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Interview with David Koch and Natalie Barr on Sunrise about COVID-19

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview on Sunrise with David Koch and Natalie Barr about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins us now from Canberra. Would these new measures have been brought in today if the states hadn’t actually pushed for them?


Good morning. Well, what we’ve done is the National Cabinet has met last night. Last week it was foreshadowed that there would be additional actions taken on social gatherings, the Prime Minister set that out.

The medical advisers met yesterday, and last night the rules were agreed. And I think it is very important to understand what has happened, because these are unprecedented times, and decisions are being taken to save lives and protect lives.

So the new rules are about social gatherings. There has been some misrepresentation that it applied to general workplace, there’s what’s called a negative list. Pubs and clubs, nightclubs, casinos, gymnasiums and indoor sporting centres.

So that list has been published and it also includes restaurants and cafes, but the ability to do takeaway across the board. And that’s to minimise the social contact between people, and these rules are unprecedented but they are about saving lives.

It’s about minimising the spread, therefore doing what is called flattening the curve. Flattening the curve means fewer people spread across more time, which ultimately protects the vulnerable.

So it’s not a general ban on work as was presented by some yesterday. It is about those specific points of social gathering, and that's commences at midday today.


Because that’s what I was getting, Greg Hunt, a lot of people saying, so every business in Australia has got to close down. You were saying the social gathering areas that you’ve outlined, yes?




The rest of Australia just get on with work. We’ve got to keep the economy going. And that'll be the case for the foreseeable future, would that be right?


So what we’ve set out through the National Cabinets i- that there are potential stages. We have moved to a obviously a very significant stage in terms of places of social gathering.

All of the Premiers and the Prime Minister have reserved the right to go to additional stages, but there were some proposals which had been floated yesterday.

The medical advice was crystal clear that what mattered now is giving people social distancing, in other words, common sense, keeping your distance, practising your hygiene, and where we’ve seen people congregating together, unfortunately, we’ve have had to take these unprecedented decisions.

But these are decisions that are ultimately about slowing the spread, saving lives, providing capacity for our hospitals, and I think that’s a very important message.

The other thing is, that sense that it’s each of our responsibilities, government’s absolutely, Commonwealth, State, local, businesses, but each family and each individual has their role to play. And people have risen to this magnificently.

There were some poor examples, obviously Bondi Beach and some others, but right now we're all in this together in a way that we have never been as a country since the Second World War.


Okay. On schools, you’ve got the PM saying schools are open, you’ve got the Premier of our biggest state saying schools are open, but she’s encouraging parents to keep kids at home.

You’ve got the Victorian Premier closing schools. It’s confusing. Shouldn’t the Prime Minister step in?


The Prime Minister has stepped in and what we have -


But people aren’t listening because you’ve got these confusing messages and you’ve got different states doing different things. So it’s not working.


Sure. Look, I respect that. What happened is that we’ve got the clear medical advice that it is safe and appropriate for children to be at school. We’ve got the agreement in writing and I’m literally holding in my hand from all of the Premiers as to that.

Individual states, Victoria and New South Wales, have both indicated that in order to prepare for the possibility of online learning, they’re bringing forward by some days in terms of Victoria, the formal commencement of the holidays but that is allowing the continuation of preparation for schooling and New South Wales is also allowing for the online whilst keeping kids at school that need to be there.

They have said, if you can learn from home, learn from home. So those are the positions. And it is appropriate for individual states within the broad principles to be saying these are the needs of our system right now.


But aren’t they acting- aren’t the states acting against your advice?

If you’ve got the Premier of our biggest state encouraging parents to keep their kids at home and you’ve got the Prime Minister saying: I’m sending my kids, you should send your kids.


So very clearly here, the medical advice and the decision of the National Cabinet is schools can and wherever possible should remain open.

You’ve got the capacity of individuals states to say but as preparation for our needs, given that some were less advanced in terms of preparing for online, that they are making that capacity and that decision today.

So remember this - each state will have different needs, but the National Cabinet brought everybody together last night. There were some proposals which had been floated through the media for exactly what you and Kochie raised, as the first question, in terms of a broad shutdown of businesses by having a unified medical advice which said let us focus on social gatherings and then a decision-making process, we now have a very clear negative list.

Now, this will be hard for businesses but it will be about saving lives and protecting lives. And now, it’s all of us together, each of our decisions matters and you know what? It’s going to be hard but what I have seen over the weekend is, despite a few difficult examples, the vast majority of people are rising to the task.

And what we also need them to be doing is taking care of the elderly and the vulnerable, and supporting them and assisting them with their food deliveries and their meals.


Can you assure us that we’re truly closing our borders now, after the debacle of the cruise ship, the debacle of having a mob of 10 Americans in the Barossa Valley and six of them all tested positive together.

We sort of shake our heads and wonder whether we’re testing enough at our border. We’re hearing reports of people coming home through Singapore and they go through three temperature checks going to the plane, whereas here in Australia, they get none when they arrive.


So what we’ve done there is, firstly imposed a universal quarantine, having been one of the first countries in the world to shut the borders to China and Iran, to Korea and then to Italy which bought us significant time.

The universal quarantine for people coming home has been about those protections and then the total exclusion of non-Australians and then everybody who is coming in is being given information if they are not perceived as well, they are then going into an additional line, is the advice- the latest advice that I have from Border Force where they are being reviewed on their specific health needs.

And so we’ll continue to step those items up, that is an important thing.

On testing, which you did raise, as of this morning, the figures I have are 135,000 Australians have been tested, one of the highest rates of any country and one of the highest per capita rates of any country.

Interestingly, our- the number of people who have tested positive is approximately one per cent of that, which means that we are testing more broadly and more widely than almost anybody else. A lot higher negative test rate, which means we are filtering out very quickly those people that have the disease.

But we’ll continue to test, continue to expand, new tests approved over the course of the weekend.


Okay. Alright. Minister, really appreciate your time and clearing up a lot of those doubts for us. Thank you.


Alright. Stay safe, stay calm, and keep your distance.

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