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Interview on ABC AM about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Sabre Lane on ABC AM about the Government's National Health Plan to combat coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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The Federal Health Minister is Greg Hunt, he joined me earlier to discuss the government’s health response.

Greg Hunt, good morning and welcome to AM.


Good morning.


How will you choose where these 100 pop-up clinics are located?


So what we’re doing is we are working with what are called primary health networks in the states to identify the priority areas.

But in addition to the principal 100 clinics, there also there’s also the capacity here for ordinary GP clinics that may want to provide additional services to have support to do that.

So for smaller towns, for country areas, we're making sure that there's capacity around the country.


In short, the aim of these clinics is to consult, prescribe treatment and then send people home to avoid them going to hospitals and their own GP’s. Is that right?


So we have multiple channels for people to seek support and treatment, but the general practice – if your general practice is taking people and different general practices will have approaches depending on how they are physically set up and the views of particular doctors – the emergency departments, all your ordinary avenues are there.

But in addition, we have Telehealth and the pop-up respiratory clinics and these will now be rolled out over the coming weeks and months.

And that will add to the capacity of the existing system to make sure that people will be able to receive the support as they need it, when they need it.


When will these clinics- when will the 100 be fully operational?


Well, we already have clinics set up. For example, the Victorian Government has set up four attached to hospitals.

The South Australian Government is trialling an innovative, and so far successful drive through approach – other states have done that.

We have private operations that have begun in the western suburbs of Melbourne for example.

And then these will progressively be rolled out over the coming weeks.


So by when will the 100 be up? Will it be May? June?


Look, we hope to have all of them in place by the end of May, but the first off them in place over the coming weeks – it's building to meet potential demand.

And what we have at the moment of course is 106 cases in Australia, those figures we're just provided to me by the National Incident Centre prior to speaking with you.

But around the country, people are understandably looking to see whether or not they have been in close contact with anybody that has been diagnosed or whether or not they have been travelling in a high risk area.


These fever clinics could see about 1.3 million people over six months – that's based on your own numbers. Is that a worst case scenario of what you're expecting?


Well, what this covers of course is many people will have contact as the number of diagnosed cases expands, and so it allows for a very significant precautionary number of tests.

So people who've travelled, as we know, if they've developed symptoms, if they've been in a high risk area – for example in China, or Iran, in South Korea, or Italy, or in a particular region of the country that has seen an outbreak – if they have symptoms, they're the ones that we're encouraging to be tested, along as anybody who has been in contact with somebody who has been diagnosed and they themselves develop symptoms.

So that's the approach we're taking, to build our capacity on top of what is already in the system and we're providing the funds.

But it's building off the plan developed with the medical community, developed by the Chief Medical Officer and ourselves, and therefore providing support to the Australian community.


How confident can Australians be that this plan will work, given in recent days, they've had troubles connecting through to the coronavirus hotlines and even getting tests done?


Look, I think the important thing here is that we're expanding testing capability, we’re expanding the capability of the hotline, expanding the capacity for Telehealth assessment and treatment, expanding the capacity in clinics.

We all need to recognise that these are unusual times, and we've been very upfront about that.

And we've seen circumstances around the world, we're as well prepared as anybody, but only two months ago there was an extraordinary community spirit of people pitching in during the bushfires – that's who we are, that's our best selves.

And that's what we're also asking here, so as there’s Government, medical community, but also the broader community supporting and backing each other and being resilient, and flexible, and assisting each other.

And recognising that at times there'll be some patience required, but ultimately, ultimately, we are fundamentally well prepared.

But that may mean some things are a little bit different, but all up we have as well prepared a health system as any in the world.


How will you find the additional staff required given that in bad flu seasons hospitals struggle? Are you going to encourage retired nurses and doctors to come back to work?


We are looking at medical staffs that have been part-time, or they have been out of the workforce for a time, to either upgrade their hours or to consider requalifying.

One of the things which the Chief Medical Officer and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, are working on together is looking at the medical authorities, discussing with them ways that can expedite capacity back into the system, as well as providing additional funds – whether it's for this package which is primary care, aged care, hospitals and medical research.

So, capacity right across the Australian system. We’d planned for this and now we're implementing it.


The advertising campaign, will that also include signs at airports and train stations, given the current messaging about not panic buying and not hoarding personal protective equipment doesn't seem to be getting through?


So the advertising campaign is already underway.

We have signage up at airports, we'll be working with the states and territories to make sure that they have signage in those public places for which they have responsibility.

And we’ll, in addition, be focusing on online, electronic media and messages to the home to make sure that people have as many avenues as possible.

We know in hotels already there are materials that are available to travellers at- I have to say I stayed in Sydney last night and the hotel I was staying at had the official Health Department advice.

And this is the sort of thing that's already occurring but it's now being expanded to provide that public messaging and to give the reassurance that, although these are challenging times and I wouldn't want to understate the challenge, there is a preparation, there is additional capacity.

And of course, there's an arc to this virus that, given that the best medical advice – not finally confirmed – is that people can be infected once but in all likelihood not reinfected, that we pass through this.

And so it's about travelling through that process, giving the best health support to Australians which is what today's package is about, building on the existing system and allowing us then to be in a position to move forward subsequently.


Has Australia made a decision on whether to ban people coming from Italy?


We've upgraded the travel advice for Italy and then the advice that we'll receive from what's called the Health Protection Principal Committee will be before the National Security Committee in the next 24 hours.


Minister, thanks for your time this morning.


Thanks very much, Sabra.


That is the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.

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