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Press conference in Melbourne about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Read the transcript of a press conference in Melbourne on 13 July 2020 about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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

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Thank-you very much and welcome everybody to today’s press conference.

Obviously Victoria has been going through a very difficult time.

177 cases today. Yes, they are down, but they’re still a very large number of Victorians that have been infected.

A very large number of Victorians that will have been in contact with those that have been infected, and therefore people whose health is at risk, and in some case, whose lives will be at risk.

I’m very consciously sending the message that for those who cannot safely social distance, it is important to make sure that we have our masks.

Whether it’s my family in situations where they’ve been visiting the supermarket or other circumstances, myself in appropriate circumstances, or all Melbournians within the lockdown zone, the masks are an important element where we cannot safely social distance.

It’s part of our national defence network against this virus.

And so we do have a very clear national defence network.

We are making progress as a country. Seven out of eight states have made extraordinary progress.

In Victoria, there has been an outbreak. And that’s clearly a setback, and I think it's very important we're honest about this.

But today, the Australian government is providing additional support, both on the containment front and on the capacity front, for Victoria's healthcare system.

In partnership with the Victorian government, we'll be providing an additional 1,000 ADF members, those members will serve in a variety of roles.

They come on top of the approximately 350 that we currently have in place, and those 350 include approximately 120 supporting police at checkpoints across the lockdown zones, 188 that have working in supporting the testing regime.

We also have a variety of supports in terms of police assistance and logistics assistance in different areas of the Victorian response.

It's our job, though, to provide additional support.

Throughout the weekend, I know the Prime Minister was working with myself, with the new Secretary of the Health Department Professor Brendan Murphy, with the acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, in putting together a package of support for Victoria that was offered on Saturday, and it was accepted on Sunday.

1,000 ADF personnel will come to Victoria, with the support of and with the acceptance of the Victorian government, in partnership between the Commonwealth and Victoria.

This is to protect Victorians to help contain the virus.

The roles will include activities such as isolation, testing, follow-up, and checkpoint control.

Those final roles will be determined in conjunction with the Victorian Government, but they will help meet the state's needs.

So our first task is containment.

All up, of course, we have closed the borders to protect Australians, while still allowing Australians home, but a reduced number, in order to make sure that the hotel quarantine system which has operated in 7 out of 8 states in an incredibly effective way, but here in Victoria, where it needs to be strengthened, is fully strengthened.

Secondly, with regards to the testing, we have now passed over 3.1 million tests.

These tests are identifying cases, they are allowing us to track and trace, and therefore to isolate.

In terms of the tracing, around the country that system has been incredibly important. It's playing a hugely significant role in helping to find the cases, associated with the Crossroads Hotel.

Today, eight further cases in New South Wales associated with the Crossroads Hotel have been identified and two further within the community.

So we're taking those very seriously.

New South Wales is however conducting an absolutely comprehensive response to the Crossroads Hotel outbreak.

And then finally, we have the distancing measures.

And that distancing measure can mean 1.5 metres. If you can touch somebody, then you're too close if they're not a member of your immediate family.

It includes the role of masks as a preventative measure where you cannot otherwise social distance.

It also includes the cough etiquette and all of the elements that are about taking care of each other.

And above all else, responding to the restrictions in place, the difficult restrictions in Victoria.

Then that leads to the second area, which is capacity.

I'm announcing 5 million masks from the national medical stockpile today for supporting Victoria in its response.

One million of those will go to primary health care workers, they are currently being prepared for distribution through the primary health networks, and four million will go to the aged care system and the home care system.

These are very important distributions to allow for greater use of PPE, to make sure that all of the needs are met.

We are getting ahead of the curve, and this will be fundamental.

We know that our aged care homes are an area of risk.

We have seen the Menarock outbreak, and we have responded in conjunction and in partnership with Victoria to make sure that each person within that facility who has been affected, and that every person who hasn’t been infected, is given specialised care and treatment, and where hospital is required, that's been provided, where isolation is required and separation, that’s being provided.

So that finally leads me to the last element of capacity, which is the hospital system.

I want to reaffirm that we have been focusing very closely on the capacity of the hospital system to meet high volumes.

Currently, there are 92 people with COVID in hospital across Australia. 18 now in ICU, and I'm advised that there are 15 in intensive care across the country.

So against that background, the advice provided to me by the National Incident Centre shortly before joining you is that there are strong reserves of surge capacity, in particular obviously within Victoria, but around the country.

So this is a challenging time. But the additional Commonwealth support is to help with the containment and to help with the capacity.

The capacity is strong and planned.

It was already planned for an outbreak before this virus arrived, but it's been strengthened during the course of the virus.

I'm happy to take questions from anybody here. I think we've got Anna.


Yes. Thank you, Minister. Can I ask on another public health issue? New South Wales Health has today raised concerns about illegal single-use, flavoured e-cigarettes being sold to children.

How worried are you about this?


I think any attempt to market e-cigarettes to children, whether it's nicotine-based or non-nicotine-based is despicable.

It is the worst sort of predatory commercial behaviour, and we will work with the states to track, find, and prosecute those responsible.



Thanks Minister. Just on aged care, it's been announced that there's been a large outbreak in Victoria, one of the largest outbreaks we’ve seen in aged care home thus far.

How concerned are you about that, and what have we learnt from other outbreaks in aged care facilities that’s going to help us from preventing this become the nightmare that we’ve seen (inaudible)?


So, this is a very, sorry, thank you. This is a very important case.

In particular, the Menarock aged care home has seen federal authorities ensure that all staff and all residents have been tested.

Those that have been tested positive, where hospitalisation is recommended, are being provided hospitalisation.

Otherwise, there is immediate isolation and separation being put in place.

We are receiving a daily brief, the Prime Minister and myself, with regards to aged care facilities in Victoria.

The latest advice that I have is that there are 35 services, whether it's an aged care residence or in some way shape or form, a home care residence where there has been either a staff member or a resident identified and having been tested positive.

So, this is, as I've said from the outset, along with our remote Indigenous communities, our area of greatest risk, and so, we have to be prepared to recognise that any impact in an aged care institution could have dramatic consequences.

So, we are working on a real-time basis, which is why we're providing the additional 4 million masks.



Thanks, Minister. Just two things. A group of doctors are calling for a target of no healthcare worker deaths, and I was just wondering if you would support that given the increasing number of infections among hospital staff.

And just on the surge capacity, do you have a figure for how many extra ICU beds have (inaudible) been set up and how many additional staff have been trained up to operate them?


Sure. So, let me deal with surge capacity.

Around the country, we have 7500 ICU beds that are available in terms of their ability to be converted at short notice.

We have the capacity with regards to ventilators. We scaled that up.

We were able to, not just convert capacity within existing hospital units but also to acquire, through ResMed and other sources, additional ventilation capacity.

As part of that, what we wanted to do was to see that we had an additional 20,000 nurses that were trained for higher duties, and that process is significantly completed.

I'll ask the Chief Nursing Officer to provide direct advice to you later today on the exact numbers that have completed that.

But we've overwhelmingly completed that process.

So, I want to thank our nurses and our doctors for what they have done.

Our goal has to be zero deaths amongst our nurses and our doctors.

Our goal has to be zero transmission within our hospitals to protect our medical workers and to protect our patients.

Now having said that, we know that there are real challenges, that a hospital by its nature, although it's a highly controlled and regulated environment, has those very people who have been ill.

And we know that this is a highly contagious disease, so we'll continue to provide all the support that we can in Victoria.

Thankfully, they have built their reserves to 32 million masks as part of the PPE or the personal protective equipment which is used to protect our health workers.

But this remains a fundamental priority, and I have to say our doctors, our nurses, our pathologists, these are our real heroes during this crisis.



Thanks for taking the question, Minister, (inaudible).


Look, yes I do. We've been working very hard to build their capacity.

We recognise this is a difficult time and a difficult moment. They are having to deal with numbers that would test any state.

But what we've done is we have built a national contact network, over 500 in other states.

We've set up the National Incident Centre as a contact tracing adjunct, which is supporting what's occurring in Victoria.

We've been working with Victorian authorities, and we've offered the military to assist.

I'll leave it to them as to what they believe is the optimal amount.

But only today, Victoria has accepted the Commonwealth's offer of an extra thousand ADF personnel, how they deploy them is a matter for them.

But as I've indicated, it does include that checkpoints, isolation, testing, and potentially follow up with regards to cases that have been identified.

And we will continue to work with each state and territory, but I know that each day, every day, the medical expert panel has been focused on providing that support and making sure that the very clear standard of each case every day being followed through contact tracing is met and must be met.

Each case every day is met, and must be met.





Well, with respect, I would disagree with that.

The app's being used to identify contact, it's certainly identified contacts.

If it identifies contacts which have otherwise been recognised, that's confirmation.

It's about expediting that process.

My advice is it's being used both in Victoria and in New South Wales, and what it does do is it provides additional support.

It's the sort of thing that in a mass outbreak does provide support.

If, for example, there were large numbers of people at the Crossroads Hotel who were in close proximity to one another, who weren't known to each other, that's where we’ll assist.

What we see in Victoria is that largely there has been contact and transfer between family, between people who are otherwise identified.

This is about making sure that if you are on a train or a bus, if you are in close proximity in a hotel, if you're near people that you don't otherwise know, it provides that additional support.

It's one of the elements, but it's an important element of national protection going forward.

All right. I want to thank everybody. And I will keep going.

Again, I would encourage Victorians where you cannot social distance and you are in proximity to other people to please wear a mask.

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