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Minister Hunt's Press Conference in Canberra on 20 October 2021 on the vaccination rollout, vaccine booster update, Stem Cell Mission grants, Booster program and net zero emissions policy

Read the transcript of Minister Hunt's Press Conference in Canberra on 20 October 2021 on the vaccination rollout, vaccine booster update, Stem Cell Mission grants, Booster program and net zero emissions policy.

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

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General public


And good morning, everybody. I’m joined by Professor Paul Kelly, the Chief Medical Officer of Australia.

I can officially confirm that Australia has now passed the 70 per cent double dosed vaccination rate for the 16-plus population. To be precise, 70.007 per cent of Australians. It’s a memorable number, but it’s memorable above all else because it represents the movement at a national level to Phase B of our national roadmap.

But above all else, it represents protection for Australians. Each dose protects the individual. Each dose helps protect every Australian.

As part of that, yesterday, there were 277,000 Australians who came forward to be vaccinated and that’s now taken us past the 33 million mark to 33,212,000 vaccinations that have been delivered into the country, over 33 million vaccinations, and significantly, it’s 70 per cent double vaccinated, and the first vaccination rate is at 85.5 per cent, and so, that’s continuing to grow.

And this is a testament to the work of Australians, and it’s a testament to our health professionals and everybody that has been involved in the vaccination program.

So, to Australians, I want to say thank you and congratulations, but keep going. There are many people still to come forward for first doses and there are many people still to come back for their second doses, and that second dose program is providing real and significant protection.

Just to put this in context, I think it’s important to acknowledge what’s happened here in the ACT. The ACT is at 98.1 per cent first vaccinations - it is one of the most highly vaccinated societies in the world.

Victoria is close to the 90 per cent mark, it’s at 89.2 per cent first doses. In terms of second doses, South Australia has hit a key milestone, South Australia is at 60 percent. And Tasmania and Victoria are expected to pass the 70 per cent mark within the coming 24 to 48 hours.

In terms of the segments of the population that are being protected, our over-50s now have 93.5 per cent first doses, and as a group, have passed the 80 per cent mark – they’re at 81 per cent.

Our over-70s are at an extraordinary 97.8 per cent of Australians who have had at least one dose, and 86.2 per cent that have had two.

And as for our youngest vaccinated cohort, youngest eligible cohort, the 12 to 15s, they’re at 60.4 per cent. So the young Australians have just done an amazing job in coming forward, and already a quarter of them, 25.5 per cent, have had a second dose.

And so, this is a really heartening sign. There is some patchiness, to be honest. New South Wales, Victoria, and the ACT all have very high 12 to 15-year-old rates. In some of the other states and territories, that number is significantly lower so there’s potential to lift.

I want to mention it two other things - Paul, in particular, will give you an update on the booster program.

But the consideration through the TGA, which has to receive an application from the respective vaccine manufacturers, is in advanced consideration and we’ll have a critical meeting next Monday with regards to the Pfizer vaccine. Moderna and AstraZeneca, at this stage, are still to submit their booster vaccine application.

It’s different from the third dose for immunocompromised, which was considered part to the primary treatment program, and that’s why that decision was able to be made.

But we are expecting that there will be two parts to any advice in relation to the TGA and ATAGI, and that would be aged care - we want to commence that in the second week of November subject to advice that we have and subject to confirmation both from ATAGI and the TGA and the general population; and Paul will run through those.

But we’re ready. We’re in a position to commence and, and to make sure that that additional protection is provided.

The last thing that I want to mention is the other business of health. I’m delighted, under the Medical Research Future Fund, to announce the opening of the Stem Cell Mission Grant round - $25 million will now be open for major grant applications in two categories – one in relation to stem cell treatments, the other in relation to stem cell regeneration.

Stem cell regeneration is things like muscle wasting, reversing muscle wasting; in time, working on organ regeneration. What a, what a promise, what a vision for Australians to open that up and to be at the forefront of global research and treatment.

And the second part is about new treatments and therapies using stem cell research – things such as cardiac inflammation, and being able to treat people with cardiac conditions.

So, two new rounds totalling $25 million under the Stem Cell Mission, a 10-year $150 million mission.

And all of these are about the national plan on COVID protection and the roadmap, which has seen a key milestone passed today; but at the same time, continuing to protect the health and the lives of Australians.



Thank you, Minister. So, just to reiterate the congratulations that Minister Hunt has said about- to all Australians and those involved with the incredible, truly incredible vaccine rollout over the last, last months - reaching those high levels that we are reaching and 70 per cent for the whole of Australia today.

But, as the Minister has pointed out, much higher rates in certain age groups in certain parts of the country, and that’s a fantastic testament to, to everyone involved. So, thank you so much for that.

Moving into Phase B of the national plan allows us to really consider what else we can be doing, and to, to get back to some sort of COVID normal here in Australia and the way we live, and so that is also very much welcomed.

On the booster program, that is currently actively being looked at with ATAGI. I had several meetings with the ATAGI group, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, who reports directly to the Minister for Health, yesterday about boosters, and to hear the latest information we have from around the world.

There are several countries now that have started on booster programs in different, different ways, but particularly in Israel, where they’ve gone very rapidly with a, with a booster program for the whole population, and we were able to look at the data that had come out from Israel yesterday.

And it very much confirms that this is a safe, that it is effective in all age group for both decreasing infection as well as severe disease, and then for the older age groups, death – preventing- prevention of death.

That is absolutely proven now from the Israeli data. That is the way that they have done it, and, and that’s before ATAGI now to be looked at.

And the Minister has also mentioned the TGA has their processes as well, working with Pfizer in the first instance because that company has provided all of the information about booster programs, dose, and how, how long after the second dose that might be given. And we fully expect other, other companies, particularly Moderna, to come through with that information in coming months.

Just one other thing that there’s been quite a lot of news about today is the situation in the UK, with a new so-called Delta Plus variant.

Now, just to be clear, this is not a new variant, it’s not a variant of concern, it is not a variant even of interest at the moment. But we continue to have that very close vigilance of the international situation, to watch out for what, what next variant may come from this virus.

The situation in the UK is there is a lot of circulating virus there, mainly in, in teenagers - they’ve recommenced school at the moment, there are a lot of cases in teenagers and their parents. That’s where majority of, I think, it was 49,000 cases yesterday in the UK.

But very importantly, there has not been the same sort of rises we’ve seen in previous waves in the UK in relation to hospitalisation or death, and that is because the vaccination rollout in the UK has also been very successful, particularly to those people in the population that are more susceptible to severe disease, and that’s what we're also seeing in Australia right now.

I’ll leave it there.


Great, thank you. I’ll start over here and just work across the room.


Can I just clarify on the booster program? So, you mentioned starting with aged care and then moving to the general population. Will you roll through priority groups like with the initial rollout or will it be aged care first and then everyone else?


I’ll let Paul add to it. But there’s unlikely to be the need to prioritise because we have sufficient vaccine and so Paul will update in particular on the ATAGI deliberations.

But the simple thing is time. And because we have sufficient vaccine, we have a system capable of delivering, my understanding is, every state and territory has spare capacity at this point in time.

So, we want to keep the machine running to keep the program rolling and that would mean we would be one of the first countries after Israel and I know consideration is on elsewhere if we were to move to a whole of population program.

But that’s the ATAGI advice, it’s clear direction there likely to go towards aged care, it’s likely that we’ll have general population but we also have to actually have the ATAGI- the TGA approval. Now, that’s in the late stages. Key meeting next week. Then they would work with Pfizer.

And then once that’s approved, we’re looking to commence the aged care program in the second week but there wouldn’t be any barrier once there was product approval for any aged care facility of they wish to or state to commence before that time.



So, couple of things I’d quickly say there. Just firstly, doubly vaxxed, first course of the vaccine means you’re fully vaccinated.

So, for anything that’s coming through on phase B, phase C, phase D of the national plan, fully vaccinated means you’ve completed your first and second dose.

The booster gives you a boost in your protection. And certainly, as the Minister has said, ATAGI is going through that advisory advice to Government about how that should be best done and we will have that very soon.


We have the supply, we have the mechanism, the last part is the medical advice and the medical approval. Rachel?


Just to follow that question, is it likely that the whole general population will need a booster shot or is it more likely to be people in the healthcare sector and are dealing with a lot of COVID patients? Can you give us some more detail on that?

And just maybe to the Minister as well, you said that, moving into 70 per cent double vaccinated through phase B, can you give us more idea on what should be happening now that we’re in phase B?


Sure. Paul, on the epidemiology?


Yeah. So, I’m not going to pre-empt the ATAGI advice. But just going back to the Israeli data again, they found this was effective in all age groups. And so- and as the Minister has said, we have the supply, enough supply to give to all age groups but we’ll wait for the ATAGI advice on that.

I think the other thing that’s- that has generally being done, in fact, all of the booster programs around the world have done this. They’ve picked a time after the second dose of the vaccine, that’s varied in some countries, so we’ll see what ATAGI’s advice is on that.

When you think back to how we started the program earlier this year, there was a priority of older people, aged care, those 1A and 1B priority. So, they will be the first in line because they are now six or more months after the- after that second dose.

So, it’s likely that they will be doing the first ones to get it, but let's see what ATAGI comes up with.


Yeah. So when we go back the roadmap, and I think it is instructive, what we’re finding is that the country is overwhelmingly following the roadmap. So today is a key milestone at the 85.5 per cent first vaccination rate and 70 per cent second vaccination rate.

But just going back to the roadmap, lockdowns, less likely but possible. We’re seeing that occur. We are seeing in New South Wales, we’re seeing in ACT those changes, in Victoria those changes. Then easing restrictions on vaccinated residents, preparing and implementing the vaccine booster program. All of those things are occurring.

And I have to say this, perhaps more than any person in Australia, the single individual who helped establish the platform for the roadmap was the Prime Minister.

He said in June, we need to have a roadmap that is based on science, based on modelling, that may mean some of the decisions are hard and that may mean some of the things we seek are deferred.

But let us have the most science based roadmap in the world. And the PM did that, worked through the National Cabinet and that was adopted and it’s leading the way.

I’ll just work across.


Yeah. We’re going to see a spike in cases up as Australia re-opens. Are we working through plans for GPs? How to protect them? Are we going to see mass furloughing of medical practitioners, those sorts of things?


So, look, I'll let Paul speak in more detail. But yes, we’re working closely with our GPs.

They’re, in particular, one of the things is to make sure that there are appropriate arrangements within the state, as they’re doing with their own public health unit with regards to furloughing for double vaccinated workplaces.

And I think that that is a very important part of it. And so, we’re working with the general practitioners and we're working with the states.



So, we've adopted a risk-based approach to this matter. There’s a paper, it's published now after the last National Cabinet meeting, was agreed at the AHPPC.

Essentially, as the Minister has said, doubly vaccinated healthcare workers will be treated differently from unvaccinated because they’re more protected and less likely to be infected or infectious.

So, there’s a matter there, there’s a whole matrix. But ultimately, it becomes a decision for the local public health authority whether that’s the public health unit or the state or a hospital about that. But essentially, we’ve said, doubly vaccinated, minimally in contact, keep working.




You mentioned there’s some patchiness when it comes to the double vaccination rates. We’re seeing that some Indigenous communities aren’t actually expected to hit the 80 per cent mark of double dose until 2022.

So, is it now the time I guess to really set a more targeted sort of approach to some of these communities now that we’ve got that sort of momentum going?


Yeah. So, look, with Indigenous committees, what we've seen is that the rate of Indigenous vaccination has outstripped the national rate over the last week and two weeks.

We've been working very hard. As Pat Turner, the CEO of the National Aboriginal community-controlled health organisations said, it's not about access, that access is there. It is about take-up, confidence, hesitancy and in some cases, resistance.

And so, you can see a community which has been visited, which might have a very high uptake- you can see a community which has been visited which might sadly, and this is the case, in particular, in some Western Australian communities, have a very low uptake. And so, we are working with the state bodies.

I've got to say, let me callout WA in a very positive way. Roger Cook and his team have been working in the Kimberley, and they’ve helped turn around some of those communities.

So, now, we’re engaged literally in the community-by-community focus working with leaders and in some cases, house-to-house. It’s at that granular level.

Equally though, there are large Indigenous populations within urban environments and we know that the uptake in urban environments- say, for example, in Western Sydney where every person who has wanted to be vaccinated could’ve been vaccinated at any time from mid-September, there is still a gap.

So, we’re continuing that work through Indigenous media, Indigenous community leaders on the ground, indigenous events, both in rural and in urban environments.



Minister, how prominent do you think that the booster campaign will be? Will it be like first and second shots that politicians are speaking about the necessity of getting a booster every day, encouraging the public to show up?

Or is it going to be perhaps more like other immunisations that we have in the course of our general life?

And is it possible to get an update on any progress on under 12 vaccinations?


Sure. So, in terms of boosters, yes, we will be supporting it with an advertising campaign, we will be encouraging people. But as Paul said, it’s a booster, you’re fully vaccinated at two doses.


Under 12s?


Oh, sorry. Paul?


So, for the under 12s, the way that this works of course is we rely on the company, the pharmaceutical company to come to the TGA at the first instance and then there will be advice from ATAGI just as we’re doing with the booster program.

At the stage, we don't have any advice from the company although we do understand that they have provided information to the FDA which is the US equivalent of the TGA. And we expect some decision from them later this month or earlier next month.


So, we have the supply, we have the distribution mechanism, we’re ready to do it.

And I think the 12 to 15 campaign is the best example. Advice was provided, we opened up two weeks later and then, 12 to 15 -year-olds have done a fantastic job along with their parents.

Although, in my case, in my family, I had to get out of the way of my 12-year-old. You know, he said he was off to the pharmacy and so, that's just one example.


Thank you. Just on Novak Djokovic saying that it’s inappropriate to ask for a vaccination status; he still wants to come to the Australian Open.

Have the Australia Open organisers been in touch with the federal Health Department at all about vaccinated or unvaccinated audience members, spectators or athletes at all?


Our rules are very clear, they apply to everyone, without fear or favour. It doesn't matter whether you are number one in the world or you’re anything else. Our rules are about protecting Australians and they apply to everybody. And we've been very clear on that. And I'm supportive over the state authorities on that.

And look, on the particular question, you’d have to check with the Minister for Sport on that. I haven't, to the best of my knowledge, had an approach but they wouldn't have approached me on that.


Pending the vital advice, could we see boosters rolled out to the broader population by the end of the year and also, will we see mixing and matching of vaccines? Like if you get AstraZeneca, can you get a Pfizer booster?

And just on one other issue, what compensation will be offered to people who have suffered adverse vaccine reactions or families of those who died?


Sure. So, I'll deal with the first and the last question; mix-and-match I’ll leave with Paul.

In terms of compensation, if I may, we have the indemnity scheme. That's taking registrations and that’s expected to commence its hearings soon. And so that will be up to the independent panel to make the recommendations and to make the allocations.

It was a very important part of the work we did with the medical community, with the RACGP in particular, with the AMA, to make sure that that confidence was there, both for the general public but also for the doctors.

In terms of the commencement of a general population booster program, would I like to see it commence this year and do I expect it to commence this year? Yes, and yes.

Paul, mix-and-match?


Yes, so in terms of completing the booster program this year, that’s unlikely but it would depend on that time period from the second dose to when that booster is due. So it may well roll on longer than that.

That will be subject to the ATAGI advice. In terms of mix-and-match, again, ATAGI advice has been sought on that.

We do know that for the third dose of that primary course, which was announced by the Minister and I around immunosuppressed people, they did go for a mix-and-match strategy.

So, if I was a betting person, which I'm not, that would be likely to be along those lines.




Just regarding the milestone we’ve reached in terms of how many people have had both jabs, three or four states still have under 60 per cent fully vaccinated, how concerned are you about that? Like, a two-track kind of rollout, two track reopening possibly.

And also with booster shots, can you ever imagine a situation where the passports that we have now, are going to have for travel, will include needing to be up-to-date with your booster shot, or is it- do you never see a possibility when it’s going to be that significant?


Sure. Look, will follow medical advice on that and I won’t speculate on passports. I think that’s very much a medical question with the science to flow over the coming months.

So, it’s a fair question. And then, sorry, the first question?


First question regarding how states, like WA-


Right. Right. 


Yeah. A lot of them have under 60 per cent fully vax. That’s quite a big difference to the national.


Yeah, look, every state and territory is now over 70 per cent first vaccinated. And if they’re over 70 per cent first vaccinated, they’ll be over 70 per cent second vaccinated soon enough.

You know, the time between first and second vaccinations, it's progressing very quickly and because there’s supply, they’re no longer having to space out the period between first and second vaccinations.

Just to put it in context, South Australia is at 77.2 per cent. It's going to be at the 80 per cent mark in the not-too-distant future. And then the other three jurisdictions, the Northern Territory’s making a real effort at the moment.

And Queensland and WA, Queensland’s at 73.2 per cent, WA’s at 74.3. They’re all on a path to 80 per cent and they are beginning to adopt measures which will help drive that 80 per cent, and I hope that they get to the 80 per cent mark and then continue to move forward.

And if I may-


I was going to ask about the Coalition and net zero. So, you might want to save my question until the others in front of- asked about.

GREG HUNT:         



Yeah. Can I just clarify with Professor Kelly on the mix-and-match? Is it that people who’ve had a full course of AstraZeneca being given mRNA?

And if people who have had one type of mRNA, say a Pfizer, have a Moderna or for those who’ve had a course of Moderna, have a Pfizer? Is that what you’re talking about?

Certainly not people who’ve had mRNA then having AstraZeneca?


So as Minister has said, we have ample supplies of all three of the current vaccines that are being used in Australia and that's a live issue with ATAGI. So I'll wait for them.

But the mRNA vaccines are essentially very equivalent. And so once we have that TGA check, ATAGI advice, then we'll move ahead with that.

GREG HUNT:         

Yeah, I will add something to that. What we do need as a prerequisite is the applications by the different companies.

Right from the outset, we've not envisaged and the earliest advice was that AstraZeneca was unlikely to be a booster. And at this stage, we haven't had an application for AstraZeneca to be a booster.

It does for the immunocompromised could be a third shot, but for others, right from the outset, we didn't factor it in as a booster. Pfizer is in the absolute late stages of its assessment, and it's all progressing very well.

And so we're expecting that to be available and the terms and conditions will be determined by the TGA and ATAGI. But if that were available as a universal booster, then it could apply, no matter whether you've had AstraZeneca, Moderna. Nobody who’s had Moderna would be due for a booster for some time yet, or for Pfizer itself.

And then Moderna, they are just determining internationally what would be the optimal third dose, and then that will lead to the process of the US application and then an Australian application, which will follow. So I think all of that is very good.

Jade and then I'll come back.


Do you think Victoria needs to greater align the easing of its restrictions with New South Wales as it reaches key vaccine milestones?

And going forward, do you think National Cabinet, at least some time this year, will have to give advice on maybe what kind of restrictions should be eased once states do hit targets such as 90 per cent vaccinations?

GREG HUNT:         

Sure. Look, firstly, in terms of National Cabinet, this is the roadmap that has helped get us to where we are. And this is the roadmap which will help guide where we are going.

And that roadmap has been based on science. And so the roadmap has helped us achieve these targets, and it's in fact led to states making decisions on opening.

And so, I have to say, Paul has been a member of National Cabinet, but I haven't. So he's better, better equipped to talk to the social dynamics within. But National Cabinet will continue to evolve and to respond.

And you know, it's two critical targets are 70 and 80 per cent, and we're at the 80 per cent first dose and well beyond 85.5 per cent. We're at the 70 per cent second dose.

In terms of Victoria, look, I welcome the steps forward, you know, as a, as a dad, as a resident, as a local member, as a Victorian, and as a Health Minister - I welcome what is happening.

Obviously, we'd always encourage as many freedoms as safely as possible, I'm certainly not getting into a fight about that. We're working with them, I was working with Martin Foley just this morning on aged care vaccinations - they're preparing to roll out as soon as we've got the, the TGA and ATAGI advice. So we're actually working pretty, pretty constructively.

Josh, the two up the back and then.


Yeah. Michael Gunner’s family have had to leave their home because protesters opposed to mandatory vaccinations posted their address online. Do you think politicians, public health officers should be given more security?

And what’s being done to respond to some of the concerns within Government, Government MPs who are worried about what’s happening in the UK in the last week?


Sure. Look, firstly, let me condemn clearly, absolutely, unequivocally the attack on Michael Gunner's house, and the, what would have been deep concern for his, his family.

You know. I’ve never really talked about it. There was a period where, yeah, the lives of my children were threatened quite openly some years ago, and that, it was a matter of great concern. But we have very fine Federal Police in this country.

So, what I will say is this, that I offer my support to Michael Gunner, to those that, that think violence or the threat of violence is acceptable in any way, shape or form, it is not.

So, as a country, we have to, I think, relearn the value of respect. And I, I don't mean holding our politicians up, I’d use the term parliamentarian, our parliamentarians up on any pedestal - they're not better than anybody, but they're not worse than anybody.

They are overwhelmingly public servants that seek to serve the nation. And there will be differing views and differing approaches, but this notion of national tolerance and mutual respect is something I believe in, in passionately. So, you got me there.

And so, the protection - we’ll follow the advice of the police, we follow the medical advice, we follow the advice of the police at state and federal level based on, on threat assessment. But it's that culture of mutual respect which is, is critical.



Yeah, thanks. Just back on the boosters again, mindful of what the Professor said, two dose being full, fully vaccinated. Would you anticipate there might be a point in the future where a booster shot is required for some workplace, potentially, mainly in Phase 1A workplace? Would that booster be a requirement at some stage, do you think?


Look, I won't speculate, as ever, on the medical advice - we'll continue to, to follow it. Right now, we're at the point of opening up the booster program.

Paul has just said two doses is fully vaccinated. A booster is a booster.


Minister, just on the Coalition and net zero. Matt Canavan’s made it very clear - and obviously Queensland is a key swing state - Matt Canavan, as the Senator, has made the point that he intends to campaign against net zero during the election. What do you make of that?

How damaging could that be for the Coalition? And does it make a mockery of the Coalition if the Prime Minister is willing to go to Glasgow without consensus from the Nationals upon the position?


Look, I'm very confident that, as we've done in the past - I lived and breathed the 2010 approach where we brought together the Direct Action Program and the Emissions Reduction Fund concept.

At that stage, we said we'd achieve our, our Kyoto One targets and that we would be in a position to go forwards and achieve our Kyoto Two targets. We did both and we did it in a unified way, and we did it without increasing electricity prices or threatening jobs.

In 2015, I was in the position of helping to steward our Paris 2030 target, and we, we took it from minus 5 per cent under the previous government to minus 26 to minus 28 per cent.

We went through exactly the same process with many of the same people, but we did it without rising impacts on electricity prices. And ultimately, we had a very formal, unified position.

And in a parliamentary environment, not everybody will agree with everything, but it's whether or not the government has a target.

We've got a very clear 2030 target in line with the Paris Agreement - I don't believe the Labor Party has a 2030 target. We're on that path now to establishing a 2050 target - I won't pre-empt the processes - and we'll do that without putting up pressure on electricity prices or without threatening jobs.

And they’re, they’re the critical things, that you have a plan, you achieve those outcomes. Kyoto One we've beaten, Kyoto Two we've beaten, Paris we're going to meet and beat. And this process.


But I think, I think this is somewhat speaking with forked tongues here. That you went to the last election campaign and talked about this being an economic wrecking ball, and now you've had a conversion and you say that it's good for the economy. Is that not damaging?


No. Our view is very clear. We were able to meet and beat our 2020 targets by over 400 million tonnes, and people said we'd never do it, and we did it.

We were able to meet and beat our 2030 targets, and we're on track to significantly over-achieve, to do better than we said we'd do when in 2015, we set our 2030 targets.

And so, because of that success, we're able to continue to build. By the way, in 2015, when we signed up to Paris, we signed up to a 2030 target, which we have and which the Labor Party doesn't; and we signed up to net zero in the second half of the century, which was a formal part of the Paris Agreement which Australia has signed and, and ratified.

Now it's a question about the timing of that. And we work in a constructive way, as we did in 2010, as we did in 2015. The difference is we do it without electricity prices.

I'll finish. Look, I will finish on this. I apologise. It's been a, a long run and you did get me on that. I've ever spoken about that before.

I will just say today is an important milestone in the battle against COVID. It still means more Australians are encouraged to come forward to protect themselves with the first dose and to protect everybody else.

And if you have had that first dose, let's turn that 70 per cent into 80 per cent as quickly as possible.

Thank you, everybody.

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