This content relates to a former minister

Doorstop interview on 18 December 2020

Read the transcript of a press conference with Minister Hunt about NSW COVID-19 Outbreak, Commonwealth assistance, Aged care support, Borders and the Quarantine of flight crews.

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

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Thank you everyone for joining us today, and on behalf of the Australian Government I’d like to provide a COVID update, in particular with a focus on the national response to assist New South Wales in relation to the Northern Beaches COVID-19 outbreak in that area.

The Commonwealth is working closely with New South Wales.

We understand the gravity of the situation but also respect what we believe to be a world standard contact tracing and testing program.

New South Wales Public Health has been, not just an Australian standout, but a global standout.

Before addressing, specifically the matters in New South Wales, I think it is important to reflect on the international context, that yesterday we saw the highest daily case rate globally since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tragically, we also saw the highest daily loss of life globally. Today, it appears as if it's likely to be another day globally of over 700,000 cases.

And so, at this moment, where the pandemic is continuing to spread at a rate that's faster than at any time previously, Australia has been an island sanctuary.

But we have always said that as we engage with the world, we’re not immune.

In particular, as we engage with the world, whether we are supplying our wheat or our wool, or bringing in critical medicines, or bringing Australians home, as is our deep, fundamental duty, that those interactions – a touch, a breath, a surface – can provide the means of transmission.

And so in that situation, we have to be prepared.

And that is what each state and territory is doing, they are prepared as part of the National COVID-19 Response Plan.

In particular, with regards to New South Wales, the Premier, the Chief Health Officer and the Health Minister have provided the details.

We share those details – 28 cases in the Northern Beaches cluster. The links are believed to be from an overseas flight crew.

The advice that we have is that, at this point, the genome sequencing shows that it is linked back to the United States, but more work is being done on that disease detective study.

That is something that New South Wales is pursuing as we speak, and as more information comes to light it will be shared with the public.

I think that, in particular, what's important is how we're assisting New South Wales.

I've spoken with my counterpart, Minister Brad Hazzard, on a number of occasions.

The Commonwealth is engaging at all levels. There are 10 specific actions, which the Commonwealth has taken to assist New South Wales, and we’ll continue to meet all and any requests which they provide to the Australian Government.

Firstly, an emergency medical expert panel or Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, AHPPC, meeting was conducted last night, that was chaired by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer.

And in particular, support was offered to New South Wales and there's a further AHPPC meeting this afternoon to be chaired by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly.

Secondly, we have running, and set up, and expanded the role of the Commonwealth GP respiratory clinics, which are in the Northern Beaches area, Dee Why, Roseville, Macquarie Park.

What we have specifically done is expanded their role to include asymptomatic testing.

So that's encouraging people, even if they don't have symptoms, even if they haven't been at a potential venue to bring themselves forward in a safe way with masks, keeping distancing, and we think that that is an important step forward.

Thirdly, the Commonwealth, through the Northern Sydney PHN, is providing assistance.

We’ve arranged for the emergency delivery of personal protective equipment, or PPE, to both general practices and the GP respiratory clinics in the region.

Fourthly, and I can announce this, that the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, has declared the Northern Beaches local government area a hotspot for Commonwealth support.

It has met the Commonwealth definition given that more cases are expected over the course of the coming afternoon, and we are getting ahead of, rather than responding to, the likely threshold.

This support that will now flow includes provision of PPE from the National Medical Stockpile, support for aged care facilities, and assistance with contact tracing for New South Wales if that is required.

But I do emphasise that the quality of their contact tracing system is extraordinary.

Fifth, with our support and as a joint action, the Commonwealth and New South Wales Government have advised that until further notice, all aged care facilities in Collaroy and north of Collaroy should exclude all visitors.

Staff in these locations must wear a surgical mask at work.

Sixth, the Australian and New South Wales governments are working together in a coordinated, operations centre to ensure aged care services have all the support that they need and that testing is being conducted widely through those facilities.

At this stage, there are no aged care facilities which have had any positive diagnoses; of course, we know of one in a retirement village.

Seventh, we have made sure that there are supports for services in the Northern Beaches LGA, including the asymptomatic testing of staff at aged care facilities and residents, where that is required and where they wish to do so.

Eighth, we will also be reducing transmission via staff movement, which is critical, and so we'll be providing support to retirement villages and disability services where they need it with regards to PPE or surge workforce.

Ninth, the Commonwealth will also make grant funding available to support residential aged care workers with covering the associated cost for any single site workers, that would otherwise have been working across other facilities.

And then finally, because the mental health of older Australians, all Australians, is immensely important. But, particularly those that are in facilities which may not now be receiving visitors; we have activated the older person's COVID support line and that's available in particular with a focus on residents in the Northern Beaches areas on 1800-171-866.

If it's a member of your family, 1800-171-866.

And so, the Commonwealth, New South Wales are acting jointly and quickly. I commend New South Wales for their action.

I say to Australians that we’ve prepared for this moment, we’ve always said that whilst we’ve been doing extraordinarily well, there would be outbreaks.

There will be circumstances where local clusters emerge and we thank the Northern Beaches population for their actions. I'm happy to take any questions.

I understand that the Prime Minister will be speaking shortly and the – oh, we do have one. Yeah?


Just a quick more to say on that.

And so, we respect the fact that individual states and territories will respond to this hotspot.

It is a serious outbreak. We recognise that. We also believe that the circumstances are in place to contain it.

But, the next few days will be critical and the behaviour of individuals will be fundamental.


So would it be your preference that WA take an approach more similar to that being taken by other states, in just declaring a hotspot around that Northern Beaches region or even around Greater Sydney, rather than all of New South Wales?


Look, I respect the role and the approach of different states and territories. That will be a matter for them to respond to the chief medical officers Commonwealth hotspot declaration.


Can I also ask about flight crews? New South Wales have taken some new measures today to better quarantine our flight crews and hotels rather than allowing them to self-isolate. In your opinion, is that a good step to take?


Yes, we welcome those measures. We've been working closely with New South Wales.

Over recent days, the medical expert panel, or AHPPC, has, in fact been directly assessing the circumstances of flight crews at my particular request via the Chief Medical Officer.

And I think this is an important step, it's a balanced step. But, we have to achieve two things.

Firstly, the safety of the Australian public.

Secondly, we have to be able to continue, as the New South Wales Government said, the returning of Australians home.

People are returning home for their lives to continue, they’re returning home to be with loved ones. They will be returning home for major life events, births and the loss of loved ones, funerals, weddings, the reuniting of partners.

So, these are the two things that have to be balanced. But, I think the New South Wales approach has been an important and balanced one.


There has been speculation on the Northern Beaches of Sydney this morning that this latest outbreak has been brought in or sparked by a celebrity brought in for a film shoot in Sydney.

Is there any truth to that speculation that you're aware of?

GREG HUNT:          

Look, I apologise. I don't have any information on that. New South Wales is currently doing the genomics testing, the sequencing.

They are tracing back the case to find all of the links and when they have any information, they'll make that available public.

And at this stage, I don't have any information on that.

All right. Thank you very much. Take care.

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