With Australia recording its first fatality from coronavirus and more cases confirmed every day, the threat of an outbreak appears more imminent than ever.
So what is Australia doing to prepare? For more, we’re joined by Health Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, good morning to you. Thank you for your time today.
Good morning, Karl and Ally.
I guess the delicate balance that you have to tread here is precaution and managing panic as well. How do you find that balance?
Look, I think the Australian public has been outstanding.
They understand that there are challenges, but they also understand that whilst we’re not immune, we are as well prepared as any country.
We were one of the first in the world to declare this as a disease of pandemic potential.
We made the difficult decision in relation to the borders with China.
Along the way, we have upgraded travel advisories to Japan and to Korea.
On the weekend, the National Security under the Prime Minister- met the National Security Committee and closed the borders with Iran, and overnight we’ve upgraded travel advisories to Italy, to exercise a high degree of caution across the whole country and reconsider travel to certain towns in Lombardia and Veneto in the north.
So we’re taking the steps to protect Australians, but also providing the reinsurance that I think gives them the confidence to know it’s a challenge, but we will get through it because we’re prepared, we’re planning, and we’re always seeking to be ahead of the issues.
Do you need to go further with those- that travel advice to Italy and ban travel to Italy, and also consider South Korea? They’ve got close to 4000 cases there now.
So what we’re doing is following the medical advice, and our message to the Chief Medical Officer and the State Chief Health Officers is provide your advice frankly and fearlessly, and we’ll follow it.
And so I think it’s important to understand we have upgraded the travel advisories for Japan and Korea.
We’ve closed the borders with Iran.
We did that because we believed that there was a serious level of underreporting, of undocumented cases, and I think that has- that's come to pass since we’ve closed the borders.
A further three cases from Iran have been identified in Australia and the state health authorities have implemented their plans of contact tracing everybody with whom the patients have been in potential contact.
Isolation, treatment, all of the things that should be done are being done.
And so we’ll continue to follow the medical advice and, as I say, overnight alone, we’ve just upgraded the travel advisories for Italy.
And this is what we should be doing, and it’s what we are doing.
But most importantly, that reassurance that we are as prepared, genuinely, as any country in the world.
And so we’re not immune, but the plans are in place, and they are being implemented.
The thing is you’re saying we’ll follow the medical advice, but you’ve already jumped ahead of the World Health Organization. Lord knows what they’re doing, but you have already jumped ahead of some of that advice.
When they have closed down things like The Louvre in Paris, and when you’ve got a tremendous number of people, say for example, in northern Italy who are coming down with it, why wouldn't you jump ahead, take that next step and close down some of the travel to some of those places?
Well, I think what’s very important here is we’re following the Australian medical advice.
So yes, we were ahead of the WHO in declaring this a disease of pandemic potential, and certainly ahead of them in terms of what we’ve done with China, and what we’ve done with Iran as well, as well as the Prime Minister's call last week that we were in a pandemic situation.
And- so we’ve made those calls fearlessly.
What we’re doing here is responding to the particular needs and threats for Australia, relative to the threats overseas.
And so France has had the case that there’s been very, very significant leakage of cases across the border from northern Italy, obviously they share a common border.
So each country is responding to their particular threat.
It was a very hard decision in terms of the consequences to stop the travel from China, but we made that decision because of the enormous volumes.
And if we hadn't done that, Australia wouldn't have been protected properly.
So, I think the important message is, is wherever we see that there is a need or a threat, then we will respond to it in those terms.
Minister, you’ve seen the same vision that we have of supermarket shelves being emptied, people panic-buying. Do you think it’s an overreaction or is it understandable in these uncertain times?
The message, not just from the Chief Medical Officer, but from myself is we have a small number of cases in the community in Australia.
We’ve had a first round of 15 at the start of February, and we were able to contain those.
Now we’ve had four cases from Iran, and we got ahead of those.
So, it’s important to be calm and to be confident, and to go about your daily business.
Within Australia at the moment, we have supplies, we have lines of supply, we are in a strong position, as strong as any country in the world.
And so there will be some who urge actions that aren't appropriate, and we will say, and I’ll say to the Australian people, we’ve got you covered.
We’re here to help take care of you. Take care of each other. We are in a strong, stable position, but let's all take care of each other, and don't panic, and be calm.
Have you started stockpiling anything?
Okay. Says everything, doesn't it?
I will say this, though, there is one important point as a Government, we do have a very advanced National Medical Stockpile, and that's our job.
That's been prepared long in advance.
Warehouses around the country, one of those I visited right at the outset of this.
We have the National Incident Centre, we have the National Trauma Centre, we have the work with the states.
So, no, as an individual, I haven't changed, my family hasn't changed anything, and my wife was focused on infection control as a nurse. So, she’s very alert to these things.
So, we’re continuing our practices, but our job as a Government is to make sure that we have our national stockpiles for the country, and we’re doing that and we’ve done that.
Greg, thanks for your time day. Appreciate it.
Thanks Karl. Thanks Ally.