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Interview with Waleed Aly and Carrie Bickmore on The Project about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's interview with Waleed Aly and Carrie Bickmore on The Project about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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For the very latest, we’re catching up with Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Minister, new cases are down which is great news, but is there a chance that there might be a whole lot of people in the community who perhaps have mild symptoms who haven’t been tested?

Is there a chance we may not be getting the true numbers here?


So, we do have progress and good news, and that is that the curve is coming down, that the rate of growth is now well below two per cent a day.

But our most significant fear is that there are undiagnosed cases within the community, which is why we’re testing broadly.

The indicators that we’ve got probably one of the most accurate regimes are sadly the number of lives lost – approximately one per cent, which is one of the lowest rates in the world.

And it indicates that we are capturing the cases that are commensurate with the loss of life.

That’s the ultimate indicator of how widespread a condition is in the country.

And secondly, the level of positive cases as a percentage of all of those tested.

And if those positives are low, then that’s an indication that you’re testing very widely.

In some countries it’s nine, 10, 11 per cent. In Australia it’s below two per cent, and indeed has been slightly falling after initial increasing.


Just on testing, Minister - we’ve got twelve hotspots in New South Wales identified today where anyone with flu or cold-like symptoms is being urged to get tested.

In Western Australia, anyone with those symptoms – everybody, no matter where they are – is being urged to get tested.

Do we need some commonality between the states on this question of testing?


So, there’s a medical expert panel which is nationwide that sets the rules, and as the states are capable of expanding their testing, they're doing that, and that's the focus on both hotspots and symptoms.

Now, because we've increased our capacity and there are fewer people presenting, because there are literally fewer people with symptoms, we are able to expand that testing still.

And all the isolation, coupled with the testing and the tracing and the border controls, is what’s allowed us to continue to reduce the rate of infection growth, to flatten the curve, but now we’re in a position to expand that testing regime.


So, if you’re watching from home now and you've got cold or flu symptoms, should you get tested? Who should be going to get tested?


So, the general rule is if you have had contact or you've travelled and you have symptoms.

But now in areas where there are hotspots, or higher numbers of cases, they're looking for anybody with respiratory symptoms.

So exactly what you just set out.

And so these are the things that are allowing us to catch more cases, and the more successful we are, the broader and broader our testing is becoming.


What lessons do you take from the Singapore situation that we've heard about today?

They had it under control and now it seems that it’s less under control and they are going to have to take some more measures.


I think this is one of the most important lessons for Australia.

The risk of loosening too early means that we would put ourselves at risk of a second wave.

We're in a very strong position. What we could do wrong would be to loosen too early.

So, we have to hold the course for now, whilst planning for the road out.

And I know it's very difficult, but when you see, as I did today, the interview of the Governor of Illinois – so, Chicago is the capital city, and they had 47 lives lost in a day, and they had almost 25 times the per capita loss of life that we have, you realise that the alternative is dramatically worse, so what we're doing now is saving lives, and the longer we maintain whilst planning the way out, the more chance of avoiding a second wave, the more lives that will be saved.


Just quickly, before we let you go, I noticed today you announced funding into research into the level of immunity into the community.

So, that’s interesting, I think, trying to assess how immune we are as a population.

Is the idea that once you figure that out, you can figure out when to ease restrictions?


Look, what the work of the Doherty Institute and others are doing is looking for natural immunity.

It's very different from this concept of herd immunity that has been raised a little bit, but that would mean 60 per cent of the population, 15 million people.

If you had a one per cent loss of life, that would be catastrophic.

That is absolutely not our policy.

But the goal here is to understand how widely there may be natural immunity, and if there is natural immunity, that can help both with treatments and vaccines, and individuals who may be able to undertake certain roles.

So that’s the value and the importance of it.


That’s really interesting. We’ll see where that goes, Minister. Thank you very much for your time tonight, I appreciate it.


No, no. It’s a pleasure. And I just want to say thank you to all Australians. Over Easter, they have just risen to the occasion and that’s going to make a big difference.

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