Date published: 
28 April 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

Fran Kelly:

And speaking of our Olympic athletes, they have been given the green light for a COVID vaccine so they can participate in the Tokyo Games in three months’ time. Nonetheless, warnings persist that it will be impossible to keep COVID out of the Athletes’ Village and performance venues.

Richard Colbeck is the Federal Sports Minister. Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

Richard Colbeck:

Morning Fran.

Fran Kelly:

About 2500 athletes and support staff will be prioritised for vaccines. Why are you prioritising fit young athletes ahead of highly vulnerable people who are still yet to receive their injections here in Australia?

Richard Colbeck:

Well, we’ve always prioritised the vulnerable, and that’s why they were the first that were given access to the vaccines, and that process continues. But it was always anticipated that there would be overlaps in the various stages. National Cabinet decided that they would, after a request from the AOC and Paralympics Australia, include the athletes and support staff in stage 1B of the rollout. And we announced that decision obviously last night in support of the athletes being able to safely- safely as possible complete in the games- the Olympics in July and the Paralympics in August.

Fran Kelly:

You can understand why athletes need to be protected before they go into Japan which is a hotspot at the moment, but some people in stage 1A, you can also understand the frustration that people in stage 1A, let alone 1B, aren’t vaccinated yet. I’ve got a number of texts this morning. One says: Please ask the Minister why people playing games are more important- will be immunised before my 96-year-old dad in an aged care facility.

Richard Colbeck:

Well, we’ve never said that they were more important. And as I indicated-

Fran Kelly:

[Interrupts] No, but they’re getting the vaccine and her father hasn’t yet.

Richard Colbeck:

Well, he will. And that process- and the senior Australians were always prioritised. They were put in category 1A, and as I indicated before-

Fran Kelly:

[Interrupts] It’s a pretty old slow priority boat, isn’t it, for some?

Richard Colbeck:

Well, I actually completely disagree, Fran. It was always anticipated that there would be overlaps in the commencement of the stages. It wasn’t that we would finish 1A then we would go to 1B then we would finish 1B and go to 2A. It was always anticipated as the availability of vaccine supply grew, so we would open up additional stages of the program. Every aged care facility in Australia has either a date or a two-week window within which their vaccinations will be completed. That information’s been forwarded to them all, and that will be done in the next few weeks. So, that continues. And those that are most vulnerable have always been vaccinated, and we’re working our way steadily through that process.

But there are also other considerations. And National Cabinet’s clearly made a decision to support the vaccination of the athletes who are going to the Olympics and Paralympics as a part of that process of consideration.

Fran Kelly:

So, every aged care home will be- have their vaccines within the next few weeks?

Richard Colbeck:

Correct.

Fran Kelly:

Does that mean by, what, the end of May? Mid-May?

Richard Colbeck:

Well, each of them has a date or a two-week window within which they will receive their vaccination. We are working with a few of them who want to change those dates around to allow for flu vaccinations which have been scheduled. But each facility has been provided either a date or a two-week window within which they will receive their vaccination.

Fran Kelly:

And when will our Olympians be vaccinated?

Richard Colbeck:

That'll be done progressively through a contractor that's been employed by the Australian Olympic Commission.

Fran Kelly:

Aspen Medical I think is doing it, isn't it?

Richard Colbeck:

I believe that's the case. And- but those arrangements will be made with the with the AOC and Paralympics Australia. We weren’t- we won’t be managing that.

Fran Kelly:

[Talks over] So, the AOC’s contracted- So, the AOC’s contracted Aspen Medical so you can guarantee there won't be any extra strain or load on the public system through this.

Richard Colbeck:

That's correct. That's correct.

Fran Kelly:

And what vaccine will the Olympians get, the Olympians and the Paralympian’s?

Richard Colbeck:

Well, that will depend on their age. Those who are 50 and over will receive access to the AstraZeneca vaccine and those that are under 50 will receive the Pfizer vaccine.

Fran Kelly:

Okay. Later today, games organisers will release the second edition of its so-called playbook, the guide to how to hold an Olympics in the age of COVID, which is likely to include daily testing of athletes who- the athletes won't be allowed to leave the Athletes’ Village except to train and compete. But the AOC, as we understand, has war gamed a scenario in which around 100 athletes would be carrying the virus at any one time in the village. An Olympic village is a busy and crowded place. Are outbreaks unavoidable regardless of all the protocols? Do you think it's going to be impossible to keep everybody safe?

Richard Colbeck:

Look, I think it's inevitable that there will be coronavirus at the Olympics. I think that that would have to be a given. It is a concern. I think that's one of the things that feeds into National Cabinet's decision to support the athletes in receiving vaccination. I'll be very interested to see what is in the playbook, because that's going to be an extremely important document in the overall management of the games. But I think underlying all of that, things that we've been talking about here in Australia and observing as a community for a period of time - social etiquette, social distancing, washing your hands, maintaining all of those disciplines - I think are going to be very, very important for our athletes as well, because it is not going to be a segregated games village, food halls, things of that nature where the athletes will be gathering and mingling together. So, observing those important things that will protect yourself from contracting the virus. And it's most likely that you will pick the virus up off a surface and give it to yourself by touching your face, for example. Observing all of those etiquettes is going to be extremely important for the athletes to understand as well.

Fran Kelly:

Given the scenario you just described, given the risk, given the almost resignation that people- some will contract it, is it responsible for these games to be held? I mean, Japan is facing its fourth wave of the pandemic. Tokyo is still in a state of emergency. More than 10,000 people have died there. Is it responsible for the Olympics to go ahead?

Richard Colbeck:

Look, I think that’s a legitimate question, Fran, and I’m sure that the IOC and the Japanese Government are giving that matter serious consideration. But, it is a significant question because, quite clearly, not all athletes from all nations are going to have the opportunity, for example, to be vaccinated. But we still don’t understand-

Fran Kelly:

[Interrupts] And if we think about the Paralympics, it’s even more dangerous.

Richard Colbeck:

Well, that’s, that’s correct. For some of the athletes, and they are going to have to make, I think, a very conscious decision about whether or not they attend in some circumstances. But they are very serious question for both the IOC and the Japanese Government to consider as we get closer to the games.

Fran Kelly:

As our Sports Minister I’m sure you’ve talked to a lot of people about this. Are you worried the games could be a super spreader event?

Richard Colbeck:

Look, I’m concerned that, a, that the- of- at the probability that there will be virus present within the athlete cohort. And then, of course, I’m concerned that that may spread to Australian athletes, and then the flow on effects from that for the games. So, we remain very alert to all of those things, that’s why conversations such as what might happen and with respect to quarantining coming home are so important. But also, what might happen if an athlete were to contract the virus at the games, how they might be looked after properly is also something that we’re con- we’re quite concerned about.

Fran Kelly:

I’ll bet. Let’s talk about the quarantine. The AOC want’s a bespoke quarantine regime for the athlete’s when they return home. I imagine it’s something like those resort hubs used by the AFL last year. Is the Government going to allow that? Would the AOC pay for that? Or will returning athletes and coaches be required to go into quotel(*) quarantine- hotel quarantine like everybody else?

Richard Colbeck:

One of the concerns for the AOC is that they don't take up spots in the returning capacity of the country, and so that's one of the reasons that they're asking for something that's, say, a bit like what happened with the Australian Open where they didn't take up fac- the capacity of the hotel quarantine system, but they had something that was designed specifically for them. I would see what the athletes coming home from Tokyo would go through would be something much more like we had at the Australian Open, where the athletes were in individual rooms. And in the circumstance of a virus occurring in, say, a planeload of- that came in, there was the capacity to provide some isolation, rather than AFL style hub.

Fran Kelly:

[Talks over] Alright.

Richard Colbeck:

I don’t think that that would be acceptable. So I think - and the AOC is negotiating with, as I understand, a number of states with respect to this process right now. But I- my expectation would it would be a much more Australian Open style of quarantine process than a- than an AFL hub.

Fran Kelly:

And, as Australia's Sports Minister are planning on going to the games?

Richard Colbeck:

I have been invited. I've provided my information for credentials, but I haven't made a final decision on attending. Depending on-

Fran Kelly:

[Interrupts] Would you be worried about attending? I'm not sure, have you been vaccinated?

Richard Colbeck:

No, I haven't yet been vaccinated. And so there's a number of processes that I need to go through at this point in time. But of course, it may be that in the lead up to the games, in the few days in the lead up to the games, a decision will be made with respect to the awarding of the 2032 Olympics. And so, the consideration is what representation Australia might have for that process? Given that we're the preferred bidder at this stage.

Fran Kelly:

And what about coverage of the games? What about the Australian media sent over there? Should they be priority vaccinated, too?

Richard Colbeck:

Well, some of those journalists have asked me that question. That's obviously one of the considerations that we're undertaking at the moment.

Fran Kelly:

Okay. Minister, just on another issue, we're almost out of time, but there's a total of 36 Australian cricketers, coaches, commentators in India for the IPL, including Steve Smith, Dave Warmer- Warner, Pat Cummins - some of our top players. The price has made it clear that they're going to have to look after that themselves, And Cricket Australia is looking at some kind of charter flight. Would you expect a charter flight? And would that be allowed to travel straight to Australia? Or would it have to go to another destination, perhaps in Europe, so players could quarantine there rather than flying home so they don't add to the load already being felt in hotel quarantine?

Richard Colbeck:

Look, I understand that there are some discussions with respect to a number of different classifications of people coming out of India at the moment. Obviously, there's some there that are quite vulnerable. And we're very concerned about those. There’s about 10,000 Australians who are there at the moment. So we're looking at the circumstances of all of those, but as you would understand at the moment we have a pause on flights to Australia from India, and so those individual circumstances are going to have to be considered on their merits in an individual case. No decisions have been made at this point in time.

Fran Kelly:

But if the cricketers get a charter flight home, will they go into a hotel quarantine? Or will they have to quarantine somewhere else so they don't bring, potentially, a viral load into Australia?

Richard Colbeck:

Well, one of the reasons for the pause, Fran, was to give our hotel quarantine…

Fran Kelly:

[Talks over] That’s right.

Richard Colbeck:

… space, because of the load that we've seen out of India, and so we won't be making any decisions that impact on that. But there aren't any decisions we’ve- that’ve been made yet with respect to the cricketers.

Fran Kelly:

All right, Minister. Thank you for joining us.

Richard Colbeck:

Thanks, Fran.

Fran Kelly:

Richard Colbeck is the Minister for Aged Care Services and Sport.