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Interview with Steve Price on Triple M about the vaccine rollout, effectiveness of masks and regional COVID outbreaks

Read the transcript of Minister Gillespie’s interview with Steve Price on Triple M about the vaccine rollout, effectiveness of masks and regional COVID outbreaks.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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STEVE PRICE: The Federal Nationals MP for Lyne. Nice to talk to you again, doctor

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Good to be on, Steve.

STEVE PRICE: Couple of things we talked about this morning in regard to regional Australia. One, we were talking to a dad out at Narrabri High School, his kids go there. Shortage of teachers, not enough teachers at the school. They're about six down in fulltime teaching staff. You just heard our caller there talking about in Orange, lack of education being done by teachers at the school; only being staffed by fill-in teachers, not the fulltime teaching staff. Does that surprise you, that stuff?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, look, it's disappointing to hear that, but that's controlled obviously by the state education department and ministers. I don't really have much say in that. But I'd like all Australian kids to be getting as good an education as they can.

STEVE PRICE: We need to reopen schools, don't we?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Well, look, again, that's within the purview of the national plan. Yeah, that is the agenda. We must realise once we get as many people as are willing to get vaccinated - minimum 70 80 per cent - and then we start relaxing the barriers to more normal life. Everyone has done their bit, but we can't totally stay cowering in front of COVID. We've got a vaccination program. We've got drugs coming through the system to treat it like we've got with flu and other infectious diseases, because this virus is now with us. It's in the world.

The last time we tried to eradicate the virus was called smallpox and it took 200 years. We can't stay in the cave or under the doona semi-permanently. It's just not feasible. So, look, we're getting all the things in place. And regional Australia is front and centre of all the plans, even planning back in 2020.

You mentioned - the other listener mentioned - Scomo took his foot off the brake. I don't think that is the case at all. A lot of people got very complacent. We're all victims of our own success because people thought, oh, it's not really going to come back. We all knew it was going to come back because it was coming back everywhere else around the world. But it's ramping up now.

You know, 17.7 million vaccinations now. Just 300,000 in a day. And in regional Australia, that big number last week, Steve, 1.8 million around the country. Over half a million were in regional Australia outside the big smoke. And I've got so many good stories about what's happening in western New South Wales and around the remote areas.

STEVE PRICE: Well, Delta got out of Sydney and it did reach- obviously through a number of outbreaks, it went from Dubbo and it went further west and got as far as Broken Hill. How concerned are you about the health services in regional Australia, particularly in the western New South Wales, to handle COVID if it does get any worse out there?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Yeah, well, look, the Commonwealth is in concert with the New South Wales State Government. We've got extra Commonwealth facilities already there. Been there for a while. Around the country, but including in western New South Wales, we've got Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, we've got community vaccination centres; 73 of them around the country, several in western New South Wales. The backbone in regional Australia has been 1,518 general practices. And now we've got around the country, including in western New South Wales- not all of these in western New South Wales, but around the country, 823 community pharmacies.

And look, the Flying Doctor has been very active. They've been out, they've got a base in Broken Hill and in Dubbo. They've been around the country delivering themselves 18,500 doses into people's arms in these remote areas. And look, the AUSMAT or the medical assistant teams that we normally send off to cyclones or disasters in the tropics, there's several of those teams in western New South Wales now. Four of them are there. And the ADF have got five outreached medical teams, and there's 14 people in each of those teams.

So, look, we've got the state on board, we've got all the hospitals. We're supporting the states with extra PPE and equipment. We've even got those rapid antigen tests out there, because we know, well, you haven't got time for a PCR to get done in Broken Hill and sent back to Adelaide or- So they've got rapid antigen testing out there. Kirby Institute's turning up with more.

And, look, a great story, I want to give a big shout out to one of the pharmacists in Dubbo, Kaail Bohm. He's been working day and night in the local pharmacy in West Dubbo, but on the weekend he got the bus out to one of the communities where there's a lot of Indigenous- he's got a lot of friends there, and he went door to door offering a personalised vaccination. So that's a great, great service from community pharmacies and GPs and all those other health workers.

STEVE PRICE: Yeah, that's fantastic story for someone to go and do that. That's extraordinary...

MINISTER GILLESPIE: [Talks over] Yeah.

STEVE PRICE: …duty to do that, and on the weekend, that's great. And the fact that those gene ex(*) machines have gone out to that part of Western New South Wales is good news because there were delays in the testing coming back when you had to send it off to Melbourne or Sydney, right?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Yeah. Well, look, that happened- they were already out there, but we boosted the numbers of those rapid antigen tests. Broken Hill has always been having it and Dubbo's had it, but we've got it out there to Burke and Walgett, and all those other areas.

Look, it's all part of a coordinated plan. It is- I suppose it just shows you how easily infective Delta is. Everyone's heard about this magical R number. You know, the number for Delta untreated is five. That means one person gives it to five others. By wearing masks and doing all that distancing and hygiene, you can't stop it because you can reduce that down to one point three. We know that because the Doherty Institute has studied masks. There was a lot of early queries about whether it does anything. But we know now that with Delta, it's even in the expired air, so if you're on a train or a bus or in a car near people, you can inadvertently transmit it, and a mask will slow it down or make that transmission much less likely.

And the distancing and washing your hands, all that hygiene, that helps too, but the vaccine rollout is the way- a whole nation that doesn't have an immune memory of how a fight COVID, is getting an immune memory without getting the severe disease, that it will protect you and make it much less likely that you end up really sick in hospital, or that you transmit it if you are one of these people who get it, but you don't get a lot of symptoms, but you can still be transmitting it.

STEVE PRICE: You trapped at home or in Canberra?

MINISTER GILLESPIE: No, I'm trapped in Canberra. I've been here, I think- I've lost track of time. It's about five weeks. I'm looking forward to getting…

STEVE PRICE: [Interrupts] You've got another week and a half to go.

MINISTER GILLESPIE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, look, they'll hopefully let me out of ACT when parliamentary duties finish. We're- we are making sure that this rollout happens around Australia on time.

We can't let the states take their foot off the pedal because they're part of this too. They've got to be pedal to the metal, getting it out far and wide as quickly as possible. And don't think because you've got no cases now that you're locked up and safe forever. It's not feasible. Look, 100 years ago, the same thing happened. All the states put up these barriers. They blocked the trains going to Perth. They congratulated themselves with the first wave, and then the second wave came through, and then they thought, look, we can't lock up the whole country. So, they had to get on with it.

But we're going to do that with the benefit of beefed up hospitals, beefed up GPs, beefed up pharmacies, all this other vaccination program. We've got new drugs coming through the market. We've got old drugs there that are available to treat it if you get it. So, we will be able to manage it. It is a dastardly disease. The people who get sick get- some of them get sick and end up in ICU, and unfortunately, some have succumbed to it. And, like I said, we can't eradicate this virus. It's around the world now. It will keep popping its head up. But we've got all the armoury and all the protection, better than probably any other country, because we've got a great health system. We got great drugs. We got great pharmacies, doctors, nurses and all those things, and there's no place that will be left behind in regional Australia.

STEVE PRICE: Good to catch up with you again, thanks a lot.


STEVE PRICE: Dr David Gillespie, Minister for Regional Health.

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