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Press conference about COVID-19

Read the transcript of a press conference with the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, about the latest developments about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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I’d like to thank everybody for joining us today at Frankston Hospital.  


We’re at the emergency department, the sight of what will be a treatment and testing centre. 


Victoria has gone ahead and already activated four respiratory clinics, and across their hospital network, as other hospital networks across the country, testing and treatment centres are being set up.  


And I want to thank and acknowledge John Dowling here, the Deputy Director of Emergency Medicine.  


(Inaudible), one of our leading emergency physicians, who’s here.  


Amy, who is helping to run the nursing side of it.  


And I'm joined by Carmelo Bonanno, the National President of the Australian Dentist's Association.  


And as a country, people are coming together in what can be a challenging and uncertain time. 


And our job is not only to prepare, but to help people understand that we are actually well prepared.  


No country is immune, but Australia is deep in preparation, and already activation for making sure that people are protected.  


In that context, overnight, we know that the number of countries affected by coronavirus has grown to 95; that 105,000 people have now been formally diagnosed with coronavirus, and, sadly, over 3,600 have lost their lives.  


Very sadly, that includes a third Australian – an 82-year-old man from Sydney who was in the BaptistCare Nursing Home in Macquarie Park.  


And that's just a great loss to him, his family, to all of the community, which will feel this loss.  


That comes as the Australian numbers just prior to joining you have been confirmed to me by the National Incident Centre as 74 diagnosed cases, and that also includes two ADF members. 


Against that background, one of our fundamental tasks is to ensure that we support our magnificent health and medical service workers.  


In that respect, I'm pleased to be able to inform Australians that quietly over the last week, the Government has secured an additional 54 million masks to support our health and medical service workers.  


We want them obviously to continue with their normal work, and also to continue with their normal acquisition.  


But some have indicated to us that they will face challenges.  


And these will be to support our GPs, to support our nurses, to support our aged care workers where they need that additional support.  


And to support our dentists and other health and medical worker, including pathologists, who do such great work in taking samples.  


All of us are coming together, and yes, there are challenging times.  


But only two months ago, as a nation, we had the great challenge of the bushfires. And we rose. We were our best selves, and this is the time to be our best selves and to let our better angels prevail.  


And our job, working with the states and territories, but working with the community, is to make sure that we are not just prepared, but that we are unified. 


And so there have been some things which have occurred in recent days which have not been our best selves.  


But it was only two months ago, as I say, that as a country, the spirit of the volunteer, the spirit of the CFA and the RFS and our emergency service workers came together.  


And that's who we have to be, and that's who we are.  


And we won't be diverted by individual cases where people have not been at their best selves.  


This is the moment for Australia to be its best self, and for Australia to be the nation and the community we know it can be.  


We will be, and we will get through this together. 


I might ask Carmelo to make some comments from the dentist's perspective, and then John, if he might- which will give you a really important insight into how this particular hospital, Frankston, is preparing. Then I'm happy to take questions. 



Thank you, Minister. 


I'd like to thank Minister Hunt and the Federal Government for working in collaboration with the Australian Dental Association.  


Without this additional supply of masks, there would be many practices who would be facing imminent closure in the next few weeks.  


Thanks to this, what this means is the Australian public will be able to continue to receive dental services, and an added benefit of that is that there won't be an additional burden on medical practices and hospital emergency departments.  


So thank you, Minister. We'll continue to look forward to working with you. 


Thank you. 



And John, the sort of thing that Frankston is looking to set up and do? 



So, we've got preparations in hand to test and treat patients who present with suspected coronavirus, presenting to the emergency department.  


We have plans in place to protect staff with appropriate PPE so that our healthcare workers remain well and remain able to continue to treat patients as they present to hospital. 



Great, happy to take any questions. 



Minister, the doctor at the centre of the Toorak surgery has been criticised by Minister Mikakos. His behaviour about it and his runny nose going to work. Do you support Dr Chris Higgins, or do you support the Minister? 



I’m not criticising anybody.  


At this point in time, we will all be connected in some way, shape or form, to people over the coming months.  


This is a time to come together.  


Over summer, our firefighters and our emergency service workers were our heroes.  


In the coming months, it will be our health and medical service workers who will be our national heroes.  


So we need to support them.  


Equally, all of the states and territories are doing a great job.  


What's happening here in Frankston is an example.  


And so today, in my view, is not a day for criticism, but for unity.  


And so, speaking on behalf of the Australian Government, and the Prime Minister and myself, this is the moment where we remember who we are at our best.  


And we can do this because we have just done this.  


As a country, we have been before through wars and droughts, through floods and fires.  


And coming together is what we do.  


And that's our message, and that's my message, and that's what we all need to focus on. 



Shouldn't Mikakos actually apologise to Dr Higgins, though? Whether or not you support her, should she apologise? 



Look, I’ll leave that to the Minister in question.  


My view, my approach, is for us to come together. And to remind people that over the coming weeks and months, we will all be connected in some way, shape or form to people who contract the virus.  


And so, by focusing on the preparation, by recognising the important role of our health and medical service personnel, and taking care of them, then we take care of the country. 



How do you intend to response to the letter that was send from the doctors to yourself and Jenny Mikakos in regards to a need for an apology towards this doctor? 



I believe that was directed in terms of their concerns to Victoria. I've been in touch with the AMA and they're very thankful for and supportive of our position. 



When you mentioned not being our best selves over the last few days, were you referring to Dr Higgins there? 



No, I was actually referring to some of the hoarding that individuals have conducted.  


I think we are seeing some improvement on that front, and the supermarkets are all taking steps to make sure that buying is managed.  


And then to Australians: remember how we were two months ago.  


Remember what we did. I saw, whether it was in Corryong and the role of the health service workers who stayed through the fires to support the residents at the Corryong health service.  


I saw just down the road in Somerville, the Mornington Shire and the community and the Australian Defence Force come together to bring the evacuees from Mallacoota back to safe territory.  


And that's what we are as a country. That's who we really are. And there are some outliers, but they will not prevail. 



Minister, have any bureaucrats tested positive to coronavirus? 



Two Australian Defence Force personnel that I'm aware of.  


I'm not aware of others. But as we find out, we always release that.  


We know that there have been well over 10,000 tests conducted around Australia. And they’ll be people of all different shapes and forms.  


And over time, it will be people in the media and in Government. It will be mums and dads. It will be school kids. All of whom will be tested.  


But we have a testing regime which is the equal of any in the world.  


Right here is one of the many places, and we're working through Telehealth, through home visits, through GPs, up through respiratory clinics, and through emergency departments to boost those testing regimes, and our pathology services, whom we will really acknowledge as we go forward.  


Do you know if any staffers or politicians were on the Canberra to Sydney flight, and have been instructed to self-isolate? 



Look, my understanding is that contact tracing is going on. I understand that some may have been, but I'm not sure whether they were in the self-isolation zone.  


So in the same way, just before coming here, the Defence Minister confirmed with me that two ADF personnel have tested positive.  


Wherever we have the information – and once it's confirmed – I think that's a very important part of our role, is to make sure things are confirmed, then we share it.  


I've had some information that there were some on the flight. I don't know who they are and I don't know whether they were in the self-isolation zone.  


It’s always within a series of seats from anybody who was confirmed or suspected. 



With the ADF, what effect does that have moving forward? Is it disastrous? What effect is there? 



No. What we'll see is that different workplaces will be affected.  


The ADF has put out a statement, I think shortly before I came here, which indicates that not only have two personnel been affected, but they have made sure that everybody who was in contact with them has been self-isolated and then they'll be subject to testing. 



So just to be clear, they were on the flight and that’s how they became infected – is that the understanding? 



I will let the ADF provide the details. 



And just taking us back to the masks, if we can. So how will people actually get the masks, who will get them, and when? 



So these are for medical services personnel, and the primary mechanism for support is through what are called the primary health networks.  


That's what’s been used to supply roughly 850,000 masks to general practices.  


Only yesterday, we authorised and announced 260,000 additional masks being distributed.  


Now, with these 54 million masks, which are all scheduled to arrive in Australia between now and the end of April, so in quite a short period of time.  


As we believe that they are required, we'll be distributing them through the primary health networks.  


And if any other mechanisms are required, we'll do that. But that's been working well.  


One of our challenges is to make sure that all of the relevant practices are aware that they have this access. 



GPs have spoken out in support of Dr Higgins overnight, and also refuting claims by Ms Mikakos that they are well resourced. A lot of them would say they aren’t well resourced. Are these masks coming a little late for some? 



No, there's no primary health network of which I'm aware, and we've been following this, which has exhausted their first round of masks.  


And so, they've been available.  


In some cases, busy practices, even though there have been multiple communications, may not have realised that they've had that.  


And I've spoken with the AMA and the College of GPs in the last 48 hours to make sure both presidents – to make sure that they're aware, and they're reaffirming to their members that not only are stocks available, but they have been available throughout the entire last three weeks. 


So, part of this is constant communication.  


Many people are busy, many people are focused. They're doing a magnificent job, our GPs, as are our emergency departments.  


And as a country, again, sending the message: we're supporting you. 



Will the Government subsidise teleconferencing between doctors and patients in the wake of the coronavirus? 



We have indicated, I said last Thursday, that that was something we were proposing, and on Friday, Professor Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer, held a round table with primary healthcare workers, GPs and others, to help begin the process of designing.  


So that’s being designed now to make sure that it works in the best way.  


And we'll have more to say on that during the coming week.  


But yes, we are absolutely intending to provide those telehealth services. We're designing them now and we will be delivering them, my expectation is, before the end of the week. 



There's some confusion about whether a runny nose is part of the criteria for a doctor to turn up at work with. Do you know whether that is part of the guidelines or it is not part of the guidelines? 



So, if anybody has been exposed, then the position is very clear: that if they believe they've been in contact, if they believe they've been exposed, to self-isolate.  


And the Chief Medical Officer will be speaking tomorrow and will be providing more medical advice.  


But what we've been saying is: it's the same principle that if you have flu symptoms or flu-like symptoms, then in the ordinary course of events you wouldn't be presenting.  


And if in doubt, get yourself tested.  


And that's the important message - we would rather, even though it can be a little bit of a stress on the system, we would rather people over-test, rather than under-test. 



Would you support a lift to the Newstart to stimulate the economy? 



Look, I will respectfully leave those questions to the Treasurer. 



Similarly, I will push it. Would you pay casual workers who have actually had to have quarantine due to the coronavirus? 



I will say this: on Tuesday, the Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister, Christian Porter, will lead a national round table in Sydney.  


That will bring together employers, employees, unions and Government to look at all of the things that are necessary and appropriate to keep our workforce going.  


There will be stresses and there will be strains. And this is a time for tolerance, not criticism.  


It's a time to recognise there are challenges, and it's a time to come together to find solutions. 


Our job has been to lead that national framework, and all thanks to our medical workforce, the states and territories.  


But equally, the different parts of Government under the Prime Minister's leadership are leading their respective roles in working with their parts of the economy, the community, and households. 



Minister, will there be new GP guidelines tomorrow with that Chief Medical Officer’s press conference? 



This week, the Chief Medical Officer is looking at releasing additional support and information for doctors. And that comes from the round table which he led on Friday. 



Will other ADF members need to self-isolate now, moving forward? 



So what has happened is that those who were in close contact have been contact traced, and they are being asked to self-isolate and then to be tested. 


Okay, thank you very much. 

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