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Interview with Sabra Lane on ABC AM about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of a Minister Hunt's interview on ABC AM with Sabra Lane about coronavirus (COVID-19) on 18 March 2020.

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

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General public


The World Health Organization is encouraging countries to test, test, test, yet until now, Australia has strictly limited tests to people who've returned from overseas or had contact with a confirmed case.

The Australian Medical Association says the public messaging about who should be tested is confusing and there's also the problem of the world shortage of some reagents in the kits.

The Health Minister is Greg Hunt, he joins us now. Good morning, and welcome to the program.


Good morning, Sabra.


Foreign Affairs is now urging Australians to come home now.

Is that because you fear countries will shut borders very quickly, or because you think a number of airlines will just simply stop flying?


Both elements play into that.

What we want to do is to encourage Australians to come home where they are likely to seek to come home in the coming weeks or months.

Now is the time to look to do that.

We can't guarantee what other countries will do with their borders, and we can't guarantee what commercial airlines, internationally, will do.

Qantas looks to continue to fly, I spoke with Alan Joyce yesterday.

But we think the safest thing is for those Australians who can come home to come home.

There's a universal self-isolation of 14 days, which is about protecting individuals but also protecting the whole of the country when they do come home.


All right. You're announcing 97,000 new testing kits are arriving in Australia this week. So far Australia has used 81,000 tests since the first case was detected here 52 days ago.

How long will those new test kits last?


Well these won't be the last, so we're expecting to be able to provide continuous testing going forward.

There is a global shortage, but Australia's rate of 81,000 tests for a half a per cent positive rate is one of the absolute highest in the world.

We've done that by focusing on the priority cases, those most at risk, those who've been travelling overseas or who've had close contact with a known case and have symptoms.

That's meant that we've been able to isolate and find cases as quickly as possible.

And the reason we do this is ultimately to protect the vulnerable, to focus on those most risks.

And as we've said, ninety-nine and a half per cent of cases have resulted in negative cases.

So if we can continue to focus on those most at risk, that's how we will protect our elderly and those with respiratory conditions or other immunocompromised conditions.


All right. Will the testing criteria be broadened now, given that some GPs say one in four patients being diagnosed now actually don't fit the testing criteria?


Well the advice from the communicable disease experts and the chief health officers has reaffirmed the existing testing conditions, and if somebody does have symptoms.


So that’s a no?


At this stage they're not proposing to change that for the very reason that we're receiving about ninety-nine and a half per cent negative on the tests.

But what we are saying to people is if they are ill, then obviously they should speak with their GP.

We have telehealth facilities that are available now. We have the general practices; we have over a 100 pop-up clinics that have been established in conjunction with the (inaudible) bodies.


But they won't be established though until late May. Is that right?


No. We now have over 100, particularly we've been talking with the states in the establishment of that.

And all of these are available options.

The phone, the GP, the clinics that have been established with the states, so I do want to thank them for their extraordinary work.

They are operating as a single nation, and I think that's immensely important.


Just on the practicalities, France is now telling its citizens not to use ibuprofen products with virus cases as patients seem to deteriorate with that drug. What advice are you getting on that?


So the chief health officers are considering all of those medical elements, so I'll let them provide that medical advice – I know that's one of the items which they are considering.

What we are saying is that people should not be taking measures unless they have specific medical advice, that's a very important thing to do, that what we see now is a lot of internet advice going around.

Talk with your GP, work with your doctor, go to This is the time to turn to the trusted sources, not to internet advisors.


Okay, we're going to move on. The Financial Review is reporting this morning that keeping schools open to allow children to get the virus and spread it because they appear to only get mild symptoms was discussed by the Government on the weekend to allow a form of herd immunity. Is that right?



We- I have not been involved with it, and I'm not aware of any discussions or proposal to this idea that we should be spreading the virus.

I think that's a ridiculous proposition, that's been rejected by the chief health officers.

What we are focusing on in terms of schools is that in many ways it is one of the safest places for children because they are far less likely to contract the virus than the general population – and less likely to contract the flu, and that it has far less impact on them.

Putting them at home with grandparents, taking potentially 30 per cent of the health workforce out of the work- out of the working operations, would put the vulnerable at risk and would also reduce our capacity to respond to the crisis.

That's what the chief health officers have very, very, very strongly advised off the back of the Communicable Disease Network of Australia advice – so the expert virologist’s and contagious disease specialists in Australia.


Aged care homes – what is the advice on restricting visitors there? And are you planning to restrict numbers in pubs and clubs?


So the Premiers have met with the Prime Minister late into the night in this National Unity Cabinet, that is unique I believe.


Sure. And the answers are?


Are considering mass gatherings and internal gatherings. I expect that the Prime Minister, on behalf of that National Cabinet, will be making statements with greater restrictions on internal gatherings shortly in the course of the morning. And in terms of.


Why can’t you tell us now?


I will allow the Premiers and the Prime Minister to finalise their advice, which is what they've been doing over the course of the evening.

And the Prime Minister will complete that work with them and then be in a position to announce that very, very shortly.

But the very clear direction is that there will be additional safeguards put in place.

And in terms of aged care homes, similarly, there will be tighter restrictions – these were flagged on Friday. And our elderly and our most vulnerable.


If you're not going into detail right now, we will move on.


Well, that work is being done literally as we speak by the Prime Minister finalising with the states – so as soon as that is done they will be announced. But the direction is clear, additional measures on internal gatherings.


It's reported by The New Daily this morning that a businessman who attended a Liberal Party fundraiser with Peter Dutton now has the virus and he says Mr Dutton is the only known person who he's had contact with who he knows has the virus.

Have you been tested for it given that you were in close proximity with Mr Dutton last week?


I have, yes, and the reason why is because I met the case definition for a short period.

The answer was negative and that was on Thursday of last week.

I had a heavy night sweat, it then turned out that- and then once we had information that I'd been in contact.

But we’d subsequently discovered two things – that that contact pre-dated the period for which he was described as being contagious, turned out that it was negative and we move on from that – I’m one of the 81,000 people that has.

But we met the case definition, I self-isolated and was subsequently tested, and that turned out to be negative.


Minister, thank you for your time on AM this morning.


Thanks very much.

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