Date published: 
2 February 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

GREG HUNT:

Good morning everybody, and thank you for joining us. I’m joined by Commissioner Mike Outram the head of Border Force and Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy to provide an update on the coronavirus its passage and the Australian protective and precautionary response following up from the Prime Minister’s announcement in relation to the National Security Committee decisions of yesterday.

In relation to the virus, the latest advice we have is that globally 11,939 cases have been confirmed, although we expect new figures during the course of today from the WHO and international authorities. Sadly that’s been accompanied by 259 lives lost and, again, we expect an update on those figures today.

In relation to Australia – and I have confirmed all of these figures with the Chief Health and Medical Officers and State and Territory Health Ministers this morning – there are 12 cases that have been confirmed as being diagnosed within Australia.

I can report, however, that New South Wales has indicated a third patient has been discharged from hospital as having cleared the virus, and I think that’s a very important sign of progress, and I’ll let the Chief Medical Officer address the medical significance of that.

But I think the Australian people, to understand that patients are clearing the virus, and are being discharged is a significant milestone.

In terms of the implementation of the National Security Committee decision, we have convened a teleconference this morning of all State and Territory Health Ministers, their Chief Health Officers and their departmental secretaries – all states and territories were in attendance – to update on implementation of the National Security Committee decisions of yesterday and I want to thank our colleagues and all of the officials and agencies across the country.

The report which the State and Territory Ministers gave was that the decisions of yesterday in relation to the border protections are being implemented and Commissioner Outram will give more advice.

But at the airports, our masks and screening processes have been carried out and carried out very smoothly. That’s an extraordinary testimony to the preparedness as well as the implementation capacity of the Commonwealth, States and Territories, led by our agencies, working together.

I know that overnight the National Incident Centre was helping to coordinate the distribution of essential materials. Professor Murphy and I were in attendance there at midnight and we saw that work. We saw the team, and I want to thank the team led by Secretary Beauchamp and the National Incident Centre Head Celia Street.

So these matters- including the masks, thermometers, scanners all going out, all being implemented, all being distributed. I’ve also spoken with the New Zealand Health Minister, David Clark, to make sure that we’re coordinating and working together and he was very thankful for Australia’s cooperation, and we’re thankful for their work. New Zealand will have more to say in the near future, I imagine, on the basis of our discussions.

In relation to the Australian medical assistance teams, I can confirm that the AUSMAT, or Australian Medical Assistance Team, with its mobile hospital has arrived in Christmas Island. The personnel are in place to receive the passengers from Wuhan and we expect that the flight should be collecting within the next 24 hours.

And they are establishing and the advice that I have from the Director of the National Critical Care and Trauma Centre which runs the Australian medical assistance teams, that’s Len Notaras, is that the personnel are in place and the mobile hospital should be completed today.

And again, at this stage we are not expecting people to be ill there, but they are fully prepared and I think that that's a very important message for the Australian people - fully prepared.

In addition to that, the AUSMAT team will accompany the flight to Wuhan to assist with any screening or other medical detection services at the point of embarkation, but in addition to that they will on the flight to make sure that all protocols are followed and finally, to ensure that if any passenger were to fall sick, that they were immediately taken care of.

I might ask the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Murphy, to provide an update on the virus and the reasoning behind yesterday's advice from the AHPPC, why it was made, and what it means.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Thank you, Minister. So, as you know, this has been an evolving outbreak and we've been regularly reassessing every day.

Yesterday AHPPC came to the point where we believe that the spread of the virus outside of the Hubei Province in other provinces of China, while still relatively small numbers, represents evidence of sustained human to human transmission in those provinces.

And we and other countries have now broadened our definition of the cases of potentially infected people to include anyone who has been in mainland China who has relevant symptoms.

A corollary of that is, that extends to our travel warning and it also means that, given that we have undertaken a precautionary approach to quarantine people who had come back to infected areas; that used to apply to Hubei Province, but now it is applying to people who have come from mainland China from the 1st of February.

We don’t think it’s necessary to consider people who have been in China before that because case numbers were very, very low. They’re still quite low. The risk to travellers from mainland China other than Hubei Province remains low but it looks like it will be increasing and we want to be absolutely secure.

Clearly, quarantining a whole range of people, tourists, non-citizens from China generally would be an impossible task and so we recommended to Government that measures be taken to substantially reduce the traffic of people from mainland China coming into this country, particularly tourists who have trouble self-isolating.

So that approach is about Australian citizens, permanent residents and their dependants coming back and self-isolating for 14 days which they can do in their own home. But, essentially dramatically reducing the traffic and that enables us also to enhance our border screening measures for that much reduced volume of traffic and make sure that we are able to accurately detect any person who may be unwell but also, make sure we provide that information to people if they become unwell later.

The reason we’re taking this approach, which is fairly extensive and has had significant impact on people, is because we, like the World Health Organization, still believe that this virus is capable of containment. At the moment we are working on containment. We’re obviously reviewing every aspect of the epidemiology on a daily basis but we have only had 12 cases in Australia and they have all been successfully contained.

The Minister has mentioned, it’s been very positive that three of the cases have been discharged. Generally, the cases seen in countries outside of China have been relatively mild and we do know there are a lot of mild people with this disease. However, it’s too early to say definitive statements about the severity of this disease. Data from WHO suggests 18 per cent have severe disease and about 2 per cent mortality. But we still haven’t sufficient data to make confident assertions about that.

So, we are doing everything we can to contain the spread of this virus in Australia and we don’t apologise, but we do understand that this has made a significant imposition on many people.

GREG HUNT:

Commissioner Mike Outram, Border Force.

MIKE OUTRAM:

Thank you Minister, and good morning. As you're all aware yesterday afternoon the Prime Minister made an announcement including that all travellers arriving from any part of mainland China, regardless of nationality, will be subject to enhanced border control measures to ensure the health, and safety, and wellbeing of our community of course.

The decision of Cabinet taken yesterday afternoon was fully implemented in a matter of a few hours and that's a testament really to the cooperation and coordination between, not just the Australian Border Force, but the Department of Agriculture and their bio-security team, the Health Department, health officials and, of course, state and territory health officials too.

Because of that sort of cooperation Australia is incredibly well placed to respond to ill travellers and passengers that may be at risk of contracting infection with border isolation, surveillance and contact tracing mechanisms and arrangements already in place.

We in the Australian Border Force are responding to the most up to date expert medical advice from the CMO, as you’ve just heard, and we'll continue to work with other Government agencies including the Department of Health.

The messages though for travellers need to be made explicitly clear – Australia will deny entry to anyone who was in or transited through mainland China on or since 1 February 2020 with the exception of; Australian citizens, permanent residents, immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent members including spouses, minor dependants and legal guardians, air and maritime crews for whom we are satisfied have appropriate prevention measures. These enhanced public safety measures however will apply to those people.

At 9:30pm last night on 1 February I issued a directive to airline and industries and the effect of that is that if you've been in mainland China from 1 February , and you are not an Australian citizen, permanent resident, immediate family member, et cetera, do not travel to Australia at this time.

If you attempt to travel to Australia either directly or indirectly, your airline will not allow you to board the flight. If you do arrive in Australia, and it is determined that you have been in mainland China on or since 1 February 2020, your visa will be cancelled and you will be placed in an alternative place of detention for a quarantine period. Please do not attempt to travel to Australia unless you are an Australian citizen, a permanent resident or an immediate family member, until these measures are lifted.

Permanent residents and immediate family members of Australian citizens, or permanent residents who do not hold a visa and have an urgent need to travel should apply online and request priority processing through the Home Affairs website.

We are seeing, since the implementation of this measure already significant impact, a beneficial impact, a general downward trend in passenger numbers and, for example, in Melbourne we were expecting about 5000 scheduled passengers to arrive from China, and we're now expecting about 700 over that 24-hour period – so it’s a significant downturn.

In Brisbane we were expecting 220 and we're now only expecting about 97. Overnight 71 passengers were denied uplift in China and 12 flights have been cancelled today.

Eighty flights so far have been processed. So again, I just want to end on that message to travellers overseas – please do not attempt to travel to Australia unless you are an Australian citizen, a permanent resident or an immediate family member until the measures are lifted. Thank you.

GREG HUNT:

Thank you. Happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, when was the decision made to no longer charge evacuees for the flight from Wuhan to Australia? And why did Peter Dutton not know about that this morning?

GREG HUNT:

So the Prime Minister and the Treasurer in consultation with colleagues have made that [audio skip] the Treasurer has made that clear and that's been made subsequent to additional advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

JOURNALIST:

But why did the Home Affairs Minister not know about that when he went on Sky News this morning?

GREG HUNT:

I think the point was that the Treasurer was announcing it this morning. Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

Professor Murphy, Peter Dutton also warning an Australian who is remotely planning going overseas for a holiday to reconsider that. Is there any medical scientific advice or otherwise for that recommendation to absolutely not leave the country?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Look, I think Minister Dutton was probably saying that you should be careful about where you go, I think so then-

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible)

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well I think - I mean I wasn't part of the discussion with Minister Dutton, but I think it's always sensible when you're planning to travel to consider the health advisories at the time. But at the moment the medical advice is principally around China.

GREG HUNT:

Our message is very clear – take precautions, follow the travel advice, and the travel advice says: do not travel to China.

JOURNALIST:

But sorry, you have a Cabinet Minister saying don't travel anywhere? That is complete new advice. Who are Australians supposed to pay attention to, the Medical Officer or the Minister?

GREG HUNT:

Look, I'll respectfully check the transcript on that. Thank you, next.

JOURNALIST:

Professor Murphy, Peter Dutton this morning said that Annastacia Palaszczuk has breached the confidence of Chief Medical Officers and was talking out about the travel ban before it was officially announced, and indicated that there could be issues with the Committee being so forthcoming in the future.

I would say that Annastacia Palaszczuk has denied that there was any breach of confidence and that she wasn't party to any meeting. Are you able to say whether any confidence was breached? And if that will cause any issues for the Committee going forward?

GREG HUNT:

I'll let the Professor speak to the processes and I'll deal with any of the issues about Government.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I'm not aware of those statements or what Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. All I can say is that the AHPBC committee of Chief Medical Officers has worked closely together, and made all of the decisions on a unanimous basis. We're meeting at 2:00 every day for the foreseeable future and there's absolutely no discontent or discord between any members of that Committee.

GREG HUNT:

So, I have to say today we had a meeting with all of the states and territories. We thanked all of the states and territories, both at officials and administerial level for their cooperation. Queensland expressed no dissatisfaction.

And I have to say that the Chief Health Officers at state level have been exemplary. They have provided their advice fearlessly and we have accepted their advice. As to the Queensland Premier releasing any of that advice before it was considered by the National Security Committee, that's a matter for the Queensland Premier to explain.

JOURNALIST:

Commissioner Outram, can you step us through what happened this morning at airports with the arrival of some of the flights from China?

Can you tell us how many people who have been in mainland China did arrive at airports in Australia this morning? How many were put in detention? How many were turned back on return flights? And how many might have been allowed through if they were in a healthy condition?

MIKE OUTRAM:

So, I haven't got the total number of people who arrived, I've given you some examples of 700 in Melbourne and 70-plus in Brisbane. So that gives you a sense of the scale of the number of people arriving.

People who, of course, were on a plane that was in the air before the direction was given to the airlines, of course, they're subject to previous arrangements. But still, they've been met on those flights by bio-security officers, and they've been asked questions, and they've been, there’s been subject to health screening, including by state and territory health officials.

A small number of people, as I understand it, were then taken for further screening at a hospital, but that's like a handful – two or three.

JOURNALIST:

And so how many- so were most of them allowed into Australia?

MIKE OUTRAM:

Yes because, as I said, the effect of the decision that was implemented at 2130 last night is that anybody who is not in that category of exemptions that I have listed will not be allowed uplift, and 71 passengers were denied uplift overnight.

JOURNALIST:

I just want to be clear on the- there’s a lot of jargon in these circumstances. What (inaudible) uplift means.

MIKE OUTRAM:

Okay. I'll do it in plain English – they weren't allowed to get on the aeroplane.

JOURNALIST:

On departure for exchange.

MIKE OUTRAM:

On departure from China, they weren't allowed to get on the aeroplane, their visa was cancelled.

JOURNALIST:

Commissioner, do you now have information on further states. So, what happened in South Australia? What happened in Western Australia?

MIKE OUTRAM:

It’s the same measures nationally, at all International Airports, the same measures are being applied in the same way.

JOURNALIST:

Any number of passengers who came here last night or overnight?

MIKE OUTRAM:

Well yeah, we'll provide you those statistics of the amount of flights that came in overnight. But, what I'll say to you is that the main message there is that the number of passengers coming from China has significantly reduced since yesterday afternoon.

A number of flights have been cancelled. The number of passengers coming on flights has significantly reduced. And so, as I said, 5000 scheduled for Melbourne down to 700.

So the decision, the announcement of the decision, the direction we've given to airlines has taken immediate effect as we intended.

GREG HUNT:

I will add that all state and territory ministers and officials reported that the measures which the Commonwealth imposed and requested have been implemented on the ground. And that's an extraordinary turnaround.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, you say you expect that flight to leave Wuhan within the next 24 hours. Has China greed to that flight yet?

GREG HUNT:

My understanding is that everything is proceeding appropriately. On the specific details, I'll respectfully leave that to Minister Payne.

JOURNALIST:

Sorry, just to be clear because there's confusion about that as well. This morning one minister suggested that that hadn't been received. You seem to be confident that this has. 

GREG HUNT:

But we’re, we are proceeding, but I'll leave any details. And one of the things that we're doing is we're being cautious about pre-empting the official Chinese position out of respect for that nation.

And I think that you can understand that in the circumstances that respect is a very important thing to do. And so I will leave any formal declarations and announcements to For Minister Marise Payne.

JOURNALIST:

Some of the Australians though feel that we’ve perhaps been a little bit too respectful. We've seen other nations get their citizens out, but we still don't even have authority to get them.

GREG HUNT:

I think what you'll find is we are one of very few countries. There have been a couple, but we are one of very few countries to be able to enact this process and we're doing it carefully.

And what we're doing though is making sure we're covering all of the qualifying citizens and there have been a variety of terms and circumstances around the situation with some of the other countries.

We have a very broad application in terms of Australia, and we're making sure that we're able to process, uplift, and receive. And when you think of the whole of the world with citizens in China, we are one of the very few.

JOURNALIST:

Professor, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, they’ve all been taking your advice. Would you say that you've acted appropriately thus far? Would you have responded to this crisis differently? Do you think you've acted fast enough? And is there a need for a national disease control centre?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So when we say: my advice, the advice is that of all of the state and territory Chief Health Officers who, as I said, are meeting daily. And we have reviewed this situation, we have reached an absolute consensus of opinion, there's been absolutely no dissent from any of the Chief Health Officers.

We believe we've been one of the most proactive countries in the world. We were probably the first country to introduce a quarantine period for Hubei residents on the basis of the potential for asymptomatic transmission and we’re one of the few countries to do this step.

So I think we have acted proportionately and appropriately on the emerging evidence, and there has been a clear consensus view from all of the state and territory Chief Health Officers, and we're working closely together.

GREG HUNT:

I'll just follow up on that

JOURNALIST:

And can you talk about glucose monitoring as well?

GREG HUNT:

Sure. So, firstly in relation to the advice of the Chief Health and Medical Officers from around the country, they were tasked with one clear responsibility – frank and fearless advice, don't try to pre-empt any of the other considerations, give your medical advice.

And each day I've reaffirmed the sanctity of that advice to the Chief Medical Officer and we are blessed with arguably one of, not just the best Chief Medical Officers in the world, but also one of the best network of Chief Health and Medical Officers in the world and they have been frank and fearless.

And where they have advised, we have adopted. And as Brendan says, not only were we one of the first in the world to implement the 14-day quarantine, we are one of the first in the world to adopt this next step. And where they recommend, we adopt.

Yesterday Professor Murphy advised the Prime Minister, and myself, in the morning that he believed that the grounds had changed and that that should be considered.

The Prime Minister asked if the Chief Health Officers could bring forward their meeting and that we would then schedule a National Security Committee meeting following that. Following that both were done, both were implemented. In terms of continuous glucose monitoring-

JOURNALIST:

Would you consider rolling it out to all Australians with Type 1 diabetes, not just those that hold (Inaudible).

GREG HUNT:

Well I'm delighted to announce that we have expanded access to the Flash Glucose Monitoring System. So this should help 58,000 Australians.

What we've done is unprecedented – the expansion. It's a $300 million program. It will make a real difference. And so we started with nothing, we then dealt- expanded that to the under 18’s.

We have pregnant and nursing mothers. We’ve now expanded it to Australians of all ages who are concessional card holders. And now we've added, once the company has accepted the terms that were put down by the medical experts, the flash glucose monitoring. So we will continue with this program.

JOURNALIST:

Would you roll it out to all Australians? There's 100,000 that have.

GREG HUNT:

Again, what we're doing is continuing to follow the medical advice which is a broad principle and I couldn't be more thankful that this is a signature day for people with diabetes, and I know that Diabetes Australia has absolutely welcomed what we've done.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, do you support Bridget McKenzie as a Cabinet Minister?

GREG HUNT:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, just on the quarantine.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

Last question. 

JOURNALIST:

Could you please explain how that might impact air crew who are obviously flying to and from China? Commissioner, are you going to- are they have to self-isolate once they stop working?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Our view is that we're working with airlines. We think that if air crew are wearing personal protective equipment, which is probably just a mask and gloves, when they're in close contact that that would prevent them from any material exposure and we wouldn't want them to be quarantined.

But we’d want them to be wearing personal protective equipment when they're in contact with passengers.

MIKE OUTRAM:

Similarly, obviously the arrangements at the airports will similarly apply to crew as they do to passengers in terms of the screening mechanisms.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, we've heard why Bridget McKenzie should resign. Why shouldn't she resign in your opinion?

GREG HUNT:

Look, I made my position clear. I’ll leave that to- I know that there's a process which the Head of the PM&C is doing and, frankly, at this point I'm focused on the coronavirus.

Thank you everybody.

Ministers: