Pharmacies across the country are facing serious shortages this morning as panic shoppers stock up on vital medicines like paracetamol and Ventolin.
The madness is prompting the Government to impose restrictions on the amount of medicine we can buy at any one time and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins us now.
Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
Asthmatics can't get Ventolin right now. I mean this is not only crazy, but this is dangerous.
That’s exactly right. And that’s why with the pharmacies yesterday we’ve imposed new rules. And this is about making sure that Ventolin and children's paracetamol are now moved what's called behind the counter. One unit provided by the pharmacist, where the pharmacist is making sure that there's genuine need.
And this is about protecting people who are vulnerable. And there have been some small number of people that have done the wrong thing, the vast majority of Australians are doing the right but we have to protect those with genuine need. So we have taken those decisions clearly and absolutely to provide those protections.
How are you going to enforce it? Is that difficult to do given that, I guess, someone can go into one pharmacist and go to another and try and stockpile that way?
And look, these are just parents - most of the people are just parents trying to look after their kids.
Yeah, we do know that there are some people that are trying to hoard and stockpile and sell overseas. Peter Dutton has put Border Force on to tracking and chasing them down and prosecuting. There will be no quarter given for those people that are doing that, trying to profiteer.
But also, the pharmacists are exercising their judgment – they’ve come right in behind it. The important thing though, is that the supply lines are good. You know, in all of these medicines, the supply lines are good and that is a very important point of reassurance.
So now it's managing the actual stocking and it's the pharmacists that have said - can you help us? And we have moved immediately in conjunction with them to put in place these new rules.
I think that is a very important reassurance for families. It may take a few days for the restocking to occur but the deep supplies in Australia of children's paracetamol, of Ventolin, and other forms of inhalers, they are strong and I think that’s just important for Australians to understand.
Minister, we had a doctor from the United States on the show earlier and he is on the front-line of this – they're obviously a couple of weeks ahead of us – but they have just seen a 40 per cent increase of in the last 24 hours.
Can you just explain to us what is happening to the graph here and the number of cases being reported in Australia?
So we're at just over 700 cases in Australia and we are about a month behind many other countries in the best sense because we put in place the closure of the borders with China on the first of February.
I know it was criticised at the time of being heavy handed but it was one of the most important decisions we've made, along with the early border closures with Iran and South Korea and Italy and all of these countries.
Now, we now have as of tonight a global ban on foreign nationals entering Australia. So these are the things that are doing what's called flattening the curve, reducing the number of infections, spreading it over time, making sure that we can protect our elderly, our vulnerable and those with respiratory conditions.
Our curve won't flatten right now though – it will be a couple of weeks before that happens.
I am really interested seeing what happens out of China. They took those drastic measures. They took those measures that we haven't yet – and that is really locking down neighbourhoods and large cities and tens of millions of people locked down – and we’ve seen their curve flatten right out – if it can be believed.
Do you look at China now and go: okay, we can be making even more decisions now. Seeing what is happening in China, if we lock down now we’re going to see a definite flattening out of that curve. How do you weigh all that up?
Well, we have locked down the borders and we’ve done that very, very clearly and that is making use of Australia's natural advantage as an island – something that’s unprecedented, something that’s once in a century type activity – and then taking all of the measures with regards to mass gatherings, of over 500 publicly, 100 internally.
You can see it in the shops and the cafes, they’ve already taken those steps. I dropped into a cafe yesterday for a moment of normality to pick up a coffee – they’d put out the tables, they had spread them out. They sort of gave me a thumbs up to say, you know, we're all in this together.
And so these are the decisions that we are taking. I'm heartened by what we see from China. I am not sure if all of the, if they've been able to gather up all of the actual cases. They're doing their best but it's an important step. And what we did is we stepped in a lot earlier than a lot of other countries which is why it's been a lot slower to take off here.
It will increase - no question, that the numbers will increase – but it's where we get to ultimately where we have flattened that curve to be within the capacity of our hospital system which itself, we're working on a massive increase in the capacity with regards to ventilators, intensive care units, and the ability to take care of the vulnerable.
Well our borders will close entirely in just over 12 hours' time. But knowing that the majority of cases have come from abroad – 80 per cent – should we have done this earlier? Days ago?
Well, I think what we have done is, as I say, one of the first countries in the world to put in place the China ban.
I know that and you've gone through that, with due respect. But you know, just in regards to this, should we have shut our border – entirely shut our borders – a few days ago?
What we've done is – when you think of where the disease is with other countries – we have done this at a far earlier time than virtually anybody else through their disease progression.
So we’re doing this while we're in the hundreds. Others have done these things while they're in the high multiple thousands. And so we have to compare country by country and what we are doing is taking these steps at a far earlier time in the disease progression.
And that is what’s helping in Australia, that's what's allowed us to delay significantly the onset. We’ve always said nobody is immune but we have been fortunate to plan early, to call early, to act early and we’ll continue to take steps without fear.
By the way, it is okay for you to say, yes, we should have shut the borders earlier.
This is a moving feast and it's very difficult to get on top of, but it's okay if you would just say it would’ve been helpful if we did this a week ago.
Well one of the things that we have to do is of course both bring Australians home and at the same time make sure that we- have others leave the country.
So you know in my view, what we have done is actually taken these decisions on mass gatherings and borders earlier than we might have – it's the opposite of what you're saying, with respect – earlier than we might have because we wanted to keep being on the front foot.
And I know other people are entitled to have their views and what we are doing is following the medical advice, working with the medical advisers.
And we said to them from the outset, from January: you be fearless, we’ll implement and that’s the relationship that we've got with the Chief Medical Officer and all of the Chief Heath Officers.
Greg, you would have had modelling – and this is the final question because I know you’ve got such a busy day ahead – you would have done modelling on this and where the curve reaches in the next couple of days and weeks because we haven't hit the peak yet.
What sort of numbers are we looking at here? And how will communities be even further implicated?
So we are looking at increases. I don't have final numbers at the moment because we're expecting new modelling in the coming weeks. I'd rather wait until I get that. Look, I'd rather wait until I get that.
One thing that I did agree with Brendan Murphy was for me not to speculate on medical items. He’ll provide the medical advice. But where we have it, we share it.
And then the important thing now is what each of us can do in our own lives. One is helping to slow the spread with the social distancing. Those that are in isolation, to continue the isolation.
But also supporting the vulnerable. Helping the elderly, getting them the meals, helping them in the shopping aisles, making sure that we are doing the things that, as a community, are our absolute best selves.
And people are doing that, there are a few people doing the wrong thing but the overwhelming majority of Australians, they’re doing the right thing and that is how we're going to get through this.
Geez – it's hard to do, isn’t it, with it the social distancing as well? I mean that’s the message.
But Greg, thank you so much for your time today. There's a lot on your plate and there’s a lot of big decisions being made. We appreciate your time, so does our audience.
Thanks for that, thanks Karl.