Date published: 
20 March 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

CHRISSIE SWAN:

Hello, Greg. Thank you so much for joining us, Mr Hunt.

GREG HUNT:

Good morning.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

The Honourable Mr Hunt.

GREG HUNT:

Yes. Good morning everybody.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

We’ve got so many questions. Let’s just dive in.

GREG HUNT:

Yep.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

This whole flattening the curve thing. I think everybody understands what flattening the curve is, that we’re trying to control the amount of new cases of coronavirus in the country.

What’s the plan in two weeks, four weeks when the curve has flattened?

GREG HUNT:

So the goal is really simple and flattening the curve – what it really means is reducing the total number of infection, spreading it over time and protecting the vulnerable.

This is something that's really going to have the most impact on our elderly or people who have weak immune systems and so over the coming weeks, what's it about? It's about building the medical capacity, about taking the steps now that mean that there will be fewer infections.

This is why decisions on what are called mass gatherings of groups of over 500 in open spaces, groups of under 100 in enclosed spaces have been taken and we’ve closed the borders yesterday to people from overseas- something that was almost inconceivable.

But all of these things are being done to flatten the curve which means reduce the number of infections and increase the protection for the vulnerable.

DAVE O’NEIL:

Mr Hunt, can I ask you? Melbourne’s doing better than Sydney, aren’t they? Some are saying that Sydney aren’t taking it seriously apparently, but Melbourne seems to be very sharp.

I don’t want to be competitive but I think Melbourne’s doing better.

GREG HUNT:

Yeah. So there’s no blame in this. I think we know that there would have been arrivals from overseas in Sydney and it happened to get out in the community first there.

They're doing a heroic job, all the health professionals around the country and there will be different places that will be affected earlier than others.

So there's no blame, but fortunately for Melbourne, at this stage, we're in a stronger position, but Sydney is doing everything they can.

JONATHAN BROWN:

Greg, does the isolated nature of our country, or geographically, we’re so isolated, is that helping?

GREG HUNT:

Yeah it does. And that's why we've been able to- you know, we’re one of the first countries in the world to close off the borders to people coming from China.

That bought us at least a month compared to the rest of the world. That gives us time to reduce the total number of infections and also to prepare the health system and that's probably the most important decision we made. It had a massive economic impact.

Many people thought it was too early but it was the right decision. It bought us time and it's using our natural advantage.

JONATHAN BROWN:

How much can we increase our capacity, Greg?

Because obviously, the main reason here or the main problem is we don't have enough intensive care beds, especially for the elderly, and probably don't have enough respirators.

Say hypothetically, in a month's time, how much will have you been able to increase the capacity?

GREG HUNT:

So it's amazing. You have gone to, what is in the mind of the Cabinet and myself and the Chief Medical Officer. That question of intensive care bed and respirators and what we're doing is pushing on two fronts: increasing the number of intensive care beds.

There are a lot of respirators that have been in storage and then there is the capacity, as of yesterday, we got the news that a great Australian company ResMed which makes sleep apnea machines. They are -

DAVE O’NEIL:

I've got one.

JONATHAN BROWN:

Yeah. I’ve got one.

GREG HUNT:

Yes. They're working on converting their materials to make respirators for the country. Now, they won't be the perfect absolute highest grade but for people with slightly lesser levels of infection, they are likely to be very helpful.

So that's a huge breakthrough and you know, ResMed, they said it's a wartime-like situation. We are willing to change our production. We're working with them. And so these things are about increasing capacity whilst reducing the- what would be the natural demand if we didn't take these measures.

DAVE O’NEIL:

Greg, are we classed as a full lockdown yet? Or will that happen?

GREG HUNT:

No ,we're not. What we've done is put in place these very, very significant and some would say, severe, social isolation and distancing measures, meaning the reductions in mass gatherings and internal activities.

I dropped into a cafe yesterday just to try to have a little normality, just to pick up a coffee. They spaced out their tables. They've done exactly the right sort of thing. These are having, you know, severe impacts on business and we’re deeply aware of that.

We're pumping $100 billion into the economy. But where we can have measures of normality, I think we're trying to do that. That was what, around the country, we talked about.

So we're taking really unprecedented decisions, but at this stage ,we're very cautious about breaking police and emergency service, health worker supply lines, food supply lines, to keep those going, that actually bolsters the health system and protects the health of the people at the same time.

DAVE O’NEIL:

As the Federal Health Minister, did you let them know, they're doing a good job?

Did you throw your weight around a bit and say, guys you know who I am? You should have a uniform.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

It’s the ultimate mystery shopper.

GREG HUNT:

I would never, ever, do that, but they did happen to know me, and I said- they said thanks for what you guys are doing, and I said, no, thank you for being here, and being open, and what you've just done with your cafe, I know it'll cost you a lot of money, but you've got it exactly right.

There are cafes, there are shops around the country, there are heroic people everywhere. Our health workers, our aged care workers, they're the ones that are doing the job.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

And what about teachers? As a mother of three kids, I'm confused about the rules that gatherings of more than 500 people can't occur, but it's okay to send hundreds of kids to school.

GREG HUNT:

So again, within the schools, they're practising no large assemblies, they're keeping people within their classrooms. The reason behind the school's decision was very clear.

It’s where we had the strongest medical advice, low rates of infection amongst kids, much lower than flu on average on the advice we had, and then low rates of impact. Again, lower than the flu.

So it's a weird virus, in that the young people are not immune, but they're far less affected.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

Yeah, but they can still spread it to people.

GREG HUNT:

Well the challenge, of course, is if they're not at school, they're either out in the community or they're at home with grandparents, and they're likely to take – on the best advice – about 30 per cent of the health workforce out of the work if they're not at school.

So as long as we can keep the kids at school, we think it's safest for them and then safest for the community as a whole. I understand the challenge, but it was really interesting. The medical advice on this, all of the Chief Health Officers was the strongest we've received on virtually everything.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

I read an article today said- and it might be all rubbish – but there's going to be funding cuts for Catholic and independent schools that do choose to close.

GREG HUNT:

Look, I think what Dan Tehan is doing is saying we want you to keep open, we've got all options on the table but we're working with the schools.

The schools have been great, and the teachers, just like our health and medical workers, these are- they’re the real heroes.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

Well they are, because this isn’t really their job either, Greg.

GREG HUNT:

No.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

They're not first responders, they're not the babysitters. They're educators.

GREG HUNT:

No, and they are doing that education. The thing here is that we're, as a country, being called on to do things that- it's not just once in a generation, not just once in a lifetime, it’s once in a century. And so people are pitching in.

At the end of the day, it's a six-month timeframe is our best estimate, might be a little bit less, might be a little bit more. And so we have to go to a new phase where we're caring and supporting for each other.

One of the reasons I love FM radio is to get this sense of positivity. Yes, this is difficult, challenging, unprecedented. But you make people believe we can get through it, and we will. And I really want to thank you guys for that.

DAVE O’NEIL:

Thank you.

CHRISSIE SWAN:

We will get through it. Absolutely we will.

JONATHAN BROWN:

Greg, you’re in demand mate ...

GREG HUNT:

And I’ve got a special message for Brownie. Three years ago, 2017 Grand Final, I was lucky enough to be there with my seven-year-old son.

Lines up, Mr Brownie grabbing some chips at the cafe. Shook his hand, took care of him. We went back, we were sitting next to the Prime Minister, and he looked up, and said I'm really excited, Prime Minister, I met Brownie.

CHRISSIE SWAN:
Ah the good old days when you can go to the footy and shake someone’s hand.

JONATHAN BROWN:

I’m a man of the people, Greg. Say g’day to the young fella for me.

DAVE O’NEIL:

Minister Greg Hunt, you’re so in demand. We’ve got to let you go. Your boss is calling. See you mate.

GREG HUNT:

Take care.

DAVE O’NEIL:

Thank you so much, Greg.

Ministers: