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Doorstop interview about the COVIDSafe app and coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's doorstop interview in Rosebud Victoria, with Liz Deveny, Chief Executive, South Eastern Melbourne PHN, and Sally Shaw, about Rosebud respiratory clinic and other testing clinics and the COVIDSafe app.

The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Former Minister for Health and Aged Care

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Welcome everybody to Rosebud and the Rosebud respiratory clinic, which we’re opening today. I’m joined by Doctor Sally Shaw, who is overseeing the Rosebud Respiratory Clinic, and in particular, she is a skin cancer specialist by day. Her business has adapted for the respiratory clinic, which is a Commonwealth funded clinic.

In addition to that, I’m joined by Elizabeth Deveny, who’s the Chief Executive of the South East Melbourne Primary Health Network.

So I have a number of things to talk about in relation to the coronavirus update for Australia.

Firstly, that testing is critical to our success as a nation.

We have been identified by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as the most accurate testing nation of the 83 nations around the world which they have considered, and we have one of the broadest testing regimes in the world.

Critical to that is the combination of public and private respiratory clinics.

This Rosebud clinic will be the 308th public clinic in Australia, and that’s a mixture of state and territory and Commonwealth respiratory clinics; all are funded either in whole or in part by the Commonwealth.

And together with the states, we’re really pleased that these clinics have been able to provide support for Australians around the country.

Testing allows us to identify cases and to find those people who might have been in contact with somebody that have been diagnosed.

It is fundamental to saving and to protecting lives.

What I do want to give is a brief update on containment and capacity before looking at the recovery process.

In terms of containment, we continue to bring those people who are coming home to Australia into quarantine and that is helping to save lives and prevent cases being spread through the community.

It has been one of the most important things Australia has done, beginning with the ban on 1 February for non-Australian nationals coming from China.

Secondly, we have our testing program, and shortly before coming here I’ve been informed that there have been almost 530,000 tests conducted in Australia now, and that’s an exceptionally important development.

In terms of contact tracing, which is the process of- where somebody has been found to be coronavirus positive, they are then asked to identify those with whom they have been in contact.

The states and the territories have done a fantastic job on contact tracing.

The app has now been added to that, and the advice I have is that as of 12.30 today, an extraordinary 2.44 million Australians have downloaded and registered for the COVIDSafe app.

Just to repeat, an extraordinary 2.44 million Australians have downloaded and registered for the COVIDSafe app.

In terms of our distancing measures, Australians continue to do an extraordinary job in what is a difficult situation.

People have come together as a single Australian nation, as one single Australian family, and I want to thank them for their continued work.

I know it’s difficult, but you are saving lives and protecting lives.

And the evidence of that is that there have been 12 cases identified in the 24 hours to 6:30am this morning.

That includes the fact that most significantly there was only one case from unknown sources.

So, only one case of community transmission across Australia.

That is perhaps the most important figure I have had the privilege of raising since coming into this role and dealing with the coronavirus issue.

It means that as a country we are not just flattening the curve, but we are consolidating it, extending it and securing it.

So, the flattening of the curve is being consolidated, extended and secured.

We have had now 100 cases in seven days, and there are 6727 cases as reported to me by the National incident centre, and 85 lives lost, very, very sadly, shortly before coming to you.

In terms of our capacity we now have- with regards to our support for primary care and hospitals and others, 75 million masks that have arrived in Australia.

And I’m pleased to announce today 500,000 for the disability sector.

So, 500,000 masks for the disability sector, and I think that that is extremely important.

Half will go to the primary health networks and half will go to the NDIA.

Further than that, our aged care workers are doing an amazing job. They’re saving lives and protecting lives and showing deep compassion every day.

And in our hospitals, I am very pleased that our numbers are continuing to drop. 111 hospital admissions for coronavirus at present, 43 in ICU, and 27 on ventilators.

There were some predictions about six weeks ago that by the end of April we would have run out of ventilator capacity.

I’m very pleased that not only was that incorrect but they were incorrect by a factor of 300-fold, almost; that we have 7500 ventilators that are available for use in Australia.

With regards to our recovery, I’ve mentioned what we’re doing on tracing. 2.44 million downloads and registrations.

Our rapid response capability is being stepped up around the country and today we are expanding on our testing capability with the 308th Commonwealth or state clinic that’s in operation, and very importantly, these are supplemented by private clinics.

And there are over 40 private clinics from Seaford to Rosebud as an example, who through their ordinary role as pathology centres, are providing support to coronavirus testing.

So, altogether, what that says is that Australians are doing an extraordinary job. We are winning, but we have not won yet, but every day we are getting closer.

I’d like to invite Sally to say a few words briefly about what this clinic means for the people of Rosebud, and then Elizabeth Deveny, and then I’m happy to take questions.


Thanks very much, Greg. Well, I would just like to say I’m very, very grateful for the opportunity to open this clinic.

It’s been an amazing two or three weeks leading up to it. The entire set up of the clinic, the training, the staffing, has all been a very, very elaborate procedure to get the right infection control.

We do find there’s been mixed feelings from the public, but in general most people are very, very happy, and they are happy because they want to know that they are safe.

And I think having a coronavirus clinic is a very quick and easy way for people to come in, get tested and be able to go home to their loved ones.

What we need to do is find the prevalence of this virus, and if we can see that we’ve tested thousands of people and one or none are carrying the virus, that is an open door for decisions to be made further on to open more and more of the public life that we’re all missing.

So, we’re very proud to be part of that.

I just want to thank my staff. I’ve got two amazing doctors who are actively on the cold front, and three nurses in there.

And they’re all taking risks for themselves and their families.

And it’s been a hard decision, but I have taken the choices of pulling people that I felt were more vulnerable into our skin cancer clinic, which we’ve had to relocate to Mornington.

And thank you to our wonderful patients who are travelling from Rosebud to Mornington to get their skin cancer care.

So I just feel we are such a lucky country, because if you look at the rest of the world and the way that they have managed this crisis, and you look at where we are at, it is actually remarkable that we are in the situation that we are in.

Had we looked at this six weeks ago, as Greg just said, we were expecting disaster, we were expecting a tsunami, and we haven't seen it.

And it looks like we are paddling our way out of it, to safety. So, it’s been fantastic.

Thank you very much.


Thanks, Minister. The South Eastern Melbourne Primary Health Network works with over 2000 GPs across the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

Our GPs are available to support you with all your health needs.

If you’re concerned about coronavirus, please contact your local general practice.

They may have the capacity to test you right there and then, or else they will refer you on to an appropriate place, like Sally's clinic, where you can be seen.

So, our GPs would also really encourage you to contact them and continue your usual care for any chronic diseases you have.

It’s really important that you keep yourself well and make sure that you avoid any unnecessary trips to hospital at this time.


So happy to take your questions. I will start with Leanne and Mark here, and then go to those that are on the telephone. Leanne?


There are concerns (inaudible).


Yes, it does. It’s absolutely clear that there is no application to the US law in relation to this app. It doesn't apply in Australia.

In any event, the Biosecurity Act determination trumps it.

And we’re very, very clear, the advice from the Attorney-General has been extremely simple, and that is it is an offence to take data from Australia, and it will be prosecuted.

But there’s no question, there’s no issue, there’s no suggestion that that would happen. It can't happen physically and it can't happen legally.

Clear, absolute, unequivocal.


We said yesterday within two weeks.


Until it’s released, would you consider implementing (inaudible)?


There already is, and that’s the COVID committee of the Senate, which is reviewing the entire government response to COVID, and that’s a multiparty committee which includes obviously the independents, the crossbench, the ALP, so people that will carry out very extensive scrutiny of government.


The app itself is pretty simplistically designed, but even so, some people are still a little confused when they push down on that bottom after the (inaudible) saying, ‘has your health professional asked you to upload your data? If you click it, it automatically says you have COVID-19. I can find out the exact wording.

Will there be any design changes made to make it simpler and easier for people to use, so they’re not so scared?


Look, no proposals, as they say, to change. But we're always happy to receive comments and advice.

But as at this moment, 2.44 million Australians, I think - 12:30 was the update I had today, just after midday.

So, Australians have embraced their part in actions to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Firstly through the very difficult measures of physical isolation and social distancing.

Secondly, though, they have embraced and responded with uploading and registering the app at probably 10 times the speed that we had expected.

Where we are at now was where we had hoped to be in 10 days' time.


There are also some concerns over the app operating in the background, particular for iPhone users. Are you working directly with Apple to resolve (inaudible)?


Yeah, certainly. We were fortunate to have the experience and to see what Singapore had done.

We were able to resolve those issues in Australia.

The general challenges for Apple phones right around the world, but fortunately we were able to resolve those.

The app can operate whether your phone is locked, whether it’s in the background.

And we know that globally, Apple and Google are working for all of their platforms and apps to strengthen that.

So that’s likely to be a global upgrade, not related to Australia, not related to this app, which they’re fortunately bringing forward in coming days, which will make it even stronger.

Okay, I might go to those on the telephone. Dana first.


Thanks, Minister. So just a question about the elective surgery ban.

The Federal Government provided a $1.3 billion viability guarantee to private hospitals for them to stop performing non-urgent elective surgery.

There is a lot of discussion in the medical community at the moment about surgeons doing what appear to be Category 3 surgeries.

If private hospitals are found to have broken rules, will you be asking for some of that money back? And should surgeons be penalised if they broke the rules?


Look, it’s very, very clear that the National Cabinet established the rules.

The states are enforcing them, and if there are any breaches, then the states will raise that and deal with the hospitals or the surgeons directly.

We do know that in the liberalisation that was allowed, the Chief Medical Officer and the medical expert panel expressly authorised a high necessity Category 3 as of this week.

So Category 2, on the basis of those that were outlined, and high necessity Category 3.

If something does not fall into that, then we will take a very dim view, but the states will take the lead in reviewing and enforcing.

I might go to Clair.


Thanks, Minister. Just with regards to reports that two Chinese nationals who studied in conjunction with the CSIRO and were connected to the Wuhan virology institute, are you concerned that the Australian Government jointly funded the research that’s now come to the attention of those investigating the source of this pandemic?


Well, firstly, we want a clear, independent, fearless global review of the origins, the actions, and the global path forward, in relation to this and all future pandemics.

The reason we want a review is to make sure we understand exactly how this disease arose.

The advice that we have continues to be that it passed from the animal kingdom to humans.

But there should be no doubt that in any such event, with now over 3 million people that have been diagnosed, and likely more than 10 million people that have actually contracted the disease, with over 210,000 lives lost officially, and probably far more in places where there hasn't been full reporting, of course there should be an independent global review.

That is sensible, reasonable, and it would be extraordinary not to do that.

We have no information that it is other than from the animal kingdom at this stage, but everything should be examined.

Now, Tamsin?


Hi, Minister. States around the country are beginning to lift restrictions in keeping with the guidelines that have been agreed by the National Cabinet.

What does it mean for Australia that the curve has been flattened and that the economy has been able to open up to some degree as a result of the measures that have been put in place, and would you like to see these restrictions continue to be lifted where the advice allows it?


Our goal is to get Australians back to work and back to their lives as soon as we possibly can.

So every restriction that is lifted is a cause for celebration. It says that Australians have worked together. They’ve delivered this outcome. They’ve done something which the rest of the world looks at and says wow, we wish we were Australia.

And that's just a testimony to who Australians are and what they’ve done. And so each time a restriction is lifted, we should all be celebrating; whether it’s in one state, it’s good news for every state.

And the more we keep these numbers down, numbers like one case in all of Australia in the last one 24 hours that came from an undiagnosed source, or what’s known as community transmission, that’s a cause for hope, but it’s also a pathway to recovery.

And Richard?


Thank you very much, Minister. These rather cruel and fake text messages were sent overnight to people who had downloaded COVIDSafe, claiming they had broken lock down rules when they hadn't, what kind of punishments are there for coronavirus ‘hoaxters’, and what is the government doing to stop this kind of disinformation campaign?


Well, firstly, any misuse of telecommunications for a hoax is illegal.

This case has already been referred to the Federal Police for investigation, and that investigation has begun, and anybody who is found responsible will be charged with a significant criminal offence.

The second thing, though, is this is deeply un-Australian.

At a moment when Australians have been coming together, when nearly 2.5 million Australians have downloaded and registered for the COVIDSafe app, when Australians have been doing difficult things, to have a few people, or it might just be one person, who are doing something contrary to the public health messages, this isn't a game. This is about life and death. This is about saving lives and protecting lives.

And so, whoever it is, they should be afraid of the law, because they are conducting a hoax which is about a very serious public health matter.

But more than that, they should stop and think. It's no game, because the more people that are able to download and register, the more people who will be protected against inadvertently contracting a life-threatening disease.

And that's my message to those who are at odds with the rest of the community. Stop, think, and don't do it.

Alright, I’ll thank everybody for their time. I have one last question here, a supplementary for Mark.


Firstly, Clive Palmer says he’s spent $33 million (Correction: Clive Palmer has purchased 32,900,000 doses) on hydroxychloroquine. Is that being used? And have you or your office (inaudible)?


I have thanked him, and he’s made a very generous offer to the national medical stockpile.

It’s being assessed on two fronts, firstly the medical expert panel and other groups are reviewing the utility of hydroxychloroquine.

Secondly, it has been made available through what are clinical trials.

There are two significant clinical trials assessing both the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.

One is being conducted by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, which is looking at hydroxy as a prevention - not a vaccine, but as something which would make it less likely that people would have effects from coronavirus.

And secondly the University of Queensland is leading a clinical trial which is focusing on it as a treatment.


Mike Kelly might be stepping down as (inaudible). What would you like to say (inaudible), do you think he’s been an effective (inaudible)?


Look, I have great respect for Mike. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him over the years.

He’s a very decent person who served Australia with extraordinary courage and distinction through the military, and he served Australia well through his service in parliament.

One of the things that I think we can learn from the period of the pandemic is to be a little kinder and gentler to each other.

I think there is a case for Australia learning from what we’ve done as a nation, and this is a good place to finish.

Australians have come together. They’ve done a magnificent job. They’ve done difficult things, and some of them have been agonising in terms of isolation or the economic impacts. But we’ve all learnt, I think, to be a little more considerate and a little kinder.

And so on that I’ll finish and say: Mike, you’ve served us well. I wish you well, if that’s your decision. Thank you.

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