The Federal Government is today announcing a multibillion dollar emergency health plan to tackle the rapidly increasing outbreak.
It includes more than 100 pop-up testing clinics and bulk billing health care over the phone.
Health Minister Greg Hunt joins us now. Minister, we appreciate your time this morning.
Why did it take so long to get this together?
Look, with respect, we’re moving at a very fast pace.
Right throughout, we’ve said what we’re doing and we have planned for all of the steps and now we’re implementing it.
At this point, we have 106 cases in Australia off the back of the national incident room briefing which I've just completed.
And what we’re doing now is getting ahead of the challenge to make sure that we have access to GPs and emergency departments.
But now we are adding Telehealth, so as people will be able to do that from Friday, and in addition to that, we’ll also have what are called pop-up respiratory clinics and they will be over and above what's already in place.
Some states, as was agreed, have gone ahead and commenced their state health services through those pop-up respiratory clinics themselves.
So these are all additional things.
It's part of a $2.4 billion package.
It's not about the funds; it’s about providing that support.
We’ve been able to contain the first round of cases from China and clear all of the people.
We’ve been able to contain all of those cases that were brought back as part of the quarantine in Diamond Princess.
Now, of course, we’re managing the next phase of it and this is about making sure we’re prepared.
We have a plan which is now being implemented and of any country in the world, as the World Health Organization recognised, we’re as well prepared for this.
So these pop-up clinics you’re talking about, I mean, they say they’re capable of treating 1.3 million Australians over a period of 6 months. That’s about 75 patients a day per clinic.
When will they actually be up and running? Because we’ve seen pictures over the last few days that our hospitals are being swamped.
So some are already up and running.
For example, you have four hospitals in Melbourne that have different types.
South Australia has a very innovative drive-through clinic, Melbourne practice has done that.
So these will be progressively rolled out now.
What we’re doing is we’re building for the situation where there will inevitably be greater demand and our job has been to provide the resources, to work with the medical community in designing this, so as people have different ways to seek treatment: the GP, the Emergency Department, Telehealth, or the pop- up respiratory clinics.
Greg, we had a doctor on, a GP on the program earlier, and he was accusing essentially levels of Government of mixed messages, telling people they - and particularly you - telling people they should get tested if they have flu-like symptoms. Just check this out.
This article with Greg Hunt's comments and I’ve got to be honest, I kind of flipped out there, because it's completely contradicting what the guidelines were saying.
So all of a sudden, the next day, we’re sending a lot of patients off to get tested for COVID-19 which we weren't the other day.
And you know, to his credit he kind of walked it back the next day, but there has been a lot of confusion.
The last thing we need to be is accusatorial here and you are working extremely hard.
What's your response to GPs and to those accusations that there is a little bit of mixed messaging going on?
So the news agency that published that, subsequently issued a correction.
They unfortunately removed the qualifications that we put in as part of the very answer which said: if you've been in a high risk area, if you've been in contact with somebody and you have symptoms, then that's appropriate.
Unfortunately, they removed the first two parts and this is part- and then they issued the correction, fortunately.
And so part of this is for all of us to be as accurate as possible, not to sensationalise.
That was an example, unfortunately, where an answer was cut in half and they did issue the correction and so again, the guidelines are very, very clear.
And Professor Brendan Murphy and I re-emphasised them only yesterday. If you've been in contact with somebody who has been diagnosed, if you have been in a high risk area, and you show symptoms, those were- that was the answer.
Unfortunately, the first part was cut out by a news organisation, then that's when you should be seeking testing.
And we are building up so as we have got this additional capacity, it will be in many ways a challenging time but we’ve just been through the bushfires.
We saw the incredible Australian spirit and support for each other.
And so now is the time for that set of best selves.
Our support, the work of the states, the work of the doctors, but at the same time supporting each other and backing each other.
And we’re providing the environment where the health will be taken care of, but only the community can work together to provide that support and we all have a role; the media, the Government and the community.
I agree there, Minister. I'm going to ask you though, with- how are we planning on staffing all of this?
There are reports that you might be getting medical students in to help with aged care facilities; that you might increase the hours of foreign workers that are allowed to be on the job.
Is that all on the table at the moment?
So we’re looking at ways of supporting additional hours and providing additional work force.
One of the things that we are discussing is we will be working with the boards that oversee nursing and medical staff to make sure that there’s the capacity.
For example, if you have a nurse, might be a mum, who has had a decade off, are there ways to bring them back in a faster approach than might otherwise have been the case, if they want to come back and work part-time?
So these are the things that we’re doing over and above providing the funds.
So our job is to give additional support to the existing health system.
That's what we’re announcing today - the coronavirus health support package.
And that includes funding for work force, that includes trying to make it easier for people to come back into the work force, but that will be a medical decision based on safety as well as practicality.
And all of this is to say to Australians we are not immune, but we are as well prepared as any country in the world.
Okay. Well there’s a lot going on and Minister, we appreciate your time this morning.