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Interview on Sky News First Edition about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview on Sky News First Edition with Laura Jayes about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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Welcome back to First Edition. Returning to our top story – a Sydney doctor is among 40 people now infected with the coronavirus in Australia with two cases at least human to human transmission. The increase in cases has led to some panic buying in stores forcing Woolworths to impose restrictions.

Let's go live now to the Health Minister Greg Hunt. Thanks so much for your time.


Good morning, Laura.


What is the most up to date information we have on the coronavirus?


So globally we now have over 92,000 cases and well over 3000 lives lost sadly.

In Australia 40 cases – two further cases confirmed by New South Wales overnight, a man in his 30s and a woman in her 50s.

And then what we are doing with the states and territories is working on implementing the plans that had been put in place in preparation for coronavirus cases.

So immediate isolation, treatment and what's called contact tracing.

And obviously the case that I think is uppermost in most people's mind is the New South Wales Health doctor and they are focusing on contact tracing every person with whom he has been in contact and they're following that assiduously – that is probably our top priority as an individual case in the country but as more emerges, we'll deal with each of those individually.


Given that and what we have seen in the last 24 hours, are you expecting rapid escalation in the infection rate?


Look, I expect that it will continue – the rates will vary on different days and in different weeks.

What we have seen is, in particular, a significant number of cases from Iran precisely as we forewarned and acted upon.

It's clear that the numbers were inadequate and unreported from Iran and once that became clear, we took the immediate action.

As a consequence, yesterday, the Prime Minister asked the chief health officers around the country through the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee to review the high risk countries and as a consequence of that, today we are implementing additional measures to those that have been taken requiring everybody who has arrived from Iran from 19 February to self-isolate in Australia.

It doesn't matter whether you're an Australian citizen, a permanent resident, or a visitor from Iran, the message is very clear – you are now required to self-isolate.

That is a new position which follows directly from the Prime Minister's request yesterday.


So just repeating there, your request is for anyone who has arrived from Iran since 19 February, they now need to self-isolate in their own homes.

How many people have arrived in Australia from Iran since that date?


Border Force is gathering those numbers but of course we've imposed the travel ban from 1 March and so Border Force will provide more details on that. In any one month (inaudible).


Are we talking about dozens or hundreds, Mr Hunt?


No. In any one month there are approximately 900 arrivals from Iran and so Border Force will be gathering those figures, assisting with the tracing and the contact.

But at the same time we are making contact a Farsi language media so to assist with those that have come from Iran.

And again, that's an additional measure to those that were announced on Saturday simply because it's absolutely clear that the caseload in Iran is very significant and eight of the cases that have been diagnosed in Australia have had some contact – either travel directly from or been associated with people who've travelled directly from Iran.

And so that's the significant and important development this morning.


Minister, any updated advice for travellers coming from Italy, South Korea or Japan where the infection rate is also very high?


So all of those have recently been updated – Japan to level two, South Korea to level two, Italy to level two with level three warnings for Daegu and Chengdu in South Korea, and level three warnings for selected towns in Lombardy and Veneto.

What does that mean?

It means be on high alert for level two and reconsider your travel for level three.

And the Prime Minister referred high risk countries in particular Korea and Italy to the health experts yesterday for advice to the National Security Committee on Thursday of this week.


Do you have any updated advice from Border Force whether anyone has been forcibly detained coming into Australia? Any international travellers?


Look, my understanding is that when the Chinese travel ban was put in place, some passengers were returned – I'd have to get Border Force to give those specific details.

But I have to say there has been overwhelming co-operation in Australia, the self-isolation has been carried out very well.

I do know that earlier on South Australia had to take some steps with one couple – the exact nature I’d leave for them.

But Australians and visitors have been extraordinarily helpful and supportive of the arrangements, I think because firstly they're concerned about their own health but secondly they recognise not just the legal but the social obligations to take care of each other.


Going back to this doctor that's been infected in New South Wales, he didn't treat any patients that later and subsequently were found to be infected with the coronavirus.

So do you have any idea how he may have been infected?


So, New South Wales Health is reviewing that, they're providing details as they have them to the Commonwealth.

This is presumed to be what's called community transmission – so human to human transmission within the community.

At this stage they have not identified the source and they've, to their credit recognise that and inform the public that that's the case.

That is the first case where we have not been able to identify a source of the cases in Australia – 15 were associated with Wuhan, 10 with the Diamond Princess, and eight with Iran, and then you've had one each from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Korea and one associated with the Arab Emirates.

And then this case is an undocumented case in terms of its source and there's one other they are investigating in New South Wales and they'll provide more detail on that as the day goes on.


Minister, what do you say to people who appear to be panicking? And the evidence I point to is these empty supermarket shelves we're seeing right around the country.


So, the Prime Minister spoke with Coles and Woolworths yesterday, had reassurances from them that they had strong supply lines and also they would take their own measures where they felt it appropriate to ensure that there was managed purchasing.

But my message to everybody is we are well prepared – we're not immune but we are very well prepared as a country.

Take care of other people, that's the important thing – you obviously have to take care of yourselves and your families.

But yesterday the chief medical officer made it absolutely clear that whilst children are not immune, the risk to children is significantly less both in terms of catching and then the consequences if they catch coronavirus and that, I think, should give an important measure of comfort to families.

And so it's about being respectful to others, understanding that we are in this as one community, as one society, as one country and therefore taking care of each other and to- when you're purchasing follow your own needs but respect the needs of others.

And that's the important reassurance that we have good supply lines but each of us has a duty of care to ourselves and our families, but also to the whole of the community.

And we are prepared and we are in a strong position, as strong a position as any nation in the world to deal with this as the World Health Organization when they reviewed pandemic planning two years ago.


Minister just finally, the Prime Minister said there would be an economic response to this, an economic stimulus package. When will that be announced? And who will it be targeted at?


So the Prime Minister has mentioned that it would be modest, and targeted, and scalable.

And so I will leave the details of that to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer who are working literally around the clock with the secretary of the Treasury and others.

So, they're consulting with not just officials (inaudible) business community and the broader community on the optimal and necessary elements and.


So will that be within days or weeks?


I’ll leave those to- Look, I think the Prime Minister's indicated he's looking at an earlier rather than a later time, but you can understand I respectfully won't pre-empt that.

But again, everything that's being done it's being done on a very considered basis – rapid actions but against a well-prepared plan which has given us the National Incident Centre, the National Medical Stockpile, the National Trauma Centre and the processes which have allowed us to adapt and respond as circumstances require.

And it's that comfort and reassurance which I think is extremely important to Australians everywhere.


Minister, thank you for your time.


Thanks very much Laura.

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