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Interview with Tim Gilbert on Sky News Saturday Edition about COVID-19

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Tim Gilbert on Sky News Saturday Edition about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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Now we are joined by the Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt. Minister, what’s the latest update on coronavirus cases here in Australia?


So the latest advice from the National Incident Centre in the briefing just before coming on air, at 5,454 cases in Australia. Very sadly, 28 lives lost. And a figure that I follow very closely is the number of cases on ventilators, and 33 is the last figure that I have.

That’s very important, that’s significantly lower than we had anticipated at this time. All of those cases are obviously very serious, but that means that the capacity in our system is far greater than many had predicted at this time.

And so what we have seen, most importantly, is a first set of early signs of the flattening of the curve, going from 25 to 30 per cent daily infection rate growth down to the low teens and now safely below 10 per cent. A lot of work to do, a long way to go, but all of the hard work of Australians is beginning to yield real dividends in terms of lives saved and infections prevented.

And I just want to say thank you to Australians for doing the most difficult of things, but it really is beginning to make a difference.


Minister Hunt, do we have enough ventilators in Australia if things get worse?


So, all of the advice is that we have capacity for even the most difficult of situations. We’re going — and this is part of the equation, reducing the infection rate or containing the virus, and increasing the capacity — we’re going from 2,200 ventilators up to 4,400 from within the existing system.

Then we’ve contracted ResMed, a great Australian firm that manufactures here in Australia, which is really important, to help add another 5,500. That will provide additional and spare capacity.

We’re expecting to have about 7,500 ventilator ICU beds that are ready and available for even the most difficult of circumstances, but then with spare capacity around Australia because one may never know exactly where a hot spot or an outbreak might occur.

And so that’s the combination all-in-one — reducing the infection rate, bringing that curve down, border controls, the best testing regime, we believe, in the world, with now 281,000 cases, contact tracing and all of these very, very difficult but critically important life-saving social isolation measures.

And then increasing the capacity with our GPs and telehealth, our aged care, our pharmacists, and then above all else our hospitals, where we’ve brought the private sector in, 57,000 extra nurses and a near quadrupling of our ventilator capacity.


A lot of Australians want to know the answer to the next question. If we see the number of new cases in Australia continue to decline in a fortnight from now, can we start to reduce some of the restrictions on our lives?


Look, we’re being completely upfront about the fact that we think this is a very difficult 6-month period that we have to go through. All of the assessments that we’ve had from our expert contagious disease specialists, from our virologists, our epidemiologists, from our Chief Medical Officers, is that we are looking at a 6-month period.

Wherever we can we want to make sure that Australians can live their best lives possible, but it is a difficult period and I think it’s extremely important that the Prime Minister and myself and others are giving Australians the most honest guidance.

Some other countries and some other individuals have talked about the fact that we could magically stop everything for 2 weeks and then it would all go away. That’s not an honest assessment in our view. We are giving a guidance of Australia having to go through this over a period of 6 months.

But we are a very different country now than what we’ve seen in other countries around the world. And that’s the result of the partnership between the Australian people and the state and the Australian governments, and now we’re one Australian family and that family is beginning to take steps that are protecting each other and saving lives.

We’re going to have to go through this for a while, and I’m sorry to say this, but it’s absolutely critical that each of us plays our part. Every one of us can save a life, or any one of us by doing the wrong thing could risk a life. These measures save lives and they protect lives and they’re going to be with us for a while.


Now, that magical number of 6 months, you will be, we heard Scott Morrison say yesterday, there is provisions to be nimble inside of that 6-month period if things do get a lot better.


Absolutely. We have flexibility here, and we took steps in to help Australians get to the point where we are. Now, they are helping to lead the world in the way that they are isolating, they are supporting each other, communities are helping with home deliveries.

Equally, as we come out, there’s the capacity to be flexible in that. But we’d much prefer to give a very honest guidance and assessment, but also to know that where we can be flexible we will.

But the best guidance we have, the most honest guidance is that we are in a 6-month period unlike any that we are ever likely to face during the course of our lives, unlike anything since the Second World War.

But what we have seen is early, promising sign of stabilised flattening of the curve, which means reduced daily rate of infection growth. That’s profoundly important.

There would have been thousands and thousands more cases by now and the risks would have been great, and this is what Australians have helped deliver by following the social isolation practices and just respecting the fact that each person can save the life of another.


There’s a lot of focus on possible vaccines, but have you got any positive news on antiviral drugs?


Yes we do. I’m very pleased to be able to say that we’ve just had confirmed from overseas overnight that one of the international manufacturers will provide 2,000 courses for Australian patients of hydroxychloroquine.

Their condition is that it has to be used in hospital on patients. It will now be a matter, once we have these stocks arrive, for the individual doctors and hospital systems to determine whether it’s appropriate, whether they believe it’s safe.

But there are multiple trials going on around Australia: vaccines, preventions and treatments. The vaccines, the honest view is if any are to be successful, they’re a bit further away but we’re rushing at light speed to do that, as is the rest of the world.

The treatments, there’s very important work going on in Australia at the University of Queensland, the Doherty Institute, the CSIRO, Monash University, the University of Melbourne. There are some early, promising signs, a long way to go, but what’s the message in all of this?

As we begin to contain and begin to have that suppressive effect and flatten that curve, we’re also increasing the capacity and research is a fundamental part of that. And we’re deeply engaged as a nation both in our own research and in global research.


Now, Mr Hunt, for those who are still wondering why there is such a big intrusion on their life, my life right now, what do you say to them?


It’s very simple: that social distancing and self-isolation save lives. And we know that because where there have been gatherings around the world we have seen mass and catastrophic outbreaks.

In Italy, for example, the match in northern Italy which saw huge rates, we believe, and this is the international analysis, of community transmission, meant that that was in many ways the epicentre of what has become such an agonising national tragedy for Italy.

And so these most difficult decisions in terms of restaurants and cafes which have such a profound impact on the business owners, but Josh Frydenberg and Mathias Cormann and the Prime Minister have been putting in place the JobSeeker and the JobKeeper programs to protect people.

These decisions are the things that are helping Australia put itself in a very different position than other countries. A long way to go, but health, safety, protecting lives, these are the things that come from individuals literally keeping their distance and recognising that each person, and this is an incredible gift, is in a position to help protect lives and save lives by adhering to the rules.

It’s possibly the most important thing beyond what we do with our families that many of us will do in our lives. And it’s so counterintuitive to who we are, but so critical to protecting our lives and our future as a country.


There is absolutely no time to be blasé, we have to be vigilant. But if there was ever a time where Australia knows it is the lucky country, I mean, there was a famous book written: 'The Lucky Country' by Donald Horne.

We are very fortunate to live where we do.


I think that’s absolutely right, and sometimes we underestimate the Australian spirit, and what we are seeing now is the Australian spirit. I saw it yesterday, I sort of hadn’t really been a human for the last 3 months going back through to the bushfires.

I just slipped out to collect some groceries for my wife, I went to a place called Tully’s, which is a produce store, they have drive-through, they created it so that there’s no direct human interaction. These sorts of things are being done creatively around the country.

Meals on Wheels, support for seniors who are isolated, the respect for the distancing rules, all of these things are occurring. This Australian spirit is evolving into a single Australian family. Yes, there’s a long way to go, there will be people who are lonely and isolated.

That’s why we’ve created telehealth — taken Medicare literally online — 10 years’ worth of work in 10 days, created a single national hospital system with all of the private hospitals. But all of these things are part of a can-do spirit that says, you know, it’s as difficult a thing as we will face in our lives as a country, but my belief is that we’ll get there.

And my belief is we’ll get there, yes we’re helping to do the right things, but it is Australians that are delivering these outcomes. So please, I know it’s hard, but keep that distance, keep these self-isolation practices and distancing practices going, and that is what is going to allow us to get through it.

There’s going to be good days and bad days, but all up I’d rather be in Australia than anywhere else.


Absolutely. Minister Hunt, I hope that you and your wife are able to cook up a lovely meal from the produce you got from Tully’s and enjoy your Saturday as best you can.


Thanks very much, take care.

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