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Interview with Alan Jones on 2GB Sydney about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Alan Jones on 2GB Sydney about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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The Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is on the line. He’s done a phenomenal job throughout.

I’ve got to say to listeners out there who most probably don’t know this bloke, a Victorian MP, he is immensely well regarded by his colleagues as a person and leaders - I know people like Tony Abbott and others say - give this bloke a portfolio and you can forget about it, he will be across the detail.

Very difficult world which he inhabits at the moment but there are many things that we can discuss this morning and he is on the line. Minister, good morning. Thank you for all your doing.


No. It’s an absolute privilege to be involved and the people to thank are the Australian people. We’ve seen some of the agony and tragedy overseas. It’s increasingly looking like Australia’s going to be able to avoid that if we continue doing what we're doing.

And it's the Australian people, our nurses, our doctors, our pharmacists, our pathologists, our aged care workers; these are the real heroes and the people that are getting us to a place that gives us a light at the end of the tunnel.


Minister, just a comment from you on the statistics. We won't dwell too much on this but I only say that because I look at these from Australia point of view each day and if we take say the beginning of the week those figures were down - and I'm talking about the active cases - the figures were down 1,400 but admittedly, that was on the previous Friday.

Then on the Tuesday the active cases were down 15 on Monday, then by the afternoon they'd gone up 95 but by Wednesday morning, the active cases were down 93 and today on Thursday, they're down 263 on the Wednesday figures.

And so these, given that, you know, a week or so ago, we were talking about increases of 31 per cent, 42 per cent, 87 per cent and so on, not that anyone's being complacent but we're now looking at 0.45 per cent or plus 2.9 or 0.27 or plus 2.6. They are encouraging figures, aren't they?

Even though the deaths as a percentage of the cases are incrementally going up. Last Friday, they were 0.48 per cent, 0.62, 0.7, 0.78, 0.81 and today 0.83. How do you, as the bloke with all the information at your fingertips, interpret those figures?


Sure. So to try to simplify it for the public, our grand national task has been to reduce the daily rate of infection growth. That's what flattening the curve means and we've come from an over 25 to 30 per cent daily increase which is when we saw over 400 infections those- on a daily basis.

Those infections sadly lead to a certain number of deaths in the order of probably one per cent to, maybe a little bit more, maybe a little bit less. But they take about two weeks- it might be up to 20 days, and those are what are coming through now.

At the same time, the number of- the rate of growth has dropped down to well below five per cent today. In fact, the National Incident Room figures I have in front of me are that it's in the two to three per cent per day, which means that we will see an increase in the number of cleared cases, a decrease in the number of active cases and around the country, we now have about 36 people who are on ventilators.

These are the sickest people and those who are most gravely at risk. The big story for Australians is at this point we've clearly avoided what has occurred in in Europe, so long as we continue to do what we're doing.

So this weekend will be one of the most important weekends in the entire course of the virus because if we can maintain the distance, as difficult as that is, if we can use the telephone and the Internet to contact people, FaceTime, then we can get these rates down further and that protects the lives.

And that's why we have a death rate, which by global comparisons, is so low and a case rate which is so low along with one of the best testing regimes in the world which is looking to find and then trace.


Absolutely. Absolutely. Just turn the page a bit here and I think we should stress should we, notwithstanding the increased number of cases that there are.

The World Health Organization which releases its statistics every day, has today released to us the first time the mild figure has gone to 96 per cent. So there are people who contract this. If they are sensible about it, they will recover.


That's right. We do know that the vast majority of cases will be mild but around the country now we have about 10 per cent of the active cases in the hospital and then we have, you know, as I said, 36 or just over one per cent of the active cases that are on ventilators.

So around the country though, people are doing the right thing; they're being amazing. They are self-isolating; the majority of people with the illness are at home; they're under a quarantine situation.

And by doing that, they are literally making decisions that save the lives of others. It's an incredible gift to have that any of us, through our actions, can protect or save lives.


Well I think you and Scott Morrison have contributed to that because you've presented the case not in a dogmatic way but in a simple and compassionate way and I think the public have responded.

Can I just take you to a lot of correspondence, Greg, I've had in the last 12 hours and my listeners are writing about this website


Right. I apologise. I don't know it but anyway.


Right. Well on that, they've identified stacks of flights coming into Australia from China and a note which says quote: So the Wuhan lockdown is over and there's a 747 currently on its way from Wuhan to Sydney. Does no one in authority learn?

Now, we are told that that flight that has come in to Sydney is carrying 90 tonnes of medical equipment, protective masks, gowns and ventilators. Now, do we know who packed this stuff?

Who packaged the material? Do we know that the stuff's okay to use? Is this not stuff we can get from somewhere else? Could not the materials that we're bringing in be transmitting the virus?


So two things there. In terms of the materials, we do know and we have very strong medical advice that the virus doesn't live on static materials, particularly the sort of transport materials for any extended period - it's certainly not for the life of a flight or something such as that.

Secondly, we have been sourcing, along with others from around the world, the vital masks and supplies, and they are coming from around the world.

This particular flight, I apologise, I don't have the manifests and I focus on what we get as a country, and the Border Force or others would have the details of a particular flight. So I don't have those details.


But there are flights coming in here from China, and in particular from Wuhan. Just to assure my listeners that you’re confident that your officials are across all of this? They will be compulsory quarantined - it won't be self-isolation stuff.?


They are maintaining the absolute strictest conditions in relation to the safety of any air crew. And in particular, having lifesaving equipment come to Australia is about protecting our health workers, and if we protect our workers, we protect our population.


Quite. So- but Chris says to me: Alan, according to my aviation app, the following flights were taking place - this is on Wednesday at 7:34 this morning - China Southern and Shanghai Airlines heading to Melbourne, Vietnam Airlines, Garuda, and Malaysian Airlines heading into Sydney.

Who is on these flights? Are they all subject to quarantine? Are our borders in fact open? How do you answer that?


And I can answer that very, very clearly. The only people who are coming to Australia are those that are for- are those Australians who are returning home. In the belly of planes, we are often having vital equipment or supplies coming in - it could be medical supplies, it could be other critical supplies for the economy.

So passenger planes also serve as transport and freight in many, many circumstances and they're absolutely vital to the- literally the lifeline for Australia. And it's also the capacity-


But everyone will be facing compulsory quarantine.


Any passengers must have compulsory quarantine.


Staff? Pilots?


Air crew, I think for the most part they are pretty much turning around. I wouldn't comment on something where I don't have all the-


But to you understand people are worried about this, Greg, aren’t they?


Correct. And one of the things that we've done is build a ring of steel around Australia where we made the decision to close the borders. This is one of the reasons why Australia is not what we're seeing in other countries.

We made early decisions by global comparisons and these are the things that are saving lives. At the same time, it's fundamental that we bring Australians home, but all of those are going into quarantine.

And it's fundamental that we bring the very supplies that our health teams and our population needs, whether it's in terms of-


Well, talking about, Minister, talking about that - the last time we spoke, which is about 10 days ago, I talked to you about this hydroxychloroquine. Now, it is available, it's been tested, it's been around for years.

The evidence in France and other countries is that it works in addressing the coronavirus. I mean, I know people out there are chipping in, and I know Clive Palmer's spoken to you – chipping money manufacturing it. I mean, why can't we issue this? It is a tablet. Why can't this tablet be issued?

I mean, many people are writing to me saying: I've got a friend who just returned from a cruise that went from Dubai to Africa. She got very sick on board with symptoms of coronavirus.

The doctor on board who checked her was certain she had it - she tested negative. She's taken Plaquenil, which is- Plaquenil is the same as- exactly the same hydroxychloroquine. But why aren't we promoting this?


So at the moment, there are in fact significant clinical trials which are underway in Australia, and they're testing both the safety and the effectiveness. The medical authorities are reviewing it.

They were more cautious about the outcomes, the medical expert panels in Australia, and I know that there's been some caution expressed in the United States as well. But we are conducting major clinical trials. We've also secured significant supplies from overseas.

And so- and these trials are about treating the health workers, also about treating patients.


Right. Okay. I just think it's available, and if you've got that hydroxychloroquine, you can't lose, you can't lose - it could well help recovery and kill the virus.

Just before you go, this 24/7 support service - this is critical in this environment - the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service. Greg Hunt, is that via the website there? - is that it?


So there are two ways in. This is Beyond Blue, which I think everybody would know. And mental health is such a critical thing, I think it'll be even harder over Easter because of some of the isolation.

So online, And that provides support, it provides guidance, counselling - or over the telephone and that's a 1-800 number, 1-800-512-348, 1-800-512-348. But if you go to Beyond Blue, they'll have the coronavirus support.

And one of the things that we're immensely focused on is that whilst Australians are doing an incredible job - globally I think the vast majority of countries would prefer to be Australia at this point in time, both economically and health wise - but that doesn't mean we don't have real mental health challenges.

So as we go into Easter, look out for each other. If you can support a senior, guide them to something like this, or anybody can be lonely, anybody can be isolated. And whether it's the website, whether it's the phone line, or above all else just reaching out, doing a food delivery for somebody, getting them on the phone, letting them know you're there - these are the things that are going to get us through this.


Good on you. Lovely stuff. Well, you and your family have a wonderful Easter too. We're grateful for all you're doing.

I'm personally grateful for that whenever we’re talking, you're on top of the details. We'll talk again next week, Greg, and thank you for your time.


Thanks Alan. Take care.

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