This content relates to a former minister

Doorstop interview on 17 November 2020

Read the transcript of a press conference with Minister Hunt about Blood donation drive, COVID outbreak in SA, ADF support; Moderna vaccine, US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

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

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So, a big thank you for everyone coming here today. My name’s Steve Eldridge. I’m the Regional Director for Donor Services here at Australian Red Cross LifeBlood.

Today, we are appealing to the Australian public. We need an extra 16,000 people to donate between now and the end of November, particularly A+ and O+ blood.

This is to prevent a low supply of our blood stocks. It’s very easy to donate. You can just come along. It’s a very simple process.

What we’re asking people to do is make an appointment, so either jump on our website,, or we have an app, or give us a call on 131495.

We’ve had some fantastic support here from Minister Hunt, who’s come and donated here this afternoon. Thank you very much.


Thanks very much to Steve and everybody here at Red Cross LifeBlood.

I’m joined today by the deputy Chief Medical Officer of Primary Care, Professor Michael Kidd, and giving blood is a simple way that everybody can give back.

It’s about helping to save lives and protect lives. It’s about supporting our health system and supporting other Australians.

It’s a very communal thing to do, and Red Cross is a global icon, and the work that they do supports Australians.

And only yesterday at CSL we saw arguably the world's greatest blood products company, which also is manufacturing vaccines, and to see their work in action is to see this blood being utilised for its highest purposes but also supporting in transfusions.

Both Chris Bowen and I are giving blood today. It’s very much a bipartisan show of support.

And we need 16,000 Australians to give blood who would otherwise not do that over the coming two weeks.

Through the pandemic, one very interesting thing is that blood donations have remained very high.

Our immunisation rates and our blood donation rates have been very high. Just at the moment they’ve dropped a little bit, perhaps as people get back to doing those things which they otherwise couldn't do.

So if you can give blood in the next two weeks, that would be great.

Particularly A+ and O+, but all types are welcome. It turns out that mine is A+, so it’s nice to be able to contribute in some small way. And the important news on my personal front is they tell me that blood pressure is 117 over 76, so we’re doing okay.

The country is also doing okay, and the country is doing well.

I have spoken this morning with the National Incident Centre, with the South Australian Aged Care Response Centre and the South Australian Minister for Health Stephen Wade, and last night Professor Paul Kelly, the Acting Chief Medical Officer, and myself also spoke with the South Australian minister.

The advice that we have is that there are three additional cases today with regard to the family cluster, but there are no cases of community transmission in South Australia outside of that cluster.

We have seen widespread testing, and South Australians have done a great job in presenting for testing, and we’d encourage them to continue to do so.

Obviously symptomatic, so if you have signs or symptoms of COVID, whether it’s a temperature, whether it’s flu-like symptoms, whether it’s something as simple as a runny nose, now is the time to present.

But also asymptomatic testing is being encouraged, and that means that we are looking for each and every person who might have in any way, shape, or form been exposed to come forward.

Over 4500 tests reported to midday our time in South Australia, but when Stephen Wade or the South Australian Government provide additional information later today, those numbers, no doubt, will continue to grow.

The actions that the Commonwealth have taken, firstly we’ve made sure that the 10 GP respiratory clinics across South Australia are set up, running and operating to capacity.

They’re receiving very good responses from the public, and again I want to thank the South Australians, and particularly the Adelaide public for their cooperation.

Secondly, we have established the National Incident Centre as a contact tracing extension. We are seeing contact tracing support from other states.

And then thirdly, we have established the South Australian Aged Care Response Centre.

In particular, the advice that I have – I was briefed shortly before joining you by Professor Brendan Murphy and the South Australian Aged Care Response Centre, which is a joint Commonwealth and SA activity – The Anglicare Brompton facility has 40 residents and 60 staff. It’s in the inner north. It has a very important role. It caters for clientele and residents, many of whom have hard lives. Some have been homeless, some have had addiction challenges, and so it is really serving the neediest. So it’s an elderly cohort that has great needs, and I want to thank and honour them for their work. The advice that I have is that all residents have been tested and all have been negative.

There’ll be additional testing as the week goes on, but very importantly, all residents have been tested and all are negative.

At this point, the advice that I have is that four staff of the cohort have been found to be positive, but it is likely that two are directly from the family involved, and the other two staff are also close family contacts.

And so the working hypothesis is there’s a very good chance that all of those who were infected were infected outside of the facility.

More work is being done. Contact tracing is underway. Research is being carried out.

In particular, the workforce is holding up and is seeing a large number of offers of assistance, so the South Australian Aged Care Response Centre is working with SA Health.

We’re making sure that there’s surge workforce available, but at this stage, there’s good clinical leadership, in fact excellent clinical leadership.

There’s also the support of the nursing team that came to Victoria to assist with the outbreaks here.

They came from South Australia and the two clinical leads of that nursing team are on the ground as we speak.

In addition to that, full PPE’s in use and there is daily communications with family.

We’re also stepping up, and there are 10 further facilities that are being tested in the area around the Parafield outbreak, and all of those facilities will see testing of all staff and all residents.

So, at this stage, no signs of any additional community transmission.

Three cases on the advice of SA Health to the national incidence centre of transmission within the cluster and no signs of transmission to residents within Anglicare Brompton, but we are constantly monitoring, constantly focusing and receiving updates.

I know the Prime Minister spoke with Steven Marshall from the plane this morning, and he passed on that to me. So I’ll turn over to Michael Kidd, and then we’re happy to take any questions, either on blood donation or obviously the South Australian situation.


Thank you, Minister. And first, I’d like to thank the Minister for stepping up and donating blood today.

We all know that donating blood helps to save the lives of other people. In fact, a single donation can save the lives of three people.

The blood is used to support many people: people who are having major surgery, people who've had accidents, women who have lost blood during childbirth, people with blood diseases, people with anemia. The list goes on and on.

So please step up like the Minister today and let’s help the Red Cross to make sure that we have the blood supplies that Australia needs to support our citizens right across the country.

I also want to say a big thank-you to the people of Adelaide who have been stepping up today to get tested for COVID-19, and especially people who have symptoms which may indicate COVID-19.

People with even the mildest symptoms of cold or flu or fever, it’s essential that people do get tested, and it’s essential that people stay at home, apart from getting tested, that they don't go to work, they don’t go to school.

As the Minister says, we’re still watching to see what’s happening in South Australia, so very important that those testing rates are very high right across Adelaide and in South Australia.

And finally, a message to everyone in Australia: if you’re putting off going to see your GP, going to see your doctor, having your regular check-ups done, today is the day to go and do it.

Please make sure you are looking after your own health as well. Thanks, Minister.


Thank you. Happy to take any questions.


Minister, given (inaudible) three cases in South Australia today and you’ve noted very swift and excellent management (inaudible), do you think it is proportionate for South Australians to have been (inaudible) in Tasmania, been turned around from Darwin?

Four states and territories have closed their borders. Is this a proportionate response?


So, the medical advice that we have from the Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, and that’s consistent I understand with the position of the AHPPC or the medical expert panel, is that it’s appropriate to have enhanced screening.

There’s been no advice that any state or territory should be closed to any state or territory.

That was the advice given on Sunday night by Professor Paul Kelly, and again, the Prime Minister and I checked and updated that yesterday, as well as today, and so there’s been no change.

So what we’ve seen here in the ACT, in Victoria, in New South Wales is exactly that, enhanced border screening.

So they’re looking for symptoms, they’re looking for anybody who may have been in close contact, but they’re allowing people to travel. Other states may choose to go further, but they'll have to explain that.


Can I just ask about the promising results reported for the Moderna vaccine? Is Australia looking or will it look at its own agreement on that vaccine separate to the Covax facility?


We have already an MRNA vaccine and we followed the very, very clear advice of the medical expert panel and there are numerous vaccines that are at different stages of development.

The world has over 200 vaccines at different stages of development. Our Australian experts have I think chosen very well.

They have identified three different classes of vaccine: protein, viral, vector and MRNA. They have chosen four different vaccines and one thing is that we have always followed the medical advice on vaccinations and immunisation programs.

We have done the same during the course of COVID and the selection of vaccines I think is something that we have been very clear should be guided by the experts.

The important point here is the evidence and the news from overnight is extremely important and positive for the world and we really welcome it.

What it shows is there are likely to be multiple vaccines that are successful and there are two important conclusions: firstly, that COVID vaccines in general are likely to be successful as a class.

Not all of them. But it does appear that all of the four that our experts have selected are tracking very, very well with positive developments in three of them in only the week.

And the fourth, Novavax, is also on track. But it also means that for the world, which will have a massive vaccine requirement, that capacity to provide multiple vaccines in multiple jurisdictions will protect everybody and so, we welcome all of the results.

We have access to additional vaccines through the Covax facility.

The advice we have is that the four principle vaccines that have been contracted are likely to provide for Australia’s needs three times over.       


Can I clarify though what our access to the Moderna vaccine is as it stands at the moment if it is successful?


If it is successful, we could potentially have access through the Covax facility.

What is likely, though, and is increasingly evident, is that the world will have multiple vaccines which will help take the pressure off particularly in the developing world, but right across the world.

It will be only be safe in Australia, when other countries are safe.

We will be able to make sure that we are vaccinated, we are obviously doing a brilliant job.

I look around the country at the brilliant work of the public health officials; our doctors, nurses and the public with regards to containment. But ultimately we need to be able to vaccinate here, but vaccinate overseas.


We know that Premier Steven Marshall has accepted the government's offer for support from the ADF. Can you tell us what will that look like? How many resources, what, when, where will they be deployed?


So, we currently have 100 ADF on the ground in South Australia, but also as we speak, there are additional planning meetings going on, and South Australia will determine their needs whether that’s with regard to contact tracing.

We know that the ADF played a huge contact tracing role in Victoria.

They were up to 400 at different times engaged in the contact tracing process. Whether it is with regards to support for testing, whether it is with regard to support for any other activities.

So, literally as we speak, the meetings are being held between South Australia and the Commonwealth on additional ADF support and roles over and above the 100 that are in place, and they have been assisting with the hotel quarantine along the way.


How quickly could we see them deployed?


The Prime Minister was very clear yesterday that as soon as tasking has been agreed, he will give the instructions for those military forces to be deployed.


The national roadmap reopening outlines a pretty clear hotspot definition. South Australia hasn't reached those numbers yet. Have the states that have shut their borders breached the spirit of that agreement and should they be holding that (inaudible)?


Our message is very clear that there is a national hotspot definition. South Australia has not reached that and, in fact, today’s news is good news.

It means that South Australia is at less likely to face a wide spread community outbreak.

We are not out of the woods yet. There is more to be done, but we are in an extremely strong position.

I have to say South Australia’s response is a model of early intervention, and both the Prime Minister and myself have acknowledged that to our respective counterparts.

So, our message to the other states is please look at the results in SA.

Please make sure that your response is proportionate, and what the Commonwealth has set out is enhanced border screening as an appropriate response and that is what New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT have said.


And Minister, just further on the Moderna vaccines. Some confusion around what the Covax facility would actually give Australia in this situation. Obviously, we have other agreements in place and we hope that they’re successful.

But for the Moderna vaccine, when would Australia potentially have access to that vaccination if it proved successful? And how many doses does this agreement give us?


So, Covax provides Australia with an additional up to 25.5 million vaccine units.

So, that is the entire Australian population. That would take our total vaccine supply to over 160 million units.

It will give us access to multiple number of different vaccines, up to the amount of 25.5 million units.

Again, these will always be dependent on the readiness of the particular vaccine, the clinical trials and the approvals.

But we are fortunate to be in one of the strongest positions in the world and what- again, the latest results show as a class, the vaccines are proving to be more successful than we’d hoped and that each new vaccine is going to add to world’s capacity to deal with it.

I met with one of the nurses inside, Sandra, who took some of my details, and her response was very simple. She said: these vaccine results are a light at the end of the tunnel for Australians.

Alright, thank you very much.

Oh, sorry I will take two more questions.


What’s the Government’s response to calls in the US that President Trump could be withdrawing further troops from Afghanistan and Iraq (inaudible)?


Look, I will respectfully leave that to the Prime Minister, whom I understand is likely to be standing up over the course of the next 24 hours.


Would you be comfortable sending our Olympic athletes over to Tokyo, if the vaccine isn’t ready in time?


Well, we’re very confident that the Olympic games will be held in a COVID-safe way.

I have spoken with the IOC and they have moved to secure vaccines for all athletes and officials who would be attending from around the world. So, they have taken steps to secure leading vaccines.

So, our expectation is that there will be vaccines for all athletes, from all nations and all officials from all nations and they’ll be well and truly ready, long in advance of the Olympic games.

So, as the Prime Minister touches down in Japan today, I think the news is that the Olympics are very likely to go ahead with our full support in 2021. Okay, thank you very much.

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