myself on other occasions. Apart from the fact that we believe that the New Zealand bubble is a possibility.
That will obviously be something that is determined with regards to Victoria.
Clearly the numbers would have to stabilise and be driven towards zero community transmission before Victoria was involved in something such as that.
So our overall view, is not this year. But our advice more generally going forwards has not changed and hotel quarantine will continue to be a fundamental part of Australia’s broader and border defence mechanisms.
Hi, okay, I’m picking questions for various networks this time. Did Victoria come out of the first lockdown too early?
No. We know that the issue that occurred in Victoria was overwhelmingly driven on the advice on both the Premier and the Victorian Chief Health Officer from the breach of hotel quarantine.
And that circumstance is something which is outside of the question of lockdowns and timings.
We’ve had seven out of eight states where the hotel quarantine system has worked exceptionally well.
One where they have now called a judicial enquiry.
And that’s because of a breach which has obviously had catastrophic results. I will say this – that the fact that Victoria has maintained its distancing has helped protect the population, the numbers would have been significantly higher.
In terms of flattening the curve, where we’re at now is we’re not seeing an increase in the curve, now we want to see it flattened.
We know how to do it and we have greater measures in place than have been in place at any time in any place in any of the states or territories during the course of the pandemic.
Is there any way Victoria could have avoided a second wave of infections?
There’s one. And that is if there had been no breach in the hotel quarantine.
I was to understand that there was a meeting overnight between you I think and some aged care- the Aged Care Minister. Just wondering what if anything came out of that?
So the Aged Care Minister, met with providers overnight.
Richard Colbeck’s task was to work with them both in terms of their needs, their proposals but also the standards required of them.
One important part was to have their participation in the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre and we will have providers, I think Alison, has confirmed that they are an important part of it. So it is making sure that everybody is aware of their responsibilities at this fundamental moment.
Where ever there is community transmission, then the workers who are from the community are at risk, we’ve seen that around the world. That is absolutely clear.
But it is the extra measures that we can take, including the stepping up of the five mobile testing teams, the capacity to expand on those.
And the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre which is a collaborative project of the sector, the Commonwealth, the State, the ADF.
So out of the meeting came both the new body, the Aged Care Response Centre, and this stepped up testing (inaudible)?
Well the Aged Care Response Centre was already underway.
It was the decision we had taken in partnership with Victoria.
And we wanted to work with them though in terms of their participation and to make sure that everything that can be done is being done and that we’re getting ahead of the curve rather than being behind it.
The capacity to expand testing is something that we’ve put on the table and that’s being discussed with the sector, that is, I’m advised, very supportive of that.
Just on another matter, the Federal Government has joined the US to formally reject China’s maritime claims that the United Nations says- that the South China Sea that is.
Are you worried that this will lead to further retaliation from Beijing?
Look, I will respectfully leave that to the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister.
Our focus is to work collaboratively with all nations in terms of the COVID-19, the vaccine, the international investigation, and that is my international set of responsibilities at this time.
And we’ve found very good collaboration from all nations on that.
Senator Payne and Senator Reynolds are going to Washington. (Inaudible) next week for (inaudible) talks. I was just wondering how appropriate that is given the threat of COVID-19 in the US?
Well they will be taking appropriate strong clear safety and they will be doing it on basis of medical advice.
Okay. That’s all I need to ask you, thank you very much.
To everybody again thank you. We are making progress as a nation.
Seven out of Eight states are doing extraordinarily well. But it could be any state which is facing this challenge.
Seven out of eight states and territories, to take care of the Northern Territory and the ACT but any one of us could be the jurisdiction facing the challenge.
So at this moment it is Victoria, as a nation we are pulling together to stand with Victoria, to support Victoria.
Our ADF, our medial workers, our medical leaders and I want to give this reassurance that as difficult and as challenging as it is, we are going to get through this and we are going to flatten that curve.
It’s going to take work, it’s going to take time but we are going to get there.
Thank you very much.