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Doorstop interview about the vaccine rollout, COVID cases in Queensland and NSW

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt in Melbourne on 31 March the vaccine rollout, COVID cases in Queensland and NSW.

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

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Good Afternoon everyone. I’m pleased to be here to give you an update two matters in particular. One is the national vaccine rollout, and very significant progress over not just the last 24 hours but the course of the last week-and-a-half, and secondly also to discuss developments in Queensland and New South Wales with regards to the cases following the outbreak there.

In particular, I'm delighted to be able to say that we have had a record day for vaccinations. 72,826 vaccinations in the 24 hours to midnight last night. So 72,826 vaccinations.

That's showing that the national vaccination program is accelerating exactly as intended in the manner that was intended at the time it was intended, off the back of a very clear development.

That is the capacity to have sovereign domestic manufacturing with strong, stable supplies coming out of CSL and Seqirus. So that is extremely important.

That takes the national total now to 670,349 vaccinations and so what we’re seeing is very significant progress. In particular, as well, I'm pleased that we've now reached over 99,000 people in aged care, but in particular we have 848 aged care facilities which have been completed and 279 have now had second doses and so that's a very significant amount of progress.

All of this occurs at the same time as we’re seeing global cases continuing to accelerate again. After the reductions from the middle of January onwards, we saw a movement down. Sadly, the last 24 hours we’ve seen over 591,000 cases and terribly, over 11,500 lives lost. That takes it now to a million lives lost globally in 2021. An almost unimaginable figure.

At the same time, we’ve been very fortunate that through the combined work of the states and the territories, the Commonwealth and so many others, we have been able to achieve an outcome of no lives lost in Australia.

And all of the parties who have contributed to that containment are contributing to the vaccination. The states and territories are doing a first-class job, the general practices have stepped up, the Commonwealth is contributing and all are coming together to see that figure of 72,000 vaccinations in the last 24 hours and 670,000 vaccinations cumulatively.

Beyond that, I think it's important to recognise that in Queensland we have seen two more cases today. I think we can say that that was lower than many had thought might have been the

case. That's a tribute to the contact tracing that's occurring in Queensland and around the country. I think it is a very positive step.

We know it's still a significant concern. It's still a Commonwealth hot spot and that as a consequence of that, we know that there are risks. But Queenslanders are stepping up to be tested. We are seeing very strong results and a very low number of positive cases which were, in any event, directly connected with the existing cluster.

The one case in New South Wales, there's intense contact tracing going on from New South Wales Health which, as we've always said, has an extraordinarily capable and highly-developed contact tracing system. So all of those parts are coming together.

It is a matter of concern because it's a Commonwealth hot spot. It is a matter of concern because there are cases but we know how the do this and this's what's occurring again.

In terms of the Commonwealth action, I think it's important just to set out that with the declaration of the hot spot there are seven things that are occurring.

One, the Chief Medical Officer or the Deputy are convening daily meetings of the medical expert panel with the states. The National Incident Centre, number two, has offered support for contact tracing.

Three, the Australian Government's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, has declared Brisbane to be a COVID hot spot from 11:59 on 30 March and that triggers a number of things: provision of PPE, actions for aged care facilities which themselves have PPE and single site workforce supplement, assistance with contact tracing, reallocation of vaccine supplies if required. The fourth thing then that’s occurred is that we’re supporting states with flight manifests.

In addition to that what we have done, as we mentioned, a fifth element is vaccine reprioritisation to residents of aged care facilities that are in the particular areas. The sixth is that there's Commonwealth-funded asymptomatic COVID testing that's been made available to the public and to the aged care facility staff. And finally the Commonwealth-funded, as the seventh item, single site workforce arrangements have been triggered.

Very importantly, I think we know that there has been a case amongst maintenance staff at the TriCare Mermaid Beach facility linked to the outbreak which came from the Queensland hospital. We have tested 114 staff and residents. All of those staff and residents are negative. Very significantly, this facility has been vaccinated.

We are expecting that it will be vaccinated for a second time tomorrow. That was the schedule that was in place in any event and so I think that provides a great deal of comfort. And the fact that there have been 114 residents and staff that have been tested with those results I think should provide a great deal of comfort for the families of all of those who are residents.

So I want to take this opportunity to thank everybody for achieving these results today. The states and territories, our confidence is clear and absolute in their systems. The GPs who have stepped up to the mark, exactly as intended, they have stepped up to the mark and they are vaccinating patients in their own practices and in the Commonwealth GP respiratory clinics, and all of those who are involved. So always challenges, a global pandemic with 590,000 cases a day, but what we are seeing is a clear response on the tracing and on the roll out.



Thanks, minister. A month ago states at National Cabinet agreed that the only figures the public would see was jabs in arms. From the reaction we’ve seen from several of those states today being upset that the number of jabs they were delivered have been made public, do you think that there is scope here for the Federal Government to extend an olive branch to the states by taking the proposal to National Cabinet next week to agree to a more detailed release of the data, particularly around Phase 1A, which is the most vulnerable front-line workers, so that the public can have more insight into what is happening every week rather than only get the information of what is going into people's arms?


Sure. Look, the matters of National Cabinet are for the members of National Cabinet, all of the states and territories and the Commonwealth. It operates on a consensus basis. So we are very open and very flexible on these matters but it is entirely a matter for the members of the National Cabinet.

But they have sought to be open and transparent in providing the information as I have just done with the rundown of national figures. So the National Cabinet has been an extraordinary vehicle. That's not to say from time to time there won't be differences of views and that not everybody will necessarily have the same opinion but it's been a profoundly important vehicle.

And we learnt, looking back in history at the Spanish flu and some of the challenges that the federation faced, and this was conceived and established by the Prime Minister with that knowledge of history as well as the contemporary needs.

So short answer is, it's a matter for the members and we're very flexible and able to work with them on that.



Yeah, thank you Minister. We've got this situation where both the states and the Commonwealth are sort of doubling up on holding back half their doses, their vaccine numbers are not obviously where you would like them to be in total.

Brad Hazzard said he is angry about the release of these vaccine numbers in the press today. Are you angry about any part of this situation that we’re facing right now, yourself?


No, look. I’m very thankful for the work of all the states and territories. Thankful for the work of the GPs. Thankful for the fact that we have, in Australia, a sovereign vaccine manufacturing capability, which is allowing us to ramp up dramatically ramp up the vaccines that are going into arms.

And that’s the great thing, we have confidence in all of the states and territories. And they’re all managing their programs as they best see fit, and they are working towards making sure that all of those vaccines are used.

There is only one state that I was aware of that was holding back any second doses and that's been made very clear to Queensland since early February that the Commonwealth holds the contingency. That is a matter for them.

But all are working towards the 12-week plan which was last updated and provided in mid-March. And so I think what we see is that we need to keep this in the perspective of an extraordinary acceleration in the roll out, a massive number of people have now been vaccinated and a global outcome which is looked upon by the rest of the world with a big degree of amazement and envy.

Andrew. ABC.


Minister- yes, Andrew here. Minister, you’ve had David Littleproud out today. He’s been saying that in Queensland they kept 40,000 doses on the rack, as he calls it, and that this is insanity. He says it is a breach of duty of care by the Queensland Government.

The Prime Minister says he is not interested in playing politics. First question is, whose school are you in, the Prime Minister's school or David Littleproud's?

And secondly, the Prime Minister wouldn't answer when we're expected to hit 4 million vaccinations. It was initially scheduled for March, it crept into April, when are we to hit that 4 million mark?


Sure. So, firstly, I'm in the school of working with the states and territories. That's what we've

done for over a year now and that is what we will continue to do. And I think all of them are doing their absolute best, and doing an excellent job.

And I was asked on Monday about Queensland Health at a time when there was some debate and some dispute and emphasised my full support for their work and I'll re-emphasise that again today.

Secondly, in terms of the vaccinations, what we're doing now, we are working towards the rapid acceleration to see a result such as today with 72,000 vaccinations done.

As we see the roll out of the phase 1B, as we see the CSL production which we have fought to have done in Australia come online which expands our capacity, there's been no change in our timelines. We did, back on January 25th, once there was a collapse in international supply, revise them.

So our timelines in terms of the completion of the doses for first doses for Australians by the end of October hasn't remained and then along the way we will just continue to keep ensuring that those vaccines roll out.

So, Tom, AFR.


Thanks, Minister. Can you please say when you expect the 4 million target to be reached and could you tell us what your best thinking is on when phase 2B will begin, please?


So in terms of the phases, we've talked about towards the middle of the year for phase 2A and we will judge those on when we start to see a decline in demand for each of the respective phases. There is an overlap, and as we set out on 7 January, and then phase 2B will obviously follow.

But with the increase in doses, which has come with the increase in supply from CSL, we see that along the way, and again we haven't changed our time frames with regards to any of our milestones and when we do, we will indicate that. So what we are seeing is that there'll be very significant increases and no change in those time frames.

OK. Rachel, SMH.


Thanks Minister, Two questions if I can.




The states say they've not had a detailed 12-week plan showing how many doses they will get week to week. Can you tell us exactly what information the Federal Government has passed on to the States and Territories?

And secondly, you said 99,000 aged care residents have been vaccinated. You expected earlier most people in phase 1A to be vaccinated within six weeks but how many aged care workers have been vaccinated so far?


Sure. So in terms of the 12-week plan, the iteration was provided, I think, on 16 March and that sets out the doses expected each week. We have been delivering on exactly that basis.

And so I think 16 March, that was provided in its latest form to all States and Territories. And overwhelmingly we have had a very positive response to that. As I say, those supplies have been delivered exactly as set out in the forward plans, initially four weeks and now 12 weeks.

Then in terms of workers, I will come back to you on that one if I may. I just don't have that with me and in front of me.



Thank you Minister. On 15 March the Prime Minister told the Daily Telegraph that 6 million Australians would be vaccinated by 10 May.

If you are to reach that deadline, it will require 170,000 people to be vaccinated every day, currently you are only at 72,000, will the Government meet that deadline?

Secondly, the Government promised that a million doses of the vaccine would be supplied by the CSL plant a week from the end of March but on Monday you said only 500,000 doses would be coming through?


No, no, with great respect on that, there are two different issues. One is the doses in, the other one is the doses out.

As has been discussed earlier, we of course keep the contingency for the second dose. And for some weeks now I have been talking about the fact that at this phase we will be making sure that there are the first doses, with second dose contingencies and CSL is producing large volumes and those amounts are being delivered.

I think I gave a figure recently on what we are expecting over a 3 and half week period and there is no change in that. Then in terms of the roll out, we're continuing to expand - I'm not aware of that particular figure that you had mentioned but I'll go back and check the record on that but our goal is to make sure that we are in a position where phase 2A begins in the middle of the year.

That remains on track, that all doses are done for everybody who seeks it, for first dose.


What about the 6 million target set by the Prime Minister?


Look, with respect, I'll just go back and check the record on that but very specifically, our goal has been to make sure that we are in a position that phase 2, in particular 2A, begins in the middle of the year.

There has been no change to any of our targets or our dates and so I think that's an important point of reaffirmation. Today is the date where we have had record vaccinations, 72,000, and I think that's a really powerful thing to focus on.



Thanks Minister. Just further on the timeline, we're now millions of doses behind and the estimates that were given earlier and which are now reaffirming that every Australian will have received their first dose by October, but how does that work out when we are so behind at the moment?

Were those estimates at the time very conservative or are there other things that you didn't factor in that are going to speed it up? It doesn't seem to really add up at the moment.


No. What we have done is made sure that we set out in terms of the time frame, a conservative time frame, which - I know, I remember in early January where people were demanding everything now and we said that we would follow the safety protocols.

When I see some of the challenges in some of the jurisdictions around the world I am incredibly, incredibly glad that we followed all of the safety protocols.

As part of that, we were expecting on the basis of contracted agreements, 3.8 million AstraZeneca, we said on 25 January that those 3.8 million AstraZeneca were not going to be delivered on the basis that there had been a global supply shortage. At the moment we have received 700,000 of those and we are not factors in anymore. So that explains the difference.

But we also said we would start in late February for Pfizer 1A, we would start in early March for Pfizer- for AstraZeneca 1A and that we would start in late March for phase 1B, which is the over 70s, the over 80s, Indigenous Australians over 55, those who are immunocompromised and the broad health worker population as well as some front-line emergency service and others. And all of those three things have happened.

We were conservative in our estimates. The best advice that we have, as Professor Murphy reaffirmed when he stood up with the Prime Minister recently, is that we remain on track to complete first doses for all Australians who seek it by the end of October.

We know there will be people who turn- who come of age. People whose health might have changed, people whose life circumstances or others. And so we’ll continue to provide the vaccines but for all those that are seeking it, that remains our guidance in terms of first doses.

All right and then just in the room, please. No? I think we are good.

I will just finish with this. At a time of immense global agony with over 11,000 lives lost in the last 24 hours, over 590,000 cases, we have had three cases in Australia, and they are concerning. Those numbers could have been vastly higher.

We need to urge people to continue to be tested, to continue to follow the rules in their respective states but I want to thank everybody for being tested, for following those safety rules and above all else for bringing themselves forward in record numbers for vaccinations.

What's actually happening here, exactly as we said, at the time that we said, there is a massive growth in vaccinations. We couldn't do this without the States and Territories, we couldn't do it without our GPs and those working in aged care facilities and as a country, my view is that we are blessed by where we are, blessed by the cooperation, there will always be challenges, every day during the pandemic there’ve been challenges.

But we’ll continue to push through, to protect Australia, to protect the country. And that’s what’s occurring. I want to thank everybody for bringing themselves forward. Thank you.

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