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Interview on The Project on 17 April 2020 about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview on The Project on 17 April 2020 about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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Well, Health Minister Greg Hunt is in charge of finding that balance. Minister, to make this all work would you consider relaxing some of the more confusing restrictions in order to keep us all united in flattening this curve?

So it is very important that we are able to take steps where we can.

Our deep task now is to continue the containment of the virus for the coming weeks where we can.

We do want to make sure that there are restrictions being lifted.

A good example is next week we are looking at elective surgery; things such as IVF, which I know the Prime Minister and myself are very keen to see fully recommenced, and then other forms of elective surgery, subject to the medical expert advice.

Minister, are you frustrated, though, by some of the inconsistencies with the way that social distancing is being applied between the states?

I know it is a matter for them but it makes it a little bit difficult for people to understand.

Our job has been to help keep the federation together and we've done that, but where a state might be doing slightly better, fewer cases, and if they take an early step towards liberalising, I think that that is desirable and positive.

So I understand the frustration in some cases, but above all else all the things that we've done together are what have put Australia in a position that at this stage the rest of the world looks at with overwhelmingly a great degree of envy.

Minister, I'm so excited for restrictions to be lifted a bit in four weeks, I think it's great news, but there are still some things that I don't understand now.

In my state I'm allowed to go to the supermarket and be surrounded by people and yet I'm not allowed to go fishing by myself on a pier where I don't see a soul.

Can you understand why I find that puzzling?

Look, I do. Across the country, our goal has been to set standards in relation to behaviours.

The 1.5m, the four square metre rule, the groups of two, other than families, and then how that has been applied across the states has been a matter for them.

Sorry, minister, I didn't mean to criticise the government - I actually think they've done a great job in handling this and we all understand there's a different between states and federal. We understand that.

But I think for some of us it is confusing. You mentioned the 1.5m there - I don't really understand why there has been more rules than that.

Can't you just say everyone say 1.5m apart and that is the rule?

What we have done is follow the medical advice and very early on we made the commitment to follow the medical advice.

And it is the suite of different measures together; the border controls, the testing, which has been identified internationally now as the most accurate testing regime in the world, the tracing, who we've met, when we've met them, if we've had the cases, and the different elements of the isolation, which have all come together and that's why we're in the position we're in.

This is so important, we know, to physical health, mental health, economic life, the ability of people to develop their work practices, to get back to work if they've been off work.

All of these things are fundamental, but we'll fail if we allow a second wave.

Minister, no-one wants a second wave. We know how important these restrictions are. And it would be a breeze if we were all robots - but we're not.

So how on earth do you balance controlling COVID-19 with managing the mental health of a country that's essentially in lockdown?

A number of things are happening. Firstly, as people can see, that there is less risk of Australia being overwhelmed.

We're now doing, as we've all acknowledged, very well by global standards.

There's real hope at the end of that.

Secondly, by seeing that there's a pathway or a road out, and then thirdly, very specific support for mental health.

We've created the, we've put $10 million into that and $74 million into mental health specifically.

But nothing beats the ability of people to talk to each other and there will be isolated seniors or singles and if you can reach out and talk to them, those are the things that will really have a human difference.

Minister, that was great news you mentioning there elective surgery, particularly the IVF, but let's finish with a little bit of hope; if everything goes really well for the next four weeks and you do start to look at lifting some of those restrictions, what would be some of the ones that you would look at first?

Would it be cafes and restaurants being opened up? Would it be lifting the restrictions on numbers at funerals and weddings? What are the areas?

If we are making real progress over these four weeks of keeping the numbers down and keeping the distance, then the sorts of things are those that might be isolated having other people visit their homes. The capacity to have larger groups.

These are the sorts of things that are being assessed now, and our framework for doing that is what has the lowest health risk but highest social or economic benefit.

And things which help with mental health will rate very, very highly on the social benefit scale.

Well, minister, we know you are working 24/7 at the moment, we really appreciate you joining us this evening.


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