The Federal Government has now demanded that the New South Wales Government stop redirecting Pfizer vaccine supplies from regions like the Hunter to COVID hotspots in Sydney.
The Commonwealth has today confirmed it’s sending nearly 185,000 additional doses to the state, to replace the ones that have been redirected.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins me now to explain. Minister, good afternoon and thank you.
No, look, good afternoon. And I know it’s a difficult and challenging day, but importantly, the additional vaccines will help people in Newcastle, the Hunter, the Central Coast.
It was very much a condition that the PM was absolutely focused on and committed to. It had come from the discussions we’d had with Lucy Wicks in recent days, both he and myself, the member for Robertson. And I’m pleased that we’ve been able to ensure that we kept our GP doses in the region, and to see that the state doses are returning.
But I know it’s a difficult day, and that’s why a Commonwealth hotspot will be declared for the areas that are now going into lockdown, and that will bring the COVID Disaster Relief Payment into play.
Just on the subject of the vaccines. The Premier expressed gratitude for your largesse during her 11am briefing this morning, but she didn't mention anything about an ultimatum, was there one?
Look, I would say it was readily agreed. I think the Prime Minister was very clear that this was an important condition. But I don't think, to be fair, the New South Wales government ever wanted to have to do this.
The vaccination rates across the Central Coast have been- 45 per cent of people have had at least one dose. In the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area, 41.3 per cent. So actually very significant and high rates.
But we're pleased that we were able to step in, help out, protect the people of New South Wales, but also restore that support to the people of Newcastle, the Hunter and the Central Coast.
Minister, can you please give us an update on the vaccine supply? I understand that Pfizer was actually earlier than expected with its most recent supplies.
Yes. So we were able to get some of our supply a little bit earlier than expected, no change in the overall supply.
What that meant is that, as you mentioned, almost 185,000 doses - precisely 183,690 we've been able to bring forward for New South Wales. And it comes on a day where we've just had 221,000 vaccinations around Australia. Far and away the record number, the highest number of vaccinations on any day at any time in Australian history.
And importantly, we've now hit over 80 per cent of over 70s, and 42.4 per cent of all Australians. And, you know, this is making a real difference- and over two thirds of over 50s. And so these numbers, each one of them is an individual who's been given protection, who's been given the vaccine. And obviously, we want all of those to go on and to complete second doses. And we're now at over 4.25 million Australians that have had second doses.
So thank you for coming forward. Please keep coming forward. And this should hopefully assist with those non-GP bookings. For GPs, we've continued our supply, and I'm glad that New South Wales is in a position to restore its supply.
Greg Hunt, what's your opinion of the way New South Wales has managed the recent outbreak of the more virulent Delta strain?
Look, it's very hard and I think they've done everything they could have done.
And the whole world is learning about Delta. I think there was 670,000 cases, and over 10,300 lives lost in the last 24 hours. And so it's a difficult time for the New South Wales. We've seen that this can be done. Victoria had, what at this stage - compared to, say, New South Wales - was a result with almost three times the daily numbers.
And so it's confronting. It can be scary. It can be deeply frustrating. But this notion of a community working together, but this time with figures of over 40 per cent primary vaccination, which makes a real difference, it's seen a radical difference with no person who's been fully vaccinated to this stage has lost their lives in the current New South Wales outbreak.
No person at this stage has lost their lives from aged care. And that is just so different to where things were a year ago. So I think that everybody's doing their absolute best, compared with the rest of the world. Australia situation is extraordinary.
Compared with the pre-Delta world, it's more challenging. That's the honest answer. But we'll get through it. And we just- we have a fighting spirit as a nation, and we've shown it again and again, and we're doing that now.
Minister, you’ve been criticised for your management, along with the Prime Minister of course, of the vaccine rollout. Can Australians expect planar sailing, smoother sailing, from here on in?
Well, I think it all comes down to a very simple concept, and that was we have, so the answer is yes, and then, the next thing is very simple concept that, whilst the AstraZeneca was reduced in its recommended group from over 20 million Australians to 5.5 million, we've been able to pull forward Pfizer, but that did have an impact. No question about that.
But what we are seeing is well over a million Australians vaccinated every week, and those figures are expected to continue. And when you think of a country of 20 million, 20.6 million people 16 years of age and over, and we've had over 13 million vaccinations as of today, and 221,000 the last 24 hours, those are huge numbers, growing faster and faster with roughly half the population vaccinated, for example, in Tasmania and the ACT.
New South Wales is accelerating very quickly. So they’re at almost 44 per cent as of today with first vaccinations.
So the program is rolling out on a monumental scale, and we accept that that was perhaps not as fast as would have been ideal if AstraZeneca had been available for the whole population before the change, or after the change in advice. But this is the pandemic we live in, and what we've done here is save lives on a scale that's almost inconceivable to the vast majority of countries.
And Minister, just finally, you mentioned that our region, our LGAs of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens, Singleton, Dungog, Muswellbrook, and Cessnock are all now COVID red zones and there are benefit implications to that.
Can you just remind us of what's available to residents in those areas?
So the Commonwealth hotspot definition now comes into play. That's being declared by the Chief Medical Officer this afternoon.
What that means is the $200 supplement for those who've lost eight hours or more that are on welfare; $450 for the COVID Disaster Relief Payment per week for those who are on, who've lost over eight hours and they're in ordinary employment; and then $750 for those that have lost over 20 hours per week.
And these are important payments that we’ll support and just supplement the challenge of being in a lockdown. And I know it's hard. We’ve lived it, ourselves as a family. I've seen my community, I've seen my city and my state, and it is hard. But right now, it's a critically important part, along with the vaccination, of saving lives.
So, thank you to everybody who's come forward to be vaccinated. As I say, 45 per cent on the Central Coast and across Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, over 41.3 per cent. But please keep coming forward for your first dose or second dose as you're eligible.
Minister, thanks for coming on this afternoon.
Take care everyone.
There's the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.