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Interview with Alan Jones on 2GB Sydney

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Alan Jones on 2GB Sydney about coronavirus (COVID-19) and the appointment of the first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for mental health, Dr Ruth Vine.

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

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Look, he's listening to me and I don't care if I embarrass him, is Greg Hunt, who’s done a terrific job.

This bloke is a very, very good minister. He works night and day right on top of his brief, right on top of detail.

He delivered an update on the mental health response to the Federal Parliament or he will today and they've already announced a $74 million mental health package but I'm told, and I thought we'd have a quick word with him, there's going to be a new Deputy Chief Medical Officer devoted to the issue of mental illness and we'll just see where that's going to take us.

He's on the line. Minister, good morning and thank you for all you've done.


Good morning, Alan.


I hope you get a bit of a sleep somewhere along the line. Now, this is a big issue, isn't it? I mean this mental illness question. I looked at it before eight o'clock, but how are we going to address it?


Well it is all an issue but it's even more so during an economic crisis and (inaudible) the health effect, it could be people worried about their health, the loneliness of isolation, all the economic pressures you've referred to - businesses, school fees, mortgages, all of these things can weigh on people.

That's why our goal is to get ahead of the curve on mental health just as we've done with the coronavirus, with the physical health treatment.

And we're appointing a new- the first-ever Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health in Australia. Dr Ruth Vine is a former chief psychiatrist in Victoria, but a really caring and engaged person who's focused on people's needs as well as how we make that system work better.

And on Friday, the Prime Minister and the states, together looking at a pandemic mental health plan just to identify what else needs to be done, how we can cooperate with the states and territories.

Everybody recognises this is an immensely important human issue and we just continue to fight to be ahead of the curve on it.


Yes. I mean, you know, I've seen the whole lot of statistics on this and modelling by the Sydney Brain and Mind Centre and they say that in one region alone in northern New South Wales, up to 53 suicide deaths, one region, and 669 suicide attempts could be prevented with an effective mental health response.

See Greg, you're aware of this but I’m just saying this for the benefit of our listeners.

JobKeeper was the 1500 bucks a fortnight was to keep people connected to the workplace and that meant they could at least go some way towards paying some of the bills.

But we're now learning about quote, unquote zombie businesses that are open. Staff are on JobKeeper and you think of the businessman, no revenue coming in and I've mentioned that statistic - $160 billion has been deferred in payments by business, 220,000 businesses to banks deferred. And that's got to be paid.

And eventually when the business comes back into business, they've got to maintain existing costs and still pay what is the backlog.

So you've got a situation now, Greg, where you've looked after the JobKeeper but the business has got no revenue coming in so the boss is now under pressure.

He's eating into his superannuation or he’s got to take out another bank loan. So this is not just, you know, at grass roots level, it's everywhere, isn’t it? It's insidious.


Yes. So Josh laid out yesterday, you know, the long-term challenge and the plan for the recovery and so by being on top of the health effects of coronavirus, what that means is we're able take these steps cautiously, I have to add, out of the lockdowns that have been in place, able to get back to work and we want to get as many people back to work quickly, cautiously as possible and that helps the economy but it also helps mental health.


The psychology of people. Yeah. Just let me ask you- take cover a couple of things with you. I note you're saying you're closing in on 900,000 tests. In a - and I’m not being critical here - in a country of say 25 million, is that a lot or not enough?


No, it is a lot. It's one of the highest testing rates in the world and perhaps even more importantly, it's one of the most accurate testing rates in the world.

What that means is we are picking up a higher proportion of cases than almost any other country.

And that means that if we- if somebody is with symptoms, they get themselves tested, that they're either cleared or we find out early, then we can trace who they've been in contact with and find anybody that's been exposed.

And that's why, you know, in the last 24 hours, you can see that there are a significant number of states and territories with zero cases. That's a result Australia (inaudible) important thing here.


Yeah, Okay. Terrific. Now, let me ask you this because Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer, said this week that he feared a devastating second wave.

One of the consequences of lockdown is while we are in fact preventing the spread, we're not providing immunity from that.

I mean immunity can only come from a vaccine or from people having had the virus, which in itself is a natural immunity.

So this second wave. Now, are you- you don't have to tell me something that we're not yet meant to know, but coming into winter, as the northern hemisphere are going into their summer so it’s a lot easier for them.

Coming into winter as we are, and then given that the virus is still there, we don't have immunity.

Is there some concern that there may be a second wave of a pandemic, we don’t want to be alarmist here, worse than the first?


Look, our goal and our expectation is that we'll be able to avoid that but only if we continue to follow all of the elements of the physical distancing, of people practicing their hygiene, of people getting tested.

I've encouraged as many as possible to download the COVIDSafe app that keeps you safe and it will help keep others safe.

So we're well placed; we're better placed than almost any other country in the world both economically and health wise.

But we have to continue to be vigilant. And you know, when you look at the figure as of this morning, we're down to 13 cases in.


Critical. Yeah.


On ventilation around the country. We've got capacity to treat 7500 people; we've boosted that. We have testing capacity which has expanded dramatically, as you say, approaching 900,000 tests.

All of these things together have put us in a position where can act early, act fast, each of us has our own personal responsibility (inaudible).


Absolutely, no doubt about that. Just one thing before you go. Your Government bought 1.5 million finger prick tests which were supposed to tell us if someone had recovered from COVID-19.

The latest Government advice, I understand, indicates that you can't use them, that the finger prick tests aren't accurate enough.

You're not going to tell me we bought those from China, are you?


I have to find out where they came from. But no, this is about we don't have a new (inaudible).

In New York, they're using what are called the- the point of care or serology tests or the antibody test and that's because they've had a mass outbreak.

We had to prepare - just as we did, as I mentioned, with ventilators.

We've got 7500 ventilators within the system; only 13 cases. We prepared for all of the worst situations because we don't have that mass population, that's something that we're hopefully never going to need but we've prepared, whether it’s masks, ventilators, tests for all of the worst circumstances.


Okay. Before you go, one more personal thing to do. Will you please make a phone call to Josh Frydenberg and tell him one, we're delighted that he's tested negative but to do something to get rid of the damn cough which he's had since March from Saudi Arabia.

Hey, come on Health Minister. Get it- give one of your colleagues an uppercut, will you?


Well what I did was I gave him advice (inaudible). But what he did is he sought the medical advice, advised to get a test, self-isolated. He’s got the negative result, a decent sleep and he's on his way back today.


I know but he's still got the cough. You tell him to get rid of a cough; that's got to be treated as well. Good to talk to you, Greg. Thank you for your time.


Thanks, Alan. You take care.


Greg Hunt, the Federal Health Minister.

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