The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, addressed the nation yesterday and his message was clear: stay on guard and follow the rules in the lead up to Christmas.
Now if everyone does the right thing we can prevent the northern beaches cluster from spreading across Sydney. It is a timely reminder of just how crucial a vaccine will be in paving a path back to normality.
Greg Hunt is the Federal Health Minister and he joins us on the line. Minister, thank you for your time.
Good morning, Chris.
What's the Federal Government doing to assist New South Wales?
So we're taking action across all fronts.
Firstly, in terms of Defence. Now, we currently have 380 personnel who are assisting with COVID actions in Defence.
Secondly, in terms of aged care, we have Commonwealth funded testing available, support for single-site worker arrangements, and support for PPE.
Thirdly, in terms of community testing, we have the three large and significant, what are called general practice respiratory clinics, and they've had a 700 per cent increase over the course of the recent days.
And then fourthly, we are assisting with both PPE and support for the contact tracing program, which I think the New South Wales contact tracing program isn't just outstanding in Australia, but it's a global leader in contact tracing.
A new poll has found most Australians would pay up to 170 dollars to get the coronavirus vaccine early. We're expecting it to be rolled out in March. You're not considering bringing it forward?
Well, it's subject to the regulatory approval, and we're being very, very thorough.
But I'm sure everybody would understand why and that's extremely important.
We will have good insights from the UK and the US, which haven't completed their normal approvals process.
What they’ve done is, because in the UK hundreds of deaths a day, in the US thousands of deaths a day, they have given an emergency authorisation to implement before the assessments have all been completed, which we understand.
We’ll be in the position to complete that. We're expecting the first of the Australian decisions in six weeks or approximately from our regulator, the TGA, and then we're on track to begin the first of the vaccinations in March, free, universally available, but voluntary for all Australians during 2021.
So will our approval in approximately six weeks time be the same as Britain and America? An emergency approval, or will it be a hard approval?
No, that will be a full approval that's being considered.
I won’t pre-empt the outcome, obviously, but that's under assessment now.
And instead of a 10-year process, it will be done within about a year, so it will still be rapid, but we want to make sure that it is absolutely thorough.
And we're in the fortunate position of being able to observe everything that's happening in the UK and the US, and there were some significant stories about logistical challenges in America over the weekend, but we urge them on and we thank them for what they're doing.
But we have enough vaccine, ultimately, to cover the Australian people three times over.
So we're working and preparing for all contingencies, but we're fortunately placed, both in terms of our case numbers, but also in terms of our vaccine preparation.
This Crosby Textor survey says that 72 per cent of Australians are prepared to get the jab. That's not enough to make it effective, is it?
Well herd immunity is generally considered to be about two-thirds of the population, but we always aim to have a significantly higher figure.
One of the things is we’re a great vaccination nation.
A big surprise for me, frankly, was during the lockdowns Australia wide in March and April, and throughout Victoria in the third quarter, we've seen our five-year old vaccination rates in each of those quarters go to record levels, 94.8 and then 94.9 per cent.
Australian’s are continuing to vaccinate, so I’m very confident we’ll have a high take-up.
There’ll be an important public information campaign, but I think that public trust will be most strengthened by being able to see what our regulator is doing.
That if the TGA approves it, then the vaccine will be available to all Australians, and they’re the best regulator in the world.
Sydney has now been isolated from the rest of the nation. In one case – WA - New South Wales has been isolated from the rest of the nation. Have state premiers and chief ministers jumped the gun?
So, a Commonwealth hotspot definition was declared by the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, on Friday and it’s appropriate for states to respond.
I’ll let the individual premiers explain the extent of it.
Overwhelmingly, what you're seeing is a focus on the northern beaches hot spot and greater Sydney from the states.
Western Australia has taken a slightly different approach, but we recognise that it is a natural response to the first declaration of a hot spot under that hot spot definition, which sees states taking action.
Right now, our focus is on supporting New South Wales and the northern beaches as a partnership – the Australian Government, the New South Wales Government and the people of New South Wales and in particular Sydney.
And they've come out in extraordinary numbers to test.
28,000 in in one day on the weekend, new figures will come out today. The people are staying at home other than coming out for essential services, including testing, and that's a very positive, rapid response.
What are your thoughts on what Tony Blakely, Professor Tony Blakely from University of Melbourne is saying?
He reckons we should be quarantining the peninsula and quarantining the rest of Sydney, that is, with checkpoints on places like the Spit Bridge, Mona Vale Road and Warringah Road? Basically shutting it all down?
Well of course, the northern beaches are subject to stay at home orders, other than for essential services. And so to a significant extent that's happening.
But, we also have the finest epidemiologists in the country. A world-class epidemiology and expert group, the AHPPC or the medical expert panel – they're meeting daily.
They are the people who've helped guide us and provide us. There’ll be many others that provide their views, and I respect those.
But, it’s the medical expert panel of Australia, the chief health officers, supported by the Communicable Disease Network of Australia, the recognised national and global experts that we've worked with, that have helped us to get to a position which I think, frankly, with over 700,000 cases a day worldwide, and 71 community cases in Australia over the last seven days - it's a position that, whilst it's challenging now, it's still the envy of the vast majority of the world.
And by following the medical experts who are working with government, we’ll continue, I think, to flatten the curve, stay ahead of this and, we're going to get through this.
There's a call from the Queensland and Victorian Premiers to form another meeting, or reconvene another meeting of the National Cabinet before Christmas. Is that likely?
Well, we are having the medical expert panel meet every day, and we're working with states and territories every day.
And so the critical thing here is that what we see is the medical experts are meeting every single day. So, there's a full national engagement, and that continues to be the case.
Okay, I appreciate your time this morning, Minister. Thank you. And all the best for Christmas, too, by the way.
Thanks a lot. And to everybody in Sydney and New South Wales. I know it's been a tough year – many families may now not be able to meet up, but think about calling, face timing, being in contact with people. The mental health side of it's really important. But, we've done an amazing job, we’re just going to have to do it again.
Thank you for your time.
Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.