Pressure is mounting on the Federal Government for a major overhaul of Australia’s hotel quarantine system to keep highly infectious strains out.
Yeah, that comes after two new cases of coronavirus were linked to Melbourne’s Holiday Inn, forcing an entire floor of people into isolation. Health Minister Greg Hunt joins us now in Melbourne. Minister, what do we do? This just keeps happening. Is it time for the Federal Government to step in?
Good Morning. Well, we actually have strong confidence in the Victorian, the Queensland, the West Australian Governments.
There are those that may have, in some way, cast doubt on their competence because they've each had cases recently. We don't have doubt. We think they're doing a good job.
The perspective here, over 211,000 cases, the world looks at the Australian system and says it's protecting Australia. But in a country with 17 out of 21 days of zero cases, we’re doing extraordinarily well, but those that have indicated that you would never have a case whilst you're dealing with the outside world, haven't perhaps served us as well as they could. Because we have to be honest, there’s always risks, so we have rings of containment.
Hotel quarantine, continuous improvement, testing, tracing and distancing, and they're the reasons why we've been able to have 17 out of 21 days with zero cases and we just continue to work on all of the different fronts.
I've got some friends who have come in from Hong Kong. They had to do, I think it was two weeks in quarantine or at least a week in quarantine before they even left their country.
I mean, if we're going to bring people in from overseas, is that a possibility that they're quarantining overseas before they even get here just to add to that bubble?
Look, we have looked at that. But at this stage, we want to make sure that we have control of the system. It's such a critical thing that if people were to come in and inadvertently have the disease and have a number of them out in the community, that poses a risk.
We're always looking at best practice, but it's the world that looks to Australia for best practice. The UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock called me about Australia’s hotel quarantine system. Our AUSMAT or our Australian Medical Assistance Team, which has been providing the training around the country and runs the Howard Springs facility in Darwin, is directly advising the UK.
And so we have a system which protects lives, protects cases coming into Australia from getting out of Australia with that sort of one per cent-plus rate of those that arrive being positive. And that has overwhelmingly kept those cases within the system, but it should never be presented that there is no risk when you engage with the world.
If we're bringing home mums and dads to be here for weddings or births, or people for saying goodbye to loved ones, then that is part of our engagement with the world. But we’re keeping Australians safe and when you look at those results, we’re doing incredibly well and now we turn towards the vaccine in the coming weeks.
Okay. Minister, Daniel Andrews, in a case of spectacularly bad timing, said yesterday that Victoria's hotel quarantine was of the highest standard than other states. I mean, do you agree with that and does this competition work for us or is it hampering things, hampering or hindering?
Look, we think all of the states and territories are doing well on this front. I won't try to rank them. They are doing well.
The fact that there is an individual case because of a touch, a breath, a surface, that is part of the risk of dealing with the greatest global pandemic in 100 years. I think in some ways, the fact that we achieved these zero cases means that sometimes people think we’ll be able to do that forever.
What really matters is that we have a system that overwhelmingly prevents the cases coming into the community, and where there are those cases, we have the testing and the training. And Australians respond magnificently; it doesn't matter which state, the testing numbers rocket up when there's been a breach and people are called to come forward.
And as well as that, if we do have to make sacrifices with regards to, in Victoria, inside we're wearing masks at the moment, people know how to do this. And we've turned out to be an extraordinarily strong country in regards not just to public health, but I think the social contract of taking care of each other.
This notion of innate Australian mateship actually has translated to the most deeply responsible social contract. It's a higher sense of Australia and I think we should be pretty proud of who we are.
Of course. What about the World Health Organization's investigation into the origins of COVID? They’ve failed to find a source, surprise, surprise. Understandably, this was the genesis of the icy relationships with us and China about a year ago. I mean, what was the point of this investigation?
Well look, it's no surprise that there were no surprises. Essentially they’ve ruled out the idea of a human-created lab virus, which was always our view, that it was not likely to be that.
But they have identified that it is overwhelmingly likely to have come from the animal kingdom, what’s called a zoonotic virus. And then Mike Ryan, who’s one of the most senior people in the World Health Organization has said, when you look for the origins, you look nearest to the source of the first identified human cases.
We have to learn all of the elements and all of the lessons of this virus, its origins, we work on the containment lessons from around the world, and people look at us, the capacity, how we build our hospital system to avoid what we’ve seen in other countries, and then the vaccines.
We’re all learning from each other and we’ve learnt immense lessons looking at some of the pit falls and missteps in some countries with regards to the vaccine rollout. We’re now in a very strong place. All of this is part of learning.
Greg, Greg, come on, Greg. Everyone thinks this is a cover-up. Everyone thinks this is a cover-up.
Well, I’ll let the final report come out. At the end of the day, they have to do their work, we get on and do our work.
And our task is to make sure that we aren't afraid of asking the difficult questions. And that's what we should do as a country because, ultimately, that’s what’s going to save lives and protect lives.
Great to talk to you, Greg. Well answered and we’ll talk to you very soon. Appreciate it.