Holiday plans have been cancelled for Australians right across the country. State border closures are back as COVID rears its head in Sydney once again.
But despite the despair, Health Minister Greg Hunt says the nation has prepared for this moment. He joins us now from Somerville in Victoria. Minister, good to see you. Are you confident New South Wales has acted quickly?
Yes, I am. What we’ve seen is a combination of very widespread testing, tracing and distancing measures, all of the three things that are prepared and put in place.
We’ve seen 28,000 tests in the last full day's reporting. We have had a 700 per cent increase in the testing rates at the Commonwealth clinics in the northern beaches areas.
Tracing, I think the New South Wales tracing is not just Australian gold standard but global gold standard. There’s no question that they have an outstanding system.
And then the northern beaches, they’re going through the very difficult distancing process at the moment of being under lockdown across Greater Sydney.
There are additional restrictions in place. And so rapid response, the community partnership with the Australian and New South Wales Governments has been incredible.
And we know how to do this, we know how to flatten the curve.
In a world of 700,000 cases a day on many days, we’ve had 71 community cases in Australia in the last week. We can do this. It is going to be difficult, but we’ll get through it.
Yeah, everyone is anxious to find out what those numbers are today. A thousand disappointed families this morning, states slamming their doors shut just days before Christmas. Was there any other option, Minister?
We declared a Commonwealth hotspot, the Chief Health Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly did this on Friday.
From that it’s understandable that states took measures. That’s the process under what is called the medical expert panel.
So we did have a significant cluster which was obviously acknowledged and recognised (inaudible) the northern beaches - the Avalon cluster.
So there are responses, and this is part of the national approach – that of any country in the world, we are as well prepared as any of them.
And we do know that, as I say with over 700,000 cases a day on some days, there will inevitably be cases - a touch, a breath, a surface that come to Australia, and we have to respond. And that’s what we are doing.
The one thing I would ask is, if you’ve got family who are separated now at Christmas, if you’ve older Australians that you know or it could be somebody living alone, reach out, give them a call.
And there’s mental health support on the Head to Health line or the Head to Health website.
But just that little bit of extra care, which Australians have done magnificently.
I think our hardest year since the Second World War, but very, very clearly potentially our finest year.
But now is the moment over the next ten days to reach out to each other, to give that support, to provide that emotional and mental health support.
Minister, you know, we’re always going to have outbreaks, they’re always going to pop up until we get the vaccine.
So how can the country deal with this inevitable outbreaks happening without shutting down every single time? Or is this the new normal? We just shut down every time a state flares up?
No, there are two huge strategic parts. It’s an important question.
One is flattening the curve, and we have had cases of, we’ve had over ten days of zero cases nationwide which has had the world literally agog.
I’ve had messages from overseas saying, you know, how extraordinary.
Now we have one of these outbreaks, and it could be Perth, it could be Penrith, it could be Melbourne, it could be Brisbane.
But we know that these outbreaks are inevitable in a world of 700,000 cases a day.
So we respond, we respond quickly – that’s what protects Australians.
And then at the same time, the vaccine, our regulatory team at the medical regulator, what’s called the Therapeutic Goods Administration, they’re working right through Christmas, right through the New Year.
They’re looking at making the first of the decisions over the course of the next six weeks or so, and then we’re on track for the first vaccines to be rolled out in March.
Literally, we have teams that are working around the clock right through the break and that’s about making sure that we have the safest assessment of our vaccines.
But then we have that national vaccine roll out, free, voluntary, universally available for every Australian that wants it during 2021.
So there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and I just want to say thank you to Australians. There’s more work, but we know we can do this.
Yeah, we sure can. We’re all in this together, and can't wait for that vaccine in March. Thanks for your time.