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Interview with Peter Stefanovic on Sky News about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Peter Stefanovic on Sky News about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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Well, joining me live now is the Health Minister Greg Hunt. Minister, good morning, good to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

So, you’ve got Victoria that’s surging to new highs, a baby now infected, COVID flooding aged care facilities. Is now the time to move to Stage 4 restrictions?


Well, as the Victorians have already said, the Premier, effectively the move to a population wide mandatory masks represents that.

If more restrictions are required, the state will take them and the Federal Government will support them.

And so, they make it on a medical basis, the decisions, they’re constantly reviewing, they’re engaged through what’s called the medical expert panel.

So, right now, everybody in the Melbourne area is doing their bit, overwhelmingly positive actions form the community.

It is serious, it is challenging, it’s my community, it’s my area, and I can see the concern and the distress, but people are rising to the occasion.

So, we’ve got more work to do, it’s going to be a difficult period, but in the end we’ll get there.


When are you expecting numbers to peak and then drop, Minister?


It- the honest answer is there’s no final definitive position in advance right now, cases are being chased down, testing is at very high levels, we are having over 50,000 tests a day on average around the country with Victoria representing a very significant component of that.

And what we do have to do is make sure that the masks, the distancing, the hand hygiene, and above all else, the staying at home in conjunction with the rules is followed.

If we can do that and if we can get the tracing to the level where each case, every day, is not just being contacted but being fully followed through – and that’s what the ADF has been brought in to do, to assist Victoria, to step in.

Then those are the things that are going to get it down.

So, I’m respectfully not going to put a time on it, I am saying that we’re going to keep fighting until we get there.


I’m sure you’re in a constant state of concern at the moment Minister, but I mean it does seem alarming, the numbers that are coming out of aged care facilities at the moment, and some quite concerning stories that I’d like to ask you about this morning too.

It relates to St Basil’s aged care facility, so there’s reports that the staff provided by the Commonwealth to St Basil’s aged care facility are junior nursing graduates, they’re completely unprepared for the role.

Some residents have been left without food, others abandoned in soiled beds, there’s no handover, no keys for medicine cabinets. Is that actually happening?


So, I spoke with the archbishop of the Greek diocese last night, they are ultimately the responsible party.

We have stepped in because the Victorian Public Health Unit made a ruling that all staff who were part of St Basil's had to isolate; so it was a facility that was immediately left without any staff whatsoever.

So, the Commonwealth has brought in a senior nurse unit manager, they've had senior geriatricians on site, they've had a range of staff.

Seventy-nine out of 115 residents have been moved, and one of the things we've done with the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, a partnership with the Victorian Government, is to make sure that there are no barriers to residents being moved to public hospitals.

I did have a report, a very concerning report yesterday from the CEO of one of the major aged care providers that they'd had multiple attempts to have patients admitted to public hospitals and that had been resisted.

Our job is to step in and to help them ensure that there are no barriers, no resistance at the public health unit level and the public hospital level in Victoria.

So, all of these things are happening.

It is a difficult situation, we're working with the residents, we're working with their families.

We've brought in emergency staff because every staff member, I'm advised, was told to isolate by the Victorian Public Health Unit which meant that the facility had to have an entirely new complement of staff brought in which we oversaw and managed immediately.


But I mean, that's the point there, that it's creating this confusion and now some residents want St Basil’s completely shut down. What's your reaction to that?


Well, we have assisted in the transfer of 79 out of 115.

Many of the families have a very different view because residents with dementia, a dementia specific ward which is tailored for their needs, knowing that a hospital situation might not be as safe for a resident with dementia, where naturally we understand that people in that situation are not aware of all their circumstances, that they can be highly mobile.

Where, as we know, because of the Aged Care Royal Commission, we're deeply concerned about restraints, and so we want to make sure that people are in a safe environment, not a restrained environment, and that's what a dementia specific ward does.

So, speaking with the archbishop, we've had communications with the families, whilst there are some with a particular view, there are others with a very different perspective.

Our job is to make sure that it's a safe environment, having had all of the staff mandatorily subject to isolation by a decision of the Victorian Public Health Unit.


But I mean, numbers- the death toll is going to rise. There's no real way around that, is there?


No, there isn't.

And I think it's very important for us to be honest that wherever – whether it's in Australia or around the world, where we're now well over 16 million cases, a million cases in four days, and heading towards 20 million and beyond.

Wherever case numbers rise significantly – we've seen over 6000 cases in Victoria in July – then what we see as a consequence is that this is a deadly disease, and it has a huge human toll which is why we're fighting it on every possible front.


For the aged care workers, including medical staff, will now get paid pandemic leave to basically to encourage them to take time off if they're not feeling well. Is that something you support?


Well, it's a decision of the Fair Work Commission.

One of the things which has been absolutely part of our guidance is that if somebody does have symptoms, no matter where they are under any circumstances, then they should be isolating and they should be getting a test.

In particular, Victoria already has additional paid support for people who are isolating, so both the paid support is in place within Victoria and the guidance is absolutely clear that if you do have symptoms you should be isolating.

And so, it effectively reinforces what's already in place.


Okay. And just finally Minister – we've got about 15 seconds left – but have you got a warning to people who might be considering going to the Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney today?


Don't. You could take somebody’s life. It's as simple as that.


Okay. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.


Thanks Peter.

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