More than one million people have downloaded the COVIDSafe tracing app within hours of its launch despite fears that privacy concerns would discourage Australians from signing up.
Health authorities are expecting more than half the country to install the technology and the Government is prepared to make it a jailable offence to misuse the data. The app will make it easier to notify those who come into contact with an infected person and it’s hoped it will get us back to some kind of normality sooner.
Well, on that note, joining me now is the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt. Minister, good morning to you. Thanks for joining us.
So, is there an updated figure now?
Yes. So, as of 6am 1.13 million Australians have downloaded the app, they’re playing their part just as they’ve done with the social distancing and the self-isolation, the really difficult measures.
This is simply about helping us find and alert anybody who may have been exposed to the virus, it means that they can be diagnosed and protected earlier, and it can protect our nurses and our doctors, our seniors and our vulnerable Australians.
So, Australians have responded magnificently.
Yeah. Wow, 1.13 million Australians – does that come as a surprise to you?
Well, we had, in our quiet hopes, thought that we might get to a million within five days – we were lucky enough to get there within five hours. And I think Australians are very sophisticated users of technology, they understand apps, I think they understand that this has probably the most secure protections for information ever put in place by an Australian Government.
And at the same time, it’s as simple as your name, your phone number, your age range and your postcode, they’re the only four items that are provided. And what it does is it means that if you’ve been inadvertently exposed to somebody who might have the virus, you can find out - and that's why I downloaded it, because I want to find out, and we have our 88-year-old mother-in-law who lives with us.
And the last thing I would ever want to do is to see that anybody were exposed, but if you have an older vulnerable Australian, if you can help protect them, you can help protect your nurses and doctors, then that will help us, not only on the health side, but also get back to the Australian way of life as soon as possible.
Okay. Now, you did mention, the expectations were that you needed to get the 40 per cent for this to be effective. I mean, in real terms how many millions of Australians is 40 per cent?
I mean, is it the total population or is it only people who might have phones? How does that work? What are the numbers that you need?
Yeah. So, there is no magic number, as both Brendan Murphy and I said yesterday. Given that we're starting from something which didn't exist, any combination of numbers is an addition, so we're improving our capacity and one million’s an extraordinary outcome so far.
Obviously, we've been looking at the adult population and mobile phone users and in particular smartphone users, they're the group that can download the phone. So, we're well ahead of expectation, we want to keep going though and the reason why is because the more people who are able to be part of this partnership between Australians, and it's a partnership between Australians, then that will assist each of us protect another person and to protect another life.
And Australia has done extraordinarily well. We have had 10 cases in the last 24 hours. We have a rate of growth now of less than one per cent for 16 consecutive days, and less than half a per cent now for over a week. And these things are what are allowing us to save lives and protect lives and what's also assisting us to ease the restrictions as we've seen in Queensland and WA overnight.
Small steps and it won't be a rush, because we want to protect against the virus catching and having a second wave, but steps that are immensely important to our way of life.
Yep. I will get to the Queensland and WA measures in just a moment. I just have a practical question. So many people now have the app.
If it does go off and, you know, you get the message that you've been around somebody who was infected, what do you do, do you have to then take yourself to the doctor, you go get yourself a test - what’s the process there?
So, what will happen is that a public health official in one of the states would call you and say, you have been exposed to somebody that's been diagnosed positive, we would encourage you to go and get a test - and I can't imagine there's any situation where somebody would not want to get a test if they've been exposed.
And that way they'll have the security of knowing they're not positive, if that's the case, or the support for treatment if they are positive. And it's a very simple thing, you get a call from a public health official which says, you've been in proximity to somebody who's been diagnosed.
And certainly for me, and I think for everybody, that’s peace of mind, and it's practical support.
Okay. And now on those restrictions that you just talked about in Queensland and WA - do you support those restrictions?
Yes, absolutely. I think those are the result of very, very low case numbers, and they're consistent with the principles of the National Cabinet.
And they're being applied wherever you've had very, very low case numbers for a prolonged period of time - and in particular, that's been the case in Queensland and Western Australia. That gives us the freedom to return to our normal life, and our goal here is to get back to our normal life as quickly as possible, but subject to not allowing a second wave of the virus.
So they've thought it through very carefully, they've worked on the medical advice. And I think it's just a lovely thing for Australians to be able to see small but very important steps - whether it's getting together with friends, whether it's being able to be in the outdoors, these things really make a difference to health and mental health.
Well, there's no doubt that other states, or people in other states, might be looking at WA and Queensland perhaps with some jealousy at the moment.
Will National Cabinet be looking at extending those (inaudible)?
They've said that in two weeks we'll be looking at the results of this period that we're going through now and from that we'll be planning out the road map.
In fact, throughout the weekends and late into the night I know that it's - whether it's the Prime Minister, or myself, or our medical teams, or the other members of the cabinet - what we're always looking at is the low health risk, high social or economic benefit activities and they become the priorities as we work our way out of where we're at now.
And as a country we're very fortunate to have that option - there are other countries that don't have that option. We see, whether it's the UK, or the US, France, or Spain, just the extraordinary human challenge and suffering that they've been going through, and we feel for them.
But we're in such a fortunate position as a country we don’t want to make the mistake of doing things too early. But where there is a medical case, we’ll always move to reduce those restrictions as they've done in Queensland and Western Australia.
Okay. So just to clarify on that point. So you'll be watching Queensland and WA closely over the next two weeks before looking at extending it nationally?
Yes, that's correct. What we have nationally is a-
Right. So they’re kind of test cases for the rest of the nation at the moment?
Well they've had very low cases, and so they're doing exactly what the National Cabinet set out. Is- when you have a prolonged period of very, very low case and in particular what's called community transmission - cases that don't have a known origin - they're the ones that we most worry about.
If that's the situation, that you've got those low case numbers, you've got community transmission under control then steps can be taken. And so I think it's something- even if you're not in Queensland or Western Australia - it's a sign of hope and a sign of progress and it means that we're saving lives, and it's a good thing.
You might have seen the pictures of people gathering, in particular in Sydney beaches over the weekend, Minister. Are people kind of flirting with danger there? Is complacency coming in, in your opinion?
It's understandable but it's not something that's desirable at this stage. And I recognise that what we're doing is so contrary to our nature, but it's at the same time so vital to our future. So distance, amongst all the different things that we can do, keeping that distance is perhaps the most important.
And if you keep the distance from others you can't pass the virus between you, and if you don't pass the virus, then we win. If you do pass the virus, then it wins. And it's a battle against a virulent, by definition, enemy and we haven't won yet.
And so if we can keep that distance, and the measures that we've put in place have simply been about helping people keep that distance, then ultimately that's what's going to put Australia in a position where we defeat it.
I just have one final question, and I know that you're very keen to get students back in school as soon as possible. There were some interesting comments on the weekend about the CEO of Hoyts, who wants to get people back into cinemas by July - that's the timeframe that he wants.
I mean, what are your thoughts on something like that? Is the possible reopening of gyms sometime soon an option given that so many people are outside getting exercise at the moment?
Sure. So mass gatherings are probably at the later end of anything - our borders and mass gatherings.
I know the Chief Medical Officer, the Prime Minister, myself, the medical advisors around the country, we're being upfront that they are later measures rather than earlier measures.
There may be ways - cinemas having every seat between people vacant unless they're from the same family group - those are possibilities, but these are the questions that we're working through very carefully in terms of risk as opposed to benefit.
And so we want to get as many people back to work as quickly as we possibly can, and people back to their normal lives.
But as I say, it's that health safety which is our first step, because if we have a second wave as we've seen in some other countries then that brings everything back. And so small steps forward, gradually and that's what's going to get us there on a cautious basis that saves lives.
Alright. Health Minister, Greg Hunt, really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.
No, it's a real pleasure.