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Interview with Natalie Barr on Sunrise about COVID-19

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

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

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Let's get more on the Government's tough new virus measures. For more, I'm joined by Greg Hunt.

Thanks for your time this morning, Minister.


Good morning, Nat.


We’ve seen a dramatic rise in cases over the last few days. Are most of them from overseas travellers?


Correct. So the majority of cases are from overseas which is why we have moved from having closed the borders with China and Iran and Korea and Italy and put in 14 days self-isolation, to a total closure of the borders as of 9pm tonight, as you just mentioned.

That’s unprecedented and it is a dramatic move but it's being done for one simple reason - to flatten the curve. And what does flatten the curve mean? Reduce the number of infections in Australia, to spread that load and then ultimately to protect the vulnerable, the elderly and those with respiratory complications.


Minister, aren’t we only testing people who’ve been overseas recently or who have had a direct contact with someone who's got it?

So how do we know that it hasn't spread wider through the community?


Well we are testing the highest risk cases – 85,000 tests is the latest figure that I have – I’ll get updated figures as the day goes on. That 85,000 is one of the highest testing rates in the world, it’s had a 99.5% negative rate.

So clearly that means that we’re testing a huge number of people who do not have the condition. And so we are focusing on the highest risks, for the honest reason of managing the test kits and the capacity to do the pathology tests by focusing on those most likely.

But everybody is, where they have a need, given access through Telehealth – I think over 36,000 Telehealth consultations – approaching the GP, approaching the emergency department if they are more ill, or going through the pop-up clinics of which there are now over 130 around Australia.

So multiple avenues so as people can consult a doctor, and if there is a belief that a test is necessary, giving them those tests.


But you know what I mean – could it be wider through the community?

Because there’s really- most people who are allowed tests have to have a link to overseas. You're not allowed to have a test if you're not.


So what we’re doing at the moment, as I say, with over 85,000 tests – one of the highest in the world – is making sure that we are focusing on the priority cases, the most likely cases.

What we are also doing, and I think this goes directly to your question, is looking at being able to expand it through what’s called point-of-care tests. We had the first point-of-care test approved yesterday, we have 100,000 of those kits already in Australia.

This will allow increase testing but we have to make sure they’re going to be effective – that’s the important thing, are they effective? That’s what the head of the- our medical regulator, Professor John Skerritt is doing.

One hundred thousand in place of those in addition to the other 100,000 test kits we got only a few days ago and so we’ll continue to expand that testing.

But all the medical advice is focused on the highest priority cases first so we don’t miss those and then with these new point-of-care testing, over the coming days we’ll be able to expand the range of tests that are available.

So fair question and there’s an important piece of new information, what I've just given.


Okay. So they're being rolled out now.

So let's talk about the trouble people have been getting medication. We’re hearing that baby Panadol is in short supply, people are posting it around the country, normal Panadol, Ventolin.

Can you give us an update on that?


Yeah. So those two medicines in particular were the subject of hoarding, and I think that was very unfortunate, by a small number of people.

Two things on that front – Peter Dutton is cracking down in- he is going to chase down through Home Affairs and Border Force those that are hoarding and trying to sell overseas.

And then secondly, we’ve put in place new restrictions with the pharmacists yesterday on precisely those medicines - limited numbers of sales, focused on those with a genuine need.

That they moved to what’s called behind the counter and so the pharmacists will have the discretion to look for a real need and to make sure they're supplying one pack, one unit. Because taking Ventolin away from people who have asthma is not just unfortunate, but it's completely inappropriate.

Now, the vast majority of Australians are stepping up, exactly as you guys talked about before I came on air - they are doing the right thing, they are showing incredible spirit. They’re practising social isolation; they’re taking care of the elderly.

But for those few who are doing the wrong thing - not only stop it, but we will come after you as Peter Dutton said yesterday.


Yeah. Look, every day there is another problem for you guys to solve.

Thank you very much, Minister, for your time this morning.


That's alright, we’ll get through this. It's six months, it’s going to be difficult; it’s going to be unprecedented but there is an unbelievable spirit and we will get through this.


Yeah. Greg Hunt, thank you.

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