Press conference about COVID-19
Read the transcript of a press conference with the Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, about coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
Australians have commenced the road back, following the National Cabinet decision yesterday on the Prime Minister and the Premiers to endorse the national roadmap for coronavirus recovery.
We’ve seen the States and Territories respond and give people the vision of the road back both in terms of health and the economy.
It’s about saving lives and saving livelihoods, and I’m really delighted that across the country we are seeing a response from the states and territories, we are seeing a roadmap being turned into a road by the states and territories. And although it’s cautious, although it’s gradual, Australians can now see their way to the future.
In terms of our coronavirus update for today, we know that the work in terms of containment continues. We still have a long way to travel.
The border protection measures meaning that people in quarantine are being found with coronavirus cases. The quarantine hotels are doing their work. Three cases have come from the quarantine hotels, I’m told, in the last 24 hours.
Our testing has now seen 770,000 tests across Australia and the rate has now dropped to below 1 per cent positive across those 770,000 tests. In other words we’re doing more tests but finding a lower percentage of people who are positive across the country.
In terms of our tracing, the public health units across the country through the states and territories continue to do a magnificent job in taking those tests and then tracing down the contacts of other people who might have been exposed, who might be at risk and who might be positive.
As part of that we’ve now reached 5.4 million registrations of the COVIDSafe app. What the app does, it keeps us safe. And I am delighted that Kel Knight has now endorsed the app and has indicated that he and Kath and Kim are all going to be using the app going forward.
I also want to note that in terms of isolation a very important thing has happened. Australians have embraced telehealth, there are now eight and a half million telehealth consultations that have been completed. And this is keeping people safe and its keeping people well in their own homes, and that’s an important part of our protection.
We still want people, though, where they need to go to the doctor, to go for those face-to-face consultations which might require a physical examination. That’s a very important part of our health. So there’s face-to-face consultation and there’s telehealth for people who are at home in isolation.
Across the country we’ve now had less than half a per cent per day increase for over two weeks. That’s an extraordinarily important milestone and one which even six or eight weeks ago would have appeared impossible. And so I want to thank Australians for what they have done.
Twenty cases in 24 hours. Very significantly that has come from the particular outbreak in Victoria, which is now, I think, being very well tracked and traced by the public health authorities here. But we are seeing downwards pressure on those numbers across the country, and that’s only come because of the work of Australians.
There is more work to do. We have to practice our cough etiquette and our personal hygiene, the washing of hands, the use of antibacterials, but all of these things are coming together.
In terms of the road map, we have a clear three step road map and plan for Australia. This has been adopted and embraced by all of the states and territories. And to just give an update, what we see is that in seven of the eight states and territories, they’ve already indicated their dates and commenced with particular steps. The last state will start on Monday with their steps.
In New South Wales, family visits are allowed. In the ACT they’ve already commenced hospitality, Northern Territory, hospitality changes. In WA, travel within state, schools plan, playgrounds. In Tasmania a clear timetable has been set out, in South Australia outdoor dining and regional tourism. In Queensland a timetable for all three steps along that plan and in Victoria, commencing on Monday, they begin with outlining the steps forward.
So, one country, one direction, different speeds, but all heading towards the common goal of keeping Australians safe but getting Australians back to work. I’d be very happy to take any questions you’ll ask.
You mention that road map there. This morning Tim Wilson said that there’s a narrative building that Dan Andrews, the Premier, seems to be enjoying this lockdown because of the power it’s given him. Is that something you agree with, those comments?
Look, our view is that all of the states and territories are heading in the same direction but at different paces. And the Prime Minister has helped lead and coordinate this road map for Australia, and we want everybody to commence on that.
All have indicated that they have either commenced or will very soon be commencing. So we’ve had good cooperation from the states and territories and we are working as a single National Cabinet and we’re pleased with the progress so far.
So you disagree with Tim Wilson’s comments?
I just, respectfully, wouldn’t characterise them that way.
And Katie Allan, another Federal MP, has also weighed in on this. Is it helpful that MPs within the Coalition are criticising the Victorian Premier’s response to this?
What we’re doing here is we very clearly have one country, one direction, different speeds, and it’s perfectly appropriate for people to seek to look at the speed with which different states and territories move.
For us, our task has been to lay out that road map. Now it’s over to each of the states and territories, each of the Premiers and Chief Ministers, to determine what is the appropriate speed is for them. It’s equally appropriate for others to indicate that they would like to see advance and progress along that road.
So it’s appropriate for Federal MPs to say that?
Well, it’s very important that people are able to set out their case, and that’s an exceptionally critical part of our democracy. What our task as a country, as a National Cabinet has been, is to lay out the road map for people to keep their safety whilst at the same time getting their jobs back, getting their lives back and working in that direction.
So, one country, one direction, different speeds. Now it’s over to the Premiers to determine their own speeds.
Yeah, so just to be clear, you’re supportive of Dan Andrews’ decision to wait until Monday to announce which restrictions (inaudible)?
These are matters for each of the Premiers, and equally it’s appropriate for Federal parliamentarians to express their views on what is the right speed for their own states and territories.
And that’s including schools as well?
Well, across the country what we want to do is we want to see children back in schools at a time that each of the states determines.
But we’re encouraging people to do everything they can to get our children back, particularly because those that come from difficult socioeconomic backgrounds will often find it harder to home-school, and with the potential risk of kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or difficult backgrounds being left behind.
That’s why the National Cabinet has agreed that getting schools back is an important action, but it’s also agreed that it’s up to individual states to determine the pace of that.
Just on broader coronavirus issues, China is now saying it supports WHO investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. Is that something you support or would you prefer something more independent, something with greater input from other countries?
Well, we are supporting the EU resolution which sets out an independent inquiry auspiced through the WHO. So, the particular form of it, that’s being worked on by the Foreign Minister.
The fact that we’ve seen movement from China, I think that’s an extremely important step forward. The world is coming together. Australia has helped lead that direction for the world: the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, they said we need the independent inquiry, they’ve worked very hard to that end.
The EU and the United States have now embraced that position. The EU motion, I think, is an extremely important step forward, and now that China has indicated support for that, I think that we will see a full and thorough international investigation.
Just back on that road map, is the Government still concerned that the country will fall off an economic cliff in September?
Well, I think our goal is to get Australians back to work as early as possible, and each person that is able to get back to work, that’s a cause for celebration. Each restriction that is lifted is a cause for celebration. And so we have to do two things, we have to protect the health of the country but we have to protect the health of the economy.
One of the things that came out this week, a very powerful work supported by Pat McGorry and Ian Hickie in the University of Sydney, saying that the mental health of Australians is at risk in a major economic downturn.
So one of the reasons we need to help provide that road map back, to provide that pathway for Australians to be back at work is firstly to help with their jobs and their aspirations and their personal economic security, but also to help with their mental health. It’s a deeply human reason to assist people to get back to work.
Just (inaudible) Canberra, Minister. New details have been announced between the Prime Minister’s office and the then-Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie’s office show the Prime Minister wanted to personally look over the list of approved programs the day before they were announced.
Can you explain how that doesn’t contradict the Prime Minister’s assertion that he never interfered with the project?
Look, I’m sorry, I don’t have any detail on that.
Okay, well thank you. I just want to finish by saying to Australians: thank you for what you’ve done.
You have made Australia the envy of the world and it’s been difficult, it’s been tough. We always said we’d get through this, we really are getting through this now.
But it’s the work of our doctors and our nurses, but the work of Australians everywhere who’ve given us the ability to develop the road map and now to follow the road map. And we have started on the road to recovery for our health, for our economy and for our jobs. Thank you.