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Interview with Leon Byner on 5AA on COVID-19 Vaccines, South Australia COVID-19 outbreak, and Border closures.

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Leon Byner on 5AA on COVID-19 Vaccines, South Australia COVID-19 outbreak, and Border closures.

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

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Greg Hunt, thanks for joining us this morning. As you know, South Australia went into lockdown at midnight last night; 23 cases, what do you think? Good thing?


Look, obviously, we recognise the situation in South Australia.

But South Australia has been a (inaudible) model and I’m very confident that they’re already on top of it, in terms of their testing and tracing and I’m optimistic that within a matter of days, South Australia will be able to say clearly and confidently that they have fully dealt with this issue.

So, you know, they’re taking strong steps; going hard, go early, that’s the lesson from Victoria and I think they’ve learnt that lesson and they’ve put in place what we hope and expect would be a pre-emptive and temporary response.


There is an issue with medi-hotels and staff who might work in a medi-hotel and then go and do something else and then infect people.

We only yesterday started doing some regular testing on the staff.

That's something that the Victorians took a very harsh lesson from, wasn't it?


Well, it is clear, and we've encouraged at the Commonwealth level and through the Chief Medical Officer, to have the mandatory testing of staff.

And that's now been agreed through the national medical expert panel or what's known as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

So, I welcome that step. And that, in fact, has provided an important early diagnosis in this case.

And so, otherwise the presentation wouldn't have occurred and so, it's already yielding those results.


Okay, what's the latest on the Government's position on vaccines? Because we hear today from Pfizer, they're saying that their vaccine is 92 per cent, 94 per cent.

Have you figured out which one we want and which one we're ordering?


Yes. So, we've ordered and we have contracts for four vaccines and Pfizer is one of them, as well as AstraZeneca, Novavax and the University of Queensland molecular clamp.

We also have access to another 25 million units of vaccine through what's called the international COVAX facility.

So, we've got enough vaccine potentially, subject to success and approvals, to vaccinate Australia three times over.

And you might say, well, why would you do that? Because nobody knows which vaccines will be successful.

But, our medical experts have identified the class of vaccines that we need and the most advanced and likely vaccines and their choices appear to be very, very good.

And Pfizer is, as I say, one of them. And so, what we do know is that increasingly it's clear that there will be a range of vaccines that are highly likely to be successful and effective.

That's good for Australia and it's incredibly important for the world.


Is there a timeline here where it will be available and distributed? What are we looking at?


So, our expectation remains that the first vaccines will be provided to health workers, and subject to approvals, to the elderly in March and then we’ll progressively rollout around the country.

And our expectation, again, remains, and indeed the guidance has been reaffirmed and strengthened, that we'll be able to provide all Australians who seek to be vaccinated with a vaccine during and before the end of 2021.


Tell me, looking at the country as a whole, how are we shaping up? Because you're across every state and what every state’s doing and there's been – we, in South Australia had a number of states who basically said to us, well, if you come here, you've got to self-isolate for 14 days.

Are you happy with that? Or do you think that the premiers ought to be being somewhat more in uniform as to what's going on?


We think the approach which New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT has taken is, of what you call enhanced screening, is very appropriate.

If other states wish to go further, that's a matter for them and they can set out their reasons.

But we think that approach has is in line with the Commonwealth's advice and in line with the position of the medical experts.

But, as a country, we are doing extraordinarily. But there will be outbreaks. We've always said there will be outbreaks.

It could be a touch or as appears to have been the case here at South Australia's advice is that it may well have been a surface transfer of breath.

But- and, you know, whether it's returning travellers, whether it's the fact that we're sending out wool or our wheat overseas and ships have to come in, whether it's we're receiving critical medical supplies, whether through air or through shipping.

In a world with half a million cases a day, we have to presume that there will be transfers, there will be transmissions.

The strength of the Australian response is actually our contact tracing and our testing and South Australia has done an incredible job on their contact tracing and testing.

The way they're mapping the family and the contacts around them, that's actually leading to very early disclosure of asymptomatic cases.

In other words, finding the cases early. It's a model in the way that New South Wales has been doing it.

Queensland's done a great job. I've seen the ACT quarantine system in place. I've lived it twice now, and that's outstanding.

So, it doesn't matter what side of politics is in government. Overwhelmingly, we're seeing a very, very strong response around Australia that's protecting Australians and making us literally the envy of much of the world.


What is interesting is that New South Wales have not had any lockdowns. They had a pub, where there were 34 cases reported and they got on top of that, but they didn't even lock the street down.

And then last night, we had a huge crowd in Brisbane at Suncorp, 50,000 people, record crowd.

Where here, we're only allowed to have, if we're lucky, 27,000. What do you make of this?


So, different states will respond to their needs; as they have greater clarity on the ground as they have long periods of zero cases as we've seen in the vast majority of states, and they're able to provide greater freedoms.

Our hope in South Australia is obviously that these are very temporary measures and our expectation is that South Australia is already on top of this through their testing and tracing.

But, because in particular of the Woodville Pizza Parlour case and the potential for spread from there, they are taking strong precautionary measures.

But, as a consequence of all of this, our hope and our strong expectation is that South Australia will control it and that will allow the people of Adelaide and the people of South Australia to return towards normal or COVID-normal as soon as possible.

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