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Press conference in Melbourne on 18 July 2021 with an update on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, support for Victoria and New South Wales

Read the transcript of the press conference with Minister Hunt on 18 July 2021 with an update on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, support for Victoria and New South Wales.

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

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Good afternoon, everybody. I'm joined by Professor Ruth Vine, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia for Mental Health, and we’ll be making some announcements with regards to mental health, which is such a critical thing at this time in the pandemic.

At any time, it's fundamental with the stresses and strains of lockdown, with the uncertainties that people are facing. These are critical things to support our young Australians and indeed Australians of every age. I'll address the additional support we're providing for Victoria and New South Wales very shortly.

I should begin by noting that in the last 24 hours, we have passed 10 million vaccinations nationwide. We have had over 99,000 vaccinations, which is the highest Saturday total. And week to date, even though we're only six days into the week, we already have for the first time over 900,000 vaccinations.

So thank you very much to Australians for coming forward, particularly for older Australians. We now have 75 per cent of over 70s vaccinated, which is an important, significant milestone in saving lives and protecting lives. But we want to encourage every older Australian to continue to come forward for their first or second doses if they haven't completed the program as yet.

In relation to additional support, we know that it's a deeply challenging time for people in Victoria and New South Wales. And as a Commonwealth, with the work of the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer, the following things have been agreed.

The Chief Medical Officer has now extended the Commonwealth hotspot to include the Bass Coast. We have seen a significant number of exposure sites on Phillip Island. And so this is an important addition to the areas that are currently covered. And if more areas are needed to be added, the Chief Medical Officer is reviewing the hotspot definitions on a daily basis.

In addition, we will be providing from the National Medical Stockpile significant health support for Victorians. We have authorised and I have authorised release from the National Medical Stockpile for Victoria of 725,000 N95 masks, 725,000 surgical masks, and 175,000 each of gloves, gowns and goggles.

These will be made available to our GPs, our pharmacists, and our allied health professionals through the primary health networks of the north-west, east, and south-east of Melbourne, western Victoria, and Gippsland. And if further areas require support, that will be provided.

This is in line with New South Wales on a similar basis. But relative to the population and the Primary Health Network needs. It does provide an extra measure of support for doctors, pharmacists and allied health professionals. And I want to thank them. They have been doing an extraordinary job through the vaccination program, and through other elements of our COVID response.

In addition, there is significant new mental health support for Victoria. This has come about as a result of an agreement with Victoria. The Victorian Government will be contributing as well, and I thank them for their work and their support.

$3 million dollars will be provided by the Commonwealth to support additional resources over the next six months for clinicians, people who can help young people through headspace. That $3 million funding comes on top of the work, which is already in place in Victoria through the HeadtoHelp program.

Professor Ruth Vine, who helped establish it, will talk about all of the opportunities and pathways for Victorians to seek help. But the message is very simple, difficult, stressful, challenging times. Please don't feel you're alone. Please reach out and seek that help.

With regards to New South Wales, already very significant measures have been outlined by the Prime Minister. And last week I set out our additional health support. But in particular, I want to note that we are supporting through the National Incident Centre, contact tracing for New South Wales.

This is similar to what we have previously done with Victoria and South Australia. The two teams, which have been set up of nine people each, are assisting with a complex case reviews, and these are important parts of providing additional support available to any state or any territory.

We have an extraordinarily capable team in New South Wales, but this provides additional support, as has been the case previously, as I mentioned, in each of South Australia and Victoria.

I also want to just provide a little bit further of an update on the numbers I mentioned. I apologise, 96,700 cases for Saturday, the highest recorded for a Saturday, 96,700, and week to date, 917,629 vaccinations.

That's a record for a full week, but that's occurred within the first six days. What does it mean in practice? It means more than one in 25 eligible Australians, Australians of over 16 years of age came forward to be vaccinated in the last week.

And that's very heartening. It's a significant acceleration. It's meant that we've now passed 10 million vaccinations. 10,067,446 vaccinations as of last night have occurred. And what it also means is that for our over 50s, 59 per cent of have been vaccinated. For our over 60s, 67 per cent have been vaccinated. And very significantly for our over 70s, the most vulnerable group, over 75 per cent have been vaccinated.

And we want to continue to urge people to come forward. Across Australia, 2.8 million Australians have now had first and second doses, and 7.2 million Australians, or 35.1 per cent, have now had at least a first dose.

So I want to thank everybody, and I particularly today, want to focus on the additional support in terms of health and mental health. And on that, I'll ask Professor Ruth Vine, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer responsible for Mental Health, to come forward.


Thank you, Minister. It was actually not that much short of a year ago that we were announcing the opening of the HeadtoHelp clinics, and there were 15 of those in Victoria. It was in the context of Melbourne's extended or Victoria's extended lockdown.

Those clinics, which, by the way, you can access a phone call away, 1800 595 212, have proven very successful. But what we have seen is a sustained demand for their services.

And, of course, with each successive lockdown, people do find it harder to cope and harder to get on with their normal activities of life. And so I think it's very important that today we're announcing those additional funding, particularly for children and young people in Victoria.

This will mean very close work between the Victorian state provided mental health services and headspace provided mental health services. It will enable additional assertive outreach and getting to people sooner, getting to people before they need the sort of care and attention that comes to like an emergency department.

I think it's very important to note that we have seen sustained demand for services. So across Kids Helpline, Lifeline, Beyond Blue, probably they've all seen at least a 20 per cent increase sustained since, compared with 2019, compared with pre covered levels. And that does ebb and flow a bit.

But of course, right now we're at the end of school holidays, returning to school. And I think young people, particularly, perhaps those in years 11 and 12, will be struggling and thinking, how can I continue with my schooling? How can I maintain connection with my friends, with my colleagues? And, of course, how can we support families?

So this is additional funding is very welcome. It does ensure we have increased capacity and increased capability in those very important services. And so I think that's great. Thank you.


Thanks very much to Ruth. I'll start with Madura?


Thanks, Minister. On Friday, it was mentioned that the vaccine program continues to expand with detailed planning underway to expand access for access points for aged care workers.

Can you walk us through what updates there are to how many aged care workers have been vaccinated? And what other access points will be opening across the country?


Sure. So, in terms of aged care workers, at this point in time, there have been a total of 184,663 doses, that includes 117,072 first doses and 67,591 second doses.

Over the course of the coming week, the aged care worker vaccination program will include expanded access to the existing disability clinics. They have the capacity to have both disability support, which is expanding at a very significant rate, as well as to provide the aged care worker support.

Further, we are seeing the approval of self-vaccination programs by aged care facilities. The advice I have is that that will provide support for well over 25,000 aged care workers. It’s likely that the number will be significantly greater before that program is finished.

In addition to that, right now assessments are being made and are expected to be completed shortly with regards to the in-reach providers. We’ve already seen that program with regards to the aged care residents and that’s been completed, 100 per cent of facilities around Australia under the Commonwealth program have had both first and second doses.

And then finally, the Commonwealth vaccination clinics are also providing in-reach in addition to the general practices. And those are all participating over the coming weeks in this program with the disability clinics opening up during the course of this week to aged care workers.



Thank, Minister. I’m sure you’ve seen the reports that Katie Hopkins deliberately tried to breach hotel quarantine conditions in New South Wales. Do you believe she should be allowed to remain in Australia, given that she bragged about doing so?

And what is your message to the thousands of Australians who are unable to come home and are looking at the caps on hotel quarantine being reduced but seeing someone like Katie Hopkins being allowed to get an exemption and come to Australia?


Sure. These actions, if accurately reported, are dangerous, irresponsible, and apparently deliberate.

We know that at the moment the UK has the highest reported daily case numbers in the world, and so this is a particularly dangerous and irresponsible action. Katie Hopkins has called it out herself, she’s boasted of this.

So, last night I contacted the Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, but Karen had already referred the matter to the Australian Border Force. That was going to be my request, but she was already onto this.

Border Force is considering it right now. In my view, if the facts are born out of deliberately exposing someone to potential contact with a person who has not completed quarantine, then the strongest action should be taken.

Border Force will make their determination, they are the decision makers in this particular case, but Border Force will make that decision. And my view is, personally, if the stories are accurate, instead of big brother watching Katie Hopkins, Katie Hopkins should be watching big brother from long, long way away.

In particular, though, I understand that this is at the request of the relevant jurisdiction and the media organisation, and questions can be posed to the media organisation involved, in addition to and outside of the cap.

So it’s in addition to the existing cap so I’ll leave that for the media organisation that sought the exemption but I have very strong views. Dangerous, irresponsible, deliberate, strong action.



Thank you for taking my question.  I also wanted to ask about the Katie Hopkins situation. I think a lot of people have been surprised that celebrities can come in, in and above the cap. Do you really think we should be letting celebrities into the country when so many Australians are locked out?


Look. Our goal is to bring as many Australians home as early as possible. Where there are media organisations and I would respectfully suggest that it might be appropriate to contact the media organisation that was sponsoring the application on the basis of what they believed was an important contribution, then that’s a matter for them.

My view is crystal clear that this is dangerous, irresponsible, it looks as if it was entirely deliberate, and in that situation the strongest possible action should be taken.



Thanks very much, Minister. I just have a couple of quick questions. We heard from Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews, this morning how supply of vaccines is not keeping pace with demand in his state.

Are there any further plans to fast track the delivery of more vaccines to hotspot areas? Not just to Victoria, but also in New South Wales?

Also, just second, can give us any idea around when we might have the Doherty Institute’s advice on what level of vaccination the nation needs to achieve before we move to the next stage of the transition (INAUDIBLE)?


So the Doherty Institute is working on an ongoing basis and literally around the clock on the advice that I have. So we’re expecting that over the near future. I won’t put a specific date on it because we said to them, what matters is that it is right as soon as possible, but right above all else.

And they’ll provide that advice to the National Cabinet in the near future. But again, I’ll let them do their work. They have served Australia incredibly well and I want to thank them for their work so far.

I would note, as part of that vaccination program and those vaccination rates, having passed 10 million vaccinations in the last 24 hours, having reached a record weekly total only six days into the week, and having passed 75 per cent of over 70s, we are achieving very significant mile stones in Australia.

But I want to urge everybody to keep coming forwards. And that's why this week, precisely in terms of vaccine supply, the 150,000 vaccines which were being made available to New South Wales for both Pfizer and for AstraZeneca will begin to be made available. That's very important.

But on top of that, the significant growth in Pfizer, which Australia has secured, will also become available. In terms of the earlier arrivals from within our 40 million doses, critical step forward, those three million doses that we were able to bring forward from the fourth quarter to the current quarter, that will see Pfizer doses to GPs more than double this week, going from just over 100,000 to approximately 250,000.

We also have very significant AstraZeneca volumes that remain available and are being distributed. So more doses, which means more vaccinations for more Australians.

And where, as I note so far this week on the first six days, 917,000 vaccinations. But if you are eligible, please come forward. And if you are due for your second dose, please come forward.



Minister, with the influx of Pfizer doses that you were talking about from this week, can you give under 40s a date yet for when they’ll be able to book in, get their jab?


So, General Frewen is working with the states on that. He has indicated that September to early October is likely, but if we can bring that forward, we will. We continue to work to bring forward all of the doses that we can.

But we are expecting over the course of this week, the first arrival of approximately a million doses in a week from Pfizer. And that will be shared with the states and the general practices and the Commonwealth vaccination clinics.

And that will first be batch tested, then it will be distributed and released, and then that will be available. So what we'll see is an increase in vaccinations. We still have a significant number of people in the 40 to 59 age group to work through, but we’ll follow the medical advice.

And what we are seeing is Australians coming forward and being vaccinated in record numbers. And I think we have Cam?


Yes. Minister, just a couple of questions, if you don’t mind?


Of course.


Just in case it wasn’t super specific before, what percentage of people over 70 to 75 are fully vaccinated?


Okay. Let me come back to you with that. We'll get the daily figures that are presented. But in the over 70s, we now have 75 per cent of Australians that have been vaccinated. And that is an immensely important step forward.


Fantastic. And this is a little bit of a unique question, but we’ve chatting to a fully vaccinated nurse in Melbourne. Her dad was killed in a car accident in McKay, and her brother injured.

Queensland Health has declined a quarantine exemption. Would you urge Queensland authorities to show a bit more compassion in this specific situation?


I would urge compassion. I'd be very happy to receive the details. And through our Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, we’ll approach Queensland.

We've dealt with a number of cases on behalf of individuals where compassionate support is required and work quietly with the states and territories and achieve those outcomes. But I would urge compassion in this particular case.

Also, I've referred the matter of compassionate support, it's something that Clare Armstrong has previously asked me about, to the AHPPC or the medical expert panel. And we're expecting a formal response which will, I think, make it a little bit easier to ensure that these deeply powerful human cases are given the concern that they should be given.

I'll just finish by saying to Australians, thank you for coming forward in record numbers. More vaccines this week, more vaccinations this week, more Australians being protected.

But these are difficult and challenging times. And if you do need mental health support, whether it's calling the Beyond Blue coronavirus helpline, whether it's HeadtoHelp in Victoria, whether it's Lifeline in other parts around the country, or headspace where we've provided additional support today, please don't wait.

Please seek help. We'll get through it. We've done this before. We'll do it again. And we have the support to assist all Australians. Take care. Thank you, everybody.

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