Date published: 
18 March 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Well the world is racing to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus but in Australia, the number of people infected continues to rise with more than 400 confirmed cases across the nation.

ALLISON LANGDON:

With Aussies now pushing for harsher measures to be imposed in order to contain its spread. Joining us now is Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and Education Minister Dan Tehan to give us the latest updates.

First we’ll go to you Minister Hunt.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Look, there’s a wildly held belief that the number of cases is far higher than the 450 or so that are confirmed.

We know that there are not enough tests, they’re taking five days to come back. It’s getting away from us, isn't it?

GREG HUNT:

Well, with respect, as all of the figures come in, they’re provided.

Importantly, we’ve now had 81,000 tests for about a 0.5 per cent positive rate and we’ve just secured an additional 97,000 test kits, the first half of which arrived in the country late last night and will be distributed today.

And so what we’re doing is making sure that we actually have one of the highest testing rates in the world, but we want to make sure that it’s focussed on those people who are most likely, as you can see, 99.95 per cent of tests have shown to be negative.

So the key thing is, if you’ve travelled overseas, if you’ve been in contact with somebody who has been diagnosed and you have symptoms, that’s the group that we want to focus on.

But 81,000 tests completed is one of the highest rates in the world, and an additional 97,000 test kits secured and the first half arriving in Australia overnight.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Eighty-one thousand tests in a country of 25 million. You can't even get a test right now, Minister, you know that and if you can, you have to show a set of symptoms or show a threshold which varies, according to different doctors.

You don't get the results for at least five days and in the meantime, this thing can spread like wild fire. I mean that’s the the reality, isn't it, of where we are?

GREG HUNT:

Well the situation is that in all the world, few countries have conducted more tests than Australia and most significantly, it is a challenging situation, not just for Australia but for the whole of the world.

But because we were able to prepare, because we had the capacity to implement those tests, that’s an extraordinary number so far but there’s more to come and we’ll continue to do it.

But we are focusing, understandably, on those most at risk and as you see, a half per cent positive rate or confirmation rate, and a 99.5 per cent negative rate confirming that people don't have the condition.

And so it’s absolutely appropriate to be focusing on those that are most at need and most likely and what we are doing is aiming to protect the vulnerable.

We know that this affects the elderly more than others, we know that this affect people who might have significant respiratory conditions more than others, and as a country, being our best selves, focusing on those most at need is absolutely the right thing to do to save live and protect lives.

ALLISON LANGDON:

But if we’re going to protect the vulnerable, isn't the only way for us all to self-isolate now?

We had a leading immunologist on the show a little while ago and they said that we need to be following the lead of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Singapore.

It’s the only way, isn't it?

GREG HUNT:

Well I think Singapore has taken quite a different approach to what you’ve outlined there.

They’re continuing with schools; they have significant activity around the country; they are testing very widely.

And it’s important to understand that Australia has been able to delay the onset quite dramatically compared with many other countries, having had our first case in January, we’ve been able to slow this.

And there are many people who are rightly concerned and doing the right thing in terms of their hygiene, but also in terms of making sure that we are taking care of the elderly.

So we’re taking the decisions for Australia based on the best medical advice, not just, I think, in Australia but in the world.

Our virologists, our epidemiologists, the chief health officers have met for the last two days and provided advice to this once in a century National Cabinet, which the Prime Minister has formed with the premiers, which met late into the night last night, and they’ll have additional measures very shortly today which they’ll be announcing.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

The ultimate way to protect everyone here or the majority of people is what this immunologist said and that’s to break the cycle and that’s to self-isolate.

That’s really- if we want to stop the curve and stop the increase, it is to self-isolate. What’s stopping us, what is stopping us from doing that and stopping that curve?

GREG HUNT:

Well, there are different approaches in the world and that view that’s been put is not the view of the Australian experts, the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia, probably the finest group of communicable disease experts in the world, nor the chief health officers.

What we are very focussed on is making sure that we have continuity of supplies, that we have the continuity of our health workers.

There are some proposals which would take 30 per cent of health workers out of the system which would be a very, very undesirable (inaudible) risk safety.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Greg, really, really quickly, how far is a vaccine are we?

GREG HUNT:

So I spoke yesterday with both the University of Queensland and the Doherty Institute.

Progress is being made.

We still think that a vaccine is in the 12 to 18 months range but it may be earlier.

The other thing that’s exceptionally important is breakthrough research, which those two universities are doing, the Doherty and the University of Queensland, with regards to treatment.

This is the thing which is extremely prospective, being able to minimise the effects, particularly on the elderly, particularly on the vulnerable, and that is something which gives me real and enormous hope for Australians and for people around the world.

In the end we’ll get through this. It’s going to be something like nothing we’ve ever seen before, but together if we take care of our vulnerable, take care of our elderly we will get through this.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Good on you Greg, thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.

Ministers: