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Interview with Leon Byner on 5AA about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Leon Byner on 5AA about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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I have on the line the Federal Health Minister who has got some pretty important things to talk about today, Greg Hunt. Greg, thank you for joining us this morning.


Good morning, Leon.


Now, the Prime Minister announced yesterday the country's first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health and I think that's been a very good move.

And we understand that you, with this National Cabinet meeting tomorrow with all of the usual experts, are going to take a major pandemic plan for mental health.

Can you give us some idea of what it might look like?


Well what's happening is that the health or mental health ministers around the country have worked on a pandemic plan. So it’s a Cabinet plan.

It will go to them, so I don't want to pre-empt them, but essentially what we are looking at is how to monitor, provide support and then ultimately, to help people find a pathway back from whether it's the health anxiety, whether it's the anxiety of isolation, whether it's the anxiety related to that economic fear, job loss, mortgages, debt that we're providing that support and we're looking at how we assist the population.

So for example, we've been providing support for headspace, for Beyond Blue, for Lifeline but what do the states and the Commonwealth together need to do that’s going to assist people.

So it’ll be with the National Cabinet tomorrow but it's been agreed by all of the health ministers so far and the Mental Health Minister, so it's progressing along those three fronts.


Alright. So again, might we have some sort of announcement after- after this meeting tomorrow, in a press conference?


Well I'm- I'm always a little cautious on pre-empting somebody else's Cabinet meeting so that's a meeting of the premiers and the Prime Minister.

And if they get through, then they'll certainly announce it in due course, but they might- might decide to come back with other work or have additional things they want.

But if it's acceptable, then I'm sure they'll release it over the course of the next 48 hours. That’s certainly the plan.


Many of the- many of the states are deciding what to do and how they'll do it.

But of course, in New South Wales, we have the decision that as of tomorrow, they're going to open up a lot of the pubs and so on. You're totally comfortable with that?


Yes. Well that's actually in line with the national plan.

So what we call the road map and that set out three steps and they're following the 10-person principle and in many ways, South Australia is perhaps ahead of the pack, for the simple reason that in the course of the last seven days, you've had one case; in the last three days zero cases.

You’re- but with New South Wales, what they've done is they've said: well if pubs and clubs can operate with 10 people and they're sorry that it can't be more than that, then they're free to start.

And I think that's a really positive move.

And as I said, if any one state is able to release restrictions, that should be celebrated in every state.

When I say the things that South Australia is doing and the focus on regional tourism, I think gee, that's great. That's a real national leader, so it's a very positive step forward.


I just want to- I want to get your take on this business of what's often called this second wave.

We're doing very well in SA and is this second wave likely to be, in your view, a mental health issue or is it the spread of corona? What is it?

Because at the moment, the social distancing is very important and everybody's got to observe that. So where do we stand there?


So the term is being used on both fronts and firstly, it's in relation to a second wave of coronavirus itself.

Now, we're well-placed to avoid that but we will only avoid that if we continue to maintain this physical distancing that people are doing and whether it's- you know, in any circumstance, if you can maintain that one and a half metres distance, maintain the control of the coughs into your elbow, use hand antiseptics and wash frequently, all of these things make a huge difference and that'll help protect you and your family.

Download the app. I heard an advertisement just before I came on. Download the app. That will also give you greater protection as you go out into the public.

With regards to mental health, we do know that wherever there's been an economic crisis in the past, we've seen an increase in mental health challenges.

And so that's why we have the pandemic plan, why we've appointed the first Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health in Australia- Australian history Professor Ruth Vine and also why we have invested very significantly in telehealth, as well as the services that I mentioned, Beyond Blue, headspace, Lifeline, Black Dog for our health workers, just to make sure that we're getting ahead of that curve.

And so there are risks on that mental health front but that's why the support, but also getting people back to work because it takes away both some of the isolation and it takes away the economic fear.


By the way, what's the tally of the number of downloads we've had so far, Minister?


At 6:30 this morning, I think it was 5.68 million which is immensely gratifying; well ahead of where we'd expected today at this stage.

But we always want to encourage more people for the simple reason that it increases your safety.

If you come into contact with somebody, you might be on public transport, you might have been- they may have been inadvertently closer to you than perhaps they should have been and you would never have known their name, but they diagnosed positive, you'll be able to be contacted by the health officials and say somebody you were near has been diagnosed positive, we’d encourage you to go and get a test.

And if you've got elderly parents or if you're working in an aged care facility or something like that, it'll protect you but it will protect other people around you.


Are you concerned about the reports coming out of other countries like the US of the incidents, albeit rare, of young children showing symptoms of what's being called Kawasaki disease but there's been some question about whether it's connected to COVID-19?

Have your experts given you any feedback on this?


So we have asked that both the Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly to provide an update to the National Cabinet.

At this stage, they have not seen any signs or incidences of this occurring in Australia.

It’s a condition which is not unknown in Australia, but they haven't seen any uptake and uptick of it in Australia.

They're also looking at the global evidence as to whether it's a disease which has been showing through all of the testing that's occurring which might have been there in any event or whether it's a cause, whether it's followed from coronavirus in children.

And so there's no definitive answer on that. They’re getting the best science; the best medical evidence and they'll be providing that to the National Cabinet tomorrow.

But at this stage, no evidence of it occurring in Australia.


Greg Hunt, thank you very much for coming on this morning and clarifying matters for the people of South Australia. That's Health Minister Greg Hunt.

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