Date published: 
3 March 2020
Media type: 
General public


Let's speak now to the federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, he joins us from Canberra. Good morning to you, Minister.


Good morning, Mads.


Lots to get through this morning, so let's start with the first human-to-human transmission of that healthcare worker.

Now, it’s being reported in some parts as being a doctor. What more can you tell us about that case? And how exposed that particular healthcare worker was to patients?


So, our Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Chief Medical Officer have been in contact with the New South Wales Chief Health Officer – they’ve had a full briefing.

I understand it’s a doctor from Western Sydney. The New South Wales Government will provide the additional details as they have them.

They're now conducting what's called a full contact tracing. Contact tracing means that, as it sounds.

They're reaching out, working through all of the people that the individual has been in contact with which is what we've done with all of the Australian cases.

There are now 33 Australian cases, an initial 15 from Wuhan or associated with Wuhan, all of whom cleared the virus; 10 from the Diamond Princess.

Now, I can update you with the latest advice from the National Incident Centre, just before coming on air, six of those 10 have cleared the virus and have returned home.

Very sadly, of course, we've lost James Kwan – a 78-year-old man from Western Australia.

And now we have the eight cases that have emerged in the last week within the community – seven from Iran and this one case of the health worker in New South Wales.


Okay. Thank you for that update on the Diamond Princess. Given this human-to-human transmission of the doctor, do healthcare workers now need additional protections?


Well, as an ordinary course of events the hospitals are carrying out very, very high standards of healthcare.

They are conducting themselves in a way which is consistent with all of the training – whether it’s in an emergency department or other circumstances, wherever there are any particular cases that are identified in advance.

The public has done a tremendous job in calling ahead if they’re seeking testing.

And again, the latest advice that I have is that there are over 10,000 tests that have been conducted in Australia for the 33 positive results.

So the public is doing the right thing and the healthcare system and the healthcare workers are doing the right thing with their containment processes.


Can I ask you about South Australia? They're going to be putting through emergency legislation in that state to mandatorily detain people suspected of having the virus should it needs be.

Should other states look at doing that too, in your view?


All of the states and territories, as well as the Commonwealth, are committed to reviewing their legislative arrangements, their powers.

I understand that South Australia had a particular need.

I'm not aware of any other states and territories – we've had a full briefing on this – any other states and territories that require additional powers.

The Commonwealth has extensive powers as the Attorney-General outlined yesterday in Question Time, and again on radio this morning.

So, that's a particular case. 

We have full, strong, extensive powers, although everybody continues to review in case anything else is required. At this stage the only jurisdiction that has identified anything is South Australia.


Okay. Now, the nation's chief health officers are meeting today to consider additional social distancing restrictions.

What does that mean? What sort of things could that be?


So, social distancing means if, for example, you have been to a high risk country or you have any symptoms – the same thing as you would if you had flu or a common cold – keeping, keeping distance, practising strong personal hygiene.

Those- as well as, of course, washing your hands with soap and water.

Although these are very basic things, they are very effective things at helping to contain and limit.

I think the message is very clear – as a nation, as a community we're all in this together and it's about taking care of each other.

So whilst the governments, both the Australian and the state and territory governments, have the role of taking care of our health system, our message to the community is it’s also about taking care of each other.

And that includes how we buy and how we shop; not trying to hoard; not trying to have more than is required – to make sure that we're being careful in our personal hygiene, but caring in our conduct towards others.


Okay. So, not necessary you're saying to take stockpiles of certain non perishable goods and other things.

Can I just ask you about questions to do with mass gatherings? Now, that's going to be something else that the health leaders are considering today.

How close are we to bans on mass gatherings? How might that work? Are we very far down that road? What's your view?


So, there’s no indication yet that there’ll be health advice to that effect.

What is happening – I think this is very important for the public to understand the big picture here – there is a national structure with the Incident Centre, the National Medical Stockpile, the National Trauma Centre, but also all of the chief health officers and the chief medical officers from the state and the Common- the states and the Commonwealth meeting every day.

And so they’re reviewing our needs; they’re reviewing our travel advisories and travel bans; they're also reviewing our domestic arrangements on a constant basis.

So as circumstances dictate, we'll take the steps and we'll take them fearlessly.

We’ve got ahead of the curve and we’ve planned ahead of the curve.

At this point they haven't indicated there’s any need for change but, to be frank and honest, we're not taking anything off the table.

If steps like that are required at some point, then we'll provide that advice to the public in advance and we’ll make the decisions as we require them.

At this point there’s no indication of that.


Just one more really basic question for you Minister Hunt, how contagious is COVID-19?


So, it’s- the advice we have is that it’s more contagious than a general flu, but only by a modest amount, but it is of course more severe in its consequences.

The latest WHO figures – and these do change – is that it has a mortality rate of about 2.3 per cent.

Now, that figure might be slightly inflated because of undetected or unreported cases in places such as Iran where we think the case load is very, very significantly higher than that which has been reported, which is why we imposed a full travel ban on non-Australians coming to Australia from Iran.


Okay. Thanks very much for that update, Minister Greg Hunt, and we wait to see the outcome of that meeting of the chief medical officers today. Thank you.


Thanks very much.

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