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Minister David Gillespie's interview with Danica De Giorgio with PM, Scott Morrison, on Sky News, First Edition, on 22 December 2021, on Omicron variant

Read the transcript of Minister David Gillespie's interview with Danica De Giorgio with PM, Scott Morrison, on Sky News, First Edition, on 22 December 2021, on Omicron variant.

The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
Former Minister for Regional Health

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 Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, will convene an emergency National Cabinet meeting today to discuss the rise of the Omicron variant. Premiers and chief ministers will be presented with updated Doherty Institute modelling revealing the slow booster program and baseline restrictions will result in skyrocketing infections. The data projects, under a worst case scenario, Omicron cases could reach 200,000 a day by the end of next month. Hospitalisations could also increase to 4000 per day but leaders are being reassured Australians are less likely to become severely ill or die from the new strain, with no confirmed Omicron cases in intensive care so far. Health measures, including mask mandates, will dominate talks, but the Prime Minister is adamant lockdowns are off the table. Scott Morrison…



We're not going back to lockdowns. We're not going back to shutting down people's lives. We're going forward to live with this virus with common sense and responsibility. And there will be other variants beyond Omicron and we have to ensure, as a country, and as leaders around the country, we are putting in place measures that Australians can live with. And what that means is we have to move from a culture of mandates to a culture of responsibility. That's how we live with this virus into the future.

[End of excerpt]


Scott Morrison will also push states to keep mass vaccination hubs open to deliver booster shots to 14 million Australians by the end of Summer. National Cabinet is expected to tick off on plans to bring forward eligibility for the third shot from five months to four. Joining me now live to discuss is the Minister for Regional Health, David Gillespie. Minister, thank you so much for joining us this morning. 200,000 cases, obviously this is a worst case scenario assumption, but what do you make of this new Doherty modelling?


Well, we do know Omicron is more easily transmissible. It is very infective and that's a reality. We've learnt that from all the information we've got from overseas, not just South Africa but our Chief Medical Officer gives me regular briefings, is in contact with people in India, in North America, in the UK, in Europe, and around the world.

We have the benefit of all their experience which, as you know, is a couple of- a month or more ahead of us. We can change the outcome by sensible measures that are common-sense, the hand washing, the social distancing, wearing masks, but I would like to reinforce, we're not going to mandate shutdowns or anything like that because we believe people need to start to take responsibility themselves.

And Australians are common-sense people. You know, it is common sense if you think you can reduce the chance of you catching this bug by wearing a mask when you're in a big shopping centre, or in an indoor setting, that's common sense and it's good clinical practice.


I think Australians understand the need for personal responsibility and living with the virus, but shouldn't there be consistency across the country when it does come to mask rules?


People can have consistency. They could all follow the same advice.

As I said, you know, the simple things will make a big difference. Hand hygiene, wearing a mask when you're in a crowded space or on a bus or a plane or a train, or in, you know, large shopping centres, or big social events. It makes common sense. Or have a picnic outside rather than, you know, having big indoor gatherings. Because it is a very infectious virus.

We know it's much more transmissible, but we think from all the information we've got from overseas - and I say we think all the initial information - is that it's a milder illness. Thirty-seven cases only around the country from Omicron in hospital. None in ICU, and no deaths from Omicron.

That's the information I had late last night. We have, at a Federal level, got our network of over 9000 points of access for vaccine. There's going to be 2.7 million doses of vaccine in the fridges, but I do call on state colleagues to keep their hubs open. I see they've dropped the number of vaccine hubs by about 150, and that is in the last six weeks, and I call on them, and I'm sure it will be a topic of discussion at National Cabinet, to keep these state hubs open over Christmas-New Year.


Minister, we're also seeing very long wait times to get COVID tests, particularly those who need to have a COVID test before they go interstate. Should states and territories look at now dropping that requirement to get a COVID test within 72 hours of arrival?


Look, I think you're exactly right, the whole system is being clogged with travellers. I think we need to take more use of rapid antigen tests, particularly if you've got a whole bunch of them, if you think you've been exposed, or you’ve got symptoms.

And I know there's a big demand for them at the moment, but self-testing is very quick and easy, and I think we should be utilising that both as individuals, and if these states are doing these requirements, maybe that's a better way.


The problem at the moment though, Minister, is that rapid antigen testing is selling out like hotcakes, particularly here in New South Wales. Joe Biden in the US announced recently that he will make rapid antigen testing free for Americans - is this something that the Federal Government is considering for Australia?


I can't give you an answer to that. It hasn't come up in my discussions.

I don't know if it'll come up in National Cabinet. I can't pre-empt anything there because it's their process and it's confidential until the Prime Minister gives us his briefing afterwards.


At the moment, National Cabinet is likely to consider the wait time between the second dose and the booster, potentially shortening it to four months. What will this do to the nation's vaccine rollout? Does it set us back?


Well, I don't think it sets us back, it just means we'll need more workforce, because if you're bringing in- if you're bringing it forward a month, you're probably bringing forward a million or so people.

And, you know, over Christmas/New Year we've got, actually, six more in regional Australia - six more sites opening up - that's over 2000 sites in out-of-metro areas, and the total number of federally-funded sites have increased over the last six weeks, whereas the state hubs, unfortunately, have shrunk by 151. So, importantly, if they're going to do that, they really need to keep these state hubs open, because the general practices and the pharmacies, the Aboriginal medical services and the Commonwealth vaccination clinics, and people like the (Royal) Flying Doctor (Service), can't do it all.

We still need the hubs being active in vaccine administration. We've got heaps of vaccine availability; we just need that workforce there to cope with the numbers.


Minister for Regional Health, Dr David Gillespie, we have to leave it there. Thank you for joining me this morning.


Thanks, Danica.

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