Date published: 
10 February 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

KATIE WOOLF:

Now, more than 200 coronavirus evacuees landed in the Top End over the weekend. Joining us on the line to talk further about this and the plans or possible plans for further evacuees is the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Good morning, Minister.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning, Katie.

KATIE WOOLF:

Minister, exactly how many evacuees arrived in Darwin yesterday?

GREG HUNT:

So 266 passengers arrived in Darwin and they’re now at the Howard Springs temporary quarantine facility. They’ve been all screened five times now and the advice we have from the AUSMAT team is that there are zero signs and certainly zero confirmation of any cases of coronavirus.

So they were screened once by the Chinese authorities before departure, plus by your magnificent medical assistance teams or AUSMAT whilst on the plane.

Again at the RAAF Base site of Darwin Airport when they landed, and then on arrival at the Howard Springs temporary quarantine facility. So, all clear. Very good health results. And I have to say having seen myself, along with the Chief Medical Officer on Friday, the preparations – just an incredible Territory effort.

KATIE WOOLF:

What kind of testing then gets underway when they are obviously at this site to ensure that nobody ends up with the coronavirus? Or maybe they’ve already got it and we don’t sort of realise.

GREG HUNT:

So, the purpose of quarantine is to make sure that during what’s known as the incubation period, where there may be- if somebody had been affected in China but there are no symptoms, they are isolated, kept in small family groups and they’re medically monitored.

So if any of the symptoms were to occur, they would then be immediately tested again. What’s happened so far – there’s been examinations for symptoms. There has been screening in terms of temperature checks. All of those have been negative to date.

KATIE WOOLF:

Yeah.

GREG HUNT:

For example, on Christmas Island, we saw- there have been there cases so far where people have been tested for possible symptoms. All of which came up negative. And often, you will have other ordinary types of minor illnesses that could present with the same symptoms so the medical assistance teams are on hand.

They check. If they are worried, there are symptoms, they isolate, they test. And as has occurred so far, there have been three tests on Christmas Island and all have come back with a negative result and so far, out of the 266 passengers, five screenings and five absolute zeros across the whole front of all of them.

KATIE WOOLF:

Minister, what was the process to choose Darwin's INPEX workers’ village, or the former INPEX workers’ village, as the location for the coronavirus quarantining base?

GREG HUNT:

So, Christmas Island has been our preferred site. The medical advice from the AUSMAT teams on the ground was that from a quarantine perspective, it had reached its capacity. Our next contingency, because of its readiness and availability and suitability – effectively, it’s safe, secure and it's appropriate – was Howard Springs subject to the agreement of the Northern Territory Government.

They wanted to make sure that the Chief Medical Officer and myself had reviewed and approved the facilities. And so on Friday, we had the Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and myself visit the RAAF Base, AUSMAT, meet with really very impressive community leaders and then also, visit the site, and Brendan Murphy has certified it as safe, secure and appropriate.

KATIE WOOLF:

So that final decision was made on Friday. How long are we expecting? Are we anticipating that they are going to be here for the next two weeks?

GREG HUNT:

Correct. So it's a 14-day quarantine period and they are being supervised. The facility is under the ultimate supervision of the Australian Border Force and the medical authorities within the AUSMAT team, cooperating with NT Health.

And they really have excellent care. I walked over that facility myself. I met with people from all of the different agencies. And really, how the Territory was able to stand this up in very short time was just an attribute to, I guess, you'd say Territory get on and get it done spirit.

KATIE WOOLF:

Is the Northern Territory going to be financially compensated for the use of the INPEX, or the former INPEX workers site? Is that something that is going to happen?

GREG HUNT:

Yes. And I know that Border Force and the Northern Territory Government who have been fantastic – and I really want to thank both the Chief Minister and Natasha Fyles as well as others right across all of the different elements of the Government, the Opposition has been very supportive – and so yes, there is a contract between Border Force and the Northern Territory Government.

KATIE WOOLF:

Can you reveal how much money the Northern Territory Government is receiving?

GREG HUNT:

No, for a very simple reason being that the contract’s been struck between the Border Force and the Territory and I actually haven’t been a part of that. So I don't have that figure.

KATIE WOOLF:

Minister, are we expecting any further evacuees to come to Darwin and if so how many?

GREG HUNT:

So at this stage there are no further flights planned, we continue to assess the situation – sorry – we continue to assess the situation, but no further flights planned. And that- our first priority is Christmas Island as that’s vacated but, if required, our second contingency is Howard Springs.

KATIE WOOLF:

How many Australians are still stuck in China at this point in time?

GREG HUNT:

So DFAT is working with people in Wuhan and they have a list. They are revising that list after the weekend so they'll give those extra details but we've now cleared over 500 Australians from Wuhan. Those in other parts of China have had access to commercial flights to leave China.

And we declared it as a level for travel advisory which means do not travel to all of mainland China over a week ago and the Prime Minister has been encouraging those to - who want to leave to take the opportunity whilst flights have been available and that there are still flights out of China, although Qantas has now advised just finish what they fore-shadowed, the direct flights from China to Australia.

But there are other options for people to leave. Those in Wuhan, yeah. we’re still in close contact with them.

KATIE WOOLF:

Minister, there are some Territorians who are really quite concerned about the possibility of spread of the coronavirus, of course now with these evacuees in Darwin. What assurances can you give our listeners this morning that those in Howard Springs are safe from infection?

GREG HUNT:

Two very important assurances and they're extremely reasonable questions to ask. And so firstly, at this stage after five screens the advice is none of the 266 passengers either has a coronavirus or is showing any of the symptoms of coronavirus.

Secondly, even if somebody were to have it's - the advice of the Chief Medical Officer is that it's spreadable within a metre; and there’s a buffer of over 300 metres, the perimeter fence is being monitored.

And so it's been very, very carefully chosen as a facility precisely because, not only is it an excellent temporary quarantine facility, but it has a very significant buffer. Now that buffers primarily about confidence because it’s, as the CMO says, a metre is the actual range.

There are two different types of means of spreading; there’s airborne, which is a condition such as measles where if you're in a room on the other side of that room, you could be at risk. Or droplet and droplet is where you have to be a metre away, but at the same time people are wearing personal protective equipment, meaning masks, which again minimises it.

So these were all very legitimate questions from the nearby school principal, Rachel Boyce, from the local member, Gerry Wood, the mayor and others and we met with them and took them through and they were thoughtful questions, but my reading was that they came away very much comforted that this was a world class quarantine operation run by AUSMAT which the World Health Organisation uses as one of their global gold standards for contagious disease management around the world.

KATIE WOOLF:

Well, Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, we are going to have to leave it there. I really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much for speaking to- well, to Territorians and helping to allay some of those concerns.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks very much, Katie.

KATIE WOOLF:

Thank you.

Ministers: