Date published: 
26 April 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

GREG HUNT:

Thank you very much to everyone for joining us this afternoon. In particular I’m accompanied by Commodore Eric Young, coordinator of the Vaccines Operation Centre distribution process.

I’d like to begin with a very important and simple message as part of today's update both on cases and COVID measures and the vaccination program. Australia has recorded zero community cases in the last 24 hours.

We know that in a world of over 800,000 cases a day, on average, over the last seven days, a little bit lower at 728,000 for the last 24 hours, which is welcome but still an extraordinary and frightening human toll which will flow from that, that each case matters, and to have zero cases, after much focus on this on the weekend, in a world of over 800,000 cases a day, draws the comparison between a world in pandemic and an Australia in control.

That's an extraordinary national achievement. And just to put that in context, what we've seen is over 10,000 lives lost in the last 24 hours, well over 10,000 cases a day on average of lives lost through the course of 2021, well over half a million cases a day through the course of 2021 and over 800,000 cases a day on average over the last seven days. And so most days, this year, 69 days to be precise, Australia has had zero cases.

We have challenges, we have an external threat, but we are in a position which people around the world look upon and wish they were us. And I think, given some of the debate of the last few days, that context, that perspective, is very important.

And indeed, I've just spoken with the Chief Medical Officer of Australia and been briefed by Professor Paul Kelly. In his view, he's looking across all of the states and territories.

We remain in a very strong position, and he believes that, whether it's Victoria or Western Australia, the situation is in control and that the combination of testing and tracing, the systems put in place, is working and working well.

And all of this is to be understood in terms of the rings of containment. Border protection is our first and most critical ring.

But we know when we look at the New Zealand example of a twice vaccinated worker, a worker who was wearing PPE and, on the advice we have, adopted all of the right protocols, even still in that situation, somebody can be infected.

And so that's why we need the other rings of containment. The testing, which leads to the tracing, which leads to the distancing, all of these operate, and they're the reasons, because we've had a comprehensive national program, that we’ve been able to maintain the rigour of the Australian system.

It's a system which I think can rightly be judged as one of if not the most successful systems in the world for protecting our national population.

At the same time, one of the things we've done is 16.61 million tests, and that's included on Anzac Day 26,878 tests, with West Australian figures still to come. And so, Australians stepped up on Anzac Day at the same time as they were stepping up to honour our serving and former military.

And so I want to thank them for that. But this is an ongoing global pandemic, and so the threat remains real and germane. As such, I'm pleased to be able to announce the extension of one of our critical COVID measures, telehealth.

Telehealth will be extended for the next six months from the 30 June to the 31 December whilst we co-design with the AMA and the College of General Practitioners, with the Rural Doctors Association of Australia and the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, as well as Allied Health and specialists, the permanent change to embed telehealth in the Australian system.

This is a $114 million investment. But most significantly, we have already seen over 54 million telehealth consultations in Australia. Arguably the largest single change in the delivery of Medicare in the last 30 years, and it's permanent.

We have, in the context of COVID, changed the way we deliver medicine in Australia, and so made health more accessible for people in rural and remote areas, more accessible for those who are homebound for whatever reason. All of these things come together.

And so against that background, we also continue the vaccination program, and Commodore Young will give you the basics, and then we'll take questions.

But I will just make these points. As of today, there have been 1,937,300 vaccinations in Australia. The states have delivered over 733,000 and the Commonwealth 1.2 million vaccinations, and Eric will give you the full details.

Very importantly, in a matter of weeks, the general practice community has now delivered over a million vaccinations. They are the backbone of our national vaccination program.

As Karen Price has said, the head of the RACGP, GPs are a mass vaccination program in their own right, and Eric will take you through the figures in terms of the number of practices, but those practices are continuing to grow, those that are participating.

So we now have 1,002,420 vaccinations which have been completed by Australia's GPs right around the country. They're accessible, they are working with people they know, and they have, as a consequence, the ability to vaccinate Australians right across this nation.

So we would encourage Australians to continue being tested, to continue being vaccinated. Each test and each vaccination can help save lives and protect lives, and that is why we are in the position where we are.

Commodore, if I can ask you to give the update.

ERIC YOUNG:

Thank you, Minister. I'd like to start with where National Cabinet finished last week, and that is around the recalibration of the program.

I guess the first point to note from that is there's been absolutely no change to our core mission. That is to ensure that all vaccines that we have are available across the country, when and where they're needed, to protect our most vulnerable Australians.

Apart from getting those vaccines around the country, our focus for this week has been working with the state and territory authorities to implement the changes as directed by National Cabinet and, importantly, for us to understand what we need to do over the coming weeks.

First and foremost, the key issue there is the limiting of Pfizer vaccine for those under 50, and to address that, we're looking at three key issues.

Firstly, we'll be progressively, over this week, updating the Eligibility Checker and the Vaccine Clinic Finder at health.gov.au to make sure that all Australians in Phase 1 know how and where to access a vaccine.

Secondly, the states and territories are expanding to allow access to Phase 1A and 1B, people under 50 years of age, to access Pfizer. It’s important to note that each of the jurisdictions runs their Pfizer clinics in a slightly different way.

Some of them will be contacting individuals directly to organise appointments. Others will have the Pfizer clinics up on the Vaccine Clinic Finder progressively over this week. For us, we'll be making sure that by the end of the week, all Australians in Phase 1A and 1B understand how to access those vaccines.

On the Pfizer clinics, it's important to note that as the number of sites increases, the number of available appointments will also increase based around the access of increasing stocks of Pfizer vaccine.

And finally, the third point that we’re working on this week is that those people in Phase 2A over 50 from this week will be able to access and find an AstraZeneca clinic from the Vaccine Clinic Finder so that they can commence vaccines from the 3 May. And We’ll be supporting those additional primary care clinics through the reallocation of AstraZeneca doses.

In terms of the weekly operational updated, again, I’ll cover that in three elements: supply, distribution and administration.

On the supply, another 173,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine is going through batch testing- correction, batch release and sample testing by the Therapeutic Goods Administration over the course of the next couple of days, and 707,000 doses of the onshore-produced AstraZeneca vaccine will also be going through batch released and sample testing.

In terms of distribution, last week we distributed nearly 600,000 doses of vaccines across the country, with only two occasions where those vaccines were not distributed, both in Queensland; both have been rescheduled to be delivered tomorrow.

This week we have another half a million doses of vaccine to be delivered across the country, even though it's a short week. And today, on a public holiday across most of Australia, we have 30,000 doses of vaccines going to 240 sites across Australia.

We've also been working with clinics to address supply of consumables. Last week we had over 4000 orders of consumables delivered across the country, many over the weekend, to ensure clinics were able to commence administration on time this week.

In terms of administration, the Minister has given the overall numbers – just over 1.9 million doses administered. Importantly, 4500, now, primary care clinics administered 240,000 doses of vaccine last week, taking the total number administered by primary care to over 1 million.

This week, we have another 62 primary care sites on board, and now in concert with both Commonwealth, state and territory sites, that's over 5000 sites administering vaccines across the country.

Apart from the state and territory clinics, our focus for our service providers has been on vaccinating those most vulnerable in the 2500 residential aged care facilities.

Last week, we had 181 first dose visits to residential aged care facilities and 168 second dose visits. Now, that takes our total of first dose visits to 492 and our total second dose visits to 878. That's 2300 visits to residential aged care facilities.

Overall, critically last week, over 350,000 doses of vaccine were administered to vulnerable Australians, up from 330,000 the week before. And analysis shows that while the number of under 50s receiving AstraZeneca has necessarily reduced, that's been offset by an overall increase in the vaccines administered.

In closing, as I started with, the focus for this week is to ensure that all Australians know how and where to access a vaccine. And our focus every single day is making sure that all vulnerable Australians are offered a vaccine as soon as possible.

Thank you.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks very much. And I will just start with those on the telephone if that's okay. I'll begin with Claire.

JOURNALIST:

Thanks, Minister. My question is to the Commodore and maybe yourself as well. With regards to the aim being that all Australians in Phase 1 know when and where they can get a vaccine from, given that we're very imminently in a week moving to the start of the over-50s which is phase 2A, will the checker have to undergo another update, or will this accommodate that new cohort coming onboard as well?

GREG HUNT:

I'll make a brief comment, and then I’ll let the Commodore respond.

So, there's constant updating. What happens is as new clinics come on board or as new dates for populations come on board, that's all within the existing design. But I think that’s people are using the checker, or the vaccine eligibility checker.

We’ve sometimes seen well over 100,000 a day people using it, and each week we update it for the new clinics. I have to say I wasn't expecting as many new clinics to come on board because I thought we had got close to the number of clinics that wanted to participate.

But the fact that there's another 60 this week after already having achieved our April goal halfway through April I think is very, very heartening. Eric?

ERIC YOUNG:

Thanks, Minister. I think the only thing to add – and I apologise if I wasn't clear in my comments – as the Minister alluded to, we are constantly updating the Eligibility Checker and the vaccine clinic sites.

There are two components for the AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 50. Firstly, as National Cabinet agreed last week, general practice respiratory clinics and state clinics will open up from the 3rd of May for those over 50.

And general practices writ large will open up from the 17 May. Again, without getting anyone confused about what that actually means, towards the end of this week, those over 50 will be able to access the eligibility checker and the vaccine clinic finder and be able to start booking their vaccines.

GREG HUNT:

Thanks very much. And if I may go to Paul Karp.

JOURNALIST:

Thanks so much, Minister. More than 110,000 people have left Australia since the start of the pandemic. So is it fair enough that the West Australian and the Victorian Government want tighter exemptions for leaving Australia?

And if not, how soon might we be going in the other direction and loosening restrictions on outbound travel and inbound hotel quarantine for people who have been vaccinated?

GREG HUNT:

Sure. Look, I might give a slightly longer answer than usual. You're the first to ask about these issues. So if everybody could be patient for one moment please.

The first thing is we have full confidence, full confidence, in all of the states and territories to manage their hotel quarantine systems. They've overwhelmingly done a great job. And, yes, there are challenges, but indeed I saw the comments of the West Australian Premier yesterday, that problems have occurred, and I’m quoting: on a handful of occasions with hundreds of thousands of Australians returning, so the system itself has actually worked relatively well, were his comments.

My view is we actually have the best quarantine system, or at the very least the equal of the best of any in the world.

This has been the front-line in our protection, and half a million Australians have come home since mid-March of last year when the restrictions were put in place.

We have closed the borders to incoming traffic other than for exemptions. And that's why in a world of 800,000 cases a day, Australia has zero. And zero not just once or twice or three times, but 69 times already this year.

So I think it is very important that we put into perspective we already have arguably the best and most effective system in the world. And we’ve brought half a million people home from mid-March.

And we’ve allowed Australians to come home, to reunite with their loved ones, to return to their country of origin, as well as bringing in those that are absolutely critical to the functioning of our nation.

But as Premier Berejiklian said today, there are always challenges and risks wherever you engage with the world, and that’s why the New Zealand case I think is so instructive.

It’s just one case, but of a double vaccinated worker in PPE abiding by the protocols where the disease nevertheless found a way. So it’s a highly contagious disease.

Unless you were to absolutely cut Australia off from the world, no medical returns, no compassionate returns, no trade in or out, because wherever there is trade of iron ore, of manufactured goods, of medicines, of critical food, no export of agriculture, then you cannot prevent contact. But our job is to put in place the best system in the world.

And that’s why we’ve got the rings of containment where the quarantine is the first of those rings of containment. And that’s absolutely critical. But it’s supplemented by the testing, the tracing and then the distancing. Those are the things that have kept us arguably safer than virtually anywhere else in the world, along with perhaps New Zealand and Taiwan, and one or two other examples.

Against that background, there are exemptions, only exemptions, for people to leave the country under the strictest of circumstances. And some of them are for the most profound humanitarian or compassionate reasons.

Some of those who are leaving to live overseas, some who are on critical national business, or related business. But all of them are done on an exemption basis by the ABF and done on the basis that we know that we have to bring Australians home.

And so there are those who disagree in both directions and we respect that. But our job is to make sure that we keep Australians safe, but bring Australian's home.

And I think those examples from overseas in terms of New Zealand explain why it’s the first ring of containment, but it’s not the only ring of containment. But it is arguably the best of the quarantine measures in the world.

So we’ve already added, as we have done it right for the pandemic, additional measures. And in fact, I might quote another West Australian, the West Australian Health Minister yesterday who said, when asked about their hotel quarantine: we take learnings from every part of this pandemic.

We’ve learned since it came to our attention in late January 2020, and we are continuing to learn more about it. And in their case, they were talking about their mitigation efforts in the hotels, that we reduce any potential infection risk. But across the country, every day we adapt.

And so where we’ve seen high risk countries, we’ve already put in place beyond the blanket border bans, additional restrictions even for those exemptions, in particular in the case in India where we’ve seen an outbreak with catastrophic human outcomes.

We recognise that for the Indian community, they are suffering abroad, but our Indian-Australian community is also suffering. Their friends and their family and their loved ones are in extreme risk.

Many are contracting the disease and many, sadly, are dying every day, literally, they are dying and unable to breathe.

So restrictions have been put in place, which have slashed outbound traffic. Further restrictions have also been put in place, and I am able to say, with the blessing of the Prime Minister, that the National Security Committee will meet tomorrow and will consider what further measures are needed to assist India at this moment of humanitarian and health crisis on an unimaginable scale.

But we’ll also consider whether the medical advice indicates that additional measures are required. And if those additional measures are recommended, we will take them with the heaviest of hearts but without any hesitation.

But we remember the agony that our own Indian community is faced with, and I think it is very important that we are sensitive to the suffering that they face and their friends and their family and their loved ones overseas face.

So, I apologise, that was a longer answer.

Madura?

JOURNALIST:

Thanks, Minister. Thanks for the answer as well.

Just to build on that, I'm curious as to the additional measures of which you speak, about the National Security committee might put forward.

Can you shed light on what those additional measures could be? And are some of those measures to come in before, on the fly, or is there a chance we might cut India off totally?

GREG HUNT:

So look, I respectfully not pre-empt them. The Prime Minister gave his blessing to do something unusual and to indicate that the National Security Committee is meeting tomorrow, and that it will consider humanitarian support.

India is literally gasping for oxygen. And whilst we can assist with the national medical stockpile, their particular request is for assistance with regards to the physical supply of oxygen. And that will be one of the things we’re looking at, in particular with the states.

We are in a position to be able to supply non-invasive ventilators. We are in a strong position on that front, because we don't need them at this point in time. We’ll still keep a reserve, but if they can be of assistance, equally, we’ve reached out to the states who actually carry the supplies of oxygen, to see whether there is any spare capacity which may be provided.

And then with regards to incoming and outgoing, we’ll just take the medical advice, and only in the last few days, we have made the difficult, difficult but necessary decision without hesitation to reduce incoming flights by 30 per cent. And if more is required, then more will be delivered.

Andrew Tillett?

JOURNALIST:

Thanks, Minister. Just going back to point you might know about, the WA Premier McGowan, his criticism of exemptions.

What possible, sort of, reasons are there for things like people going overseas for weddings, sports carnivals in Africa?

I mean that to me just sounds like a very loose definition of exemptions. Are you looking to tighten it up?

And secondly, just quickly, can you provide me an update at all why there’s been, sort of, no progress on the Queensland-Toowoomba quarantine camp proposal? Where is that up to?

GREG HUNT:

Sure. Look, firstly in relation to people who travel overseas. Of course, we’ve had a dramatic reduction from a nation which moved freely, people incoming, people outgoing.

Other than appropriate visas for those who were incoming, we are now, as a general rule, not able to leave our country.

This is the heaviest peacetime restriction that I'm aware of in our lives, and potentially since the end of the First World War. Obviously, wartime, very serious conditions were in place there.

So with regards to those restrictions, we effectively have a situation which has led to a great challenge and hardship for so many Australians who have not ordinarily being able to leave.

Within that, the Australian Border Force operates an exemptions process, and that has seen the most extreme reduction in outbound and inbound travel as a consequence. They consider each case on its merits, and I will leave the individual cases to them.

But essentially, you have the categories of critical work, of assisting the national interest, and compassionate exemption. Those are the fundamentals and they should remain the basis of it.

But we have already said that in relation to high risk countries- and I would note that when we had high risk countries in North America and Europe, which had faced extraordinary caseloads, they haven't always been quite these same calls.

We now have a crisis in India and we have already, already taken the steps to further tighten the departures. And so Border Force is managing that on a case-by-case basis. But if more is required then more will be done.

And in relation to Queensland, I think the, without being across all of the details that’s being handled for a different process, I am, my understanding is we have not received a proposal which has all of the details, but nor is it necessarily one which is, may be appropriate. I’ll let others judge that.

But on the appropriateness, I think it’s important to understand what is it that is required? And I do have some information here. For a facility to be able to support people, it’s got to be adequately provisioned. It’s got to ensure that the health of the residence is maintained, that the staff are able to travel to and from easily.

If you have staff that are travelling right across the country, if they have to fly in, fly out, that multiplies the risk. You have to have access to the ICU and primary care to make sure that we have mental health resource capacity.

All of the things that were set in place over a year ago for a reason. Firstly, there is the protection of the residence but secondly there is the protection of transmission.

And if we have rural or remote communities that are vulnerable, in particular ones that may be near indigenous communities, then that multiplies the risk rather than reduces the risk. I think that’s extremely important to understand.

We do not want to adopt options that multiply risk. We are only interested in those actions that reduce risk. And when you look at - in fact, what Premier McGowan said of hundreds of thousands of arrivals and only very few cases, where inevitably, there will be some.

But our some are fewer than any could have imagined, and fewer than almost anyone else in the world. And at the same time, we have to make sure we’re not risking the transfer of large numbers of patients or of staff that are assisting in any quarantine facility.

So as they’re not flying around the country. They’re engaging with vulnerable communities. So they’re the considerations that are put in place.

Teagan?

JOURNALIST:

Thanks, Minister. On another issue, if I may.

The Business Council is proposing for the Government increased the childcare subsidy rate to 95 per cent for low income households. It’s also suggesting to make paid parental leave more flexible, similar to what we’ve see Labor propose.

Is this a possibility or something that’s even being considered given the Government has previously said Labor's plan was too generous for wealthier families?

GREG HUNT:

Sure. Look, I'll respectfully leave these matters for the Minister for Social Services, as well as, of course- and Families and for the Treasurer.

Generally, however, we've taken profound steps on both child care and paid parental leave over the years, things that have been difficult, but because of the budgetary situation, we've been able to do that, and that's made a difference to Australian families.

On the forward, I'll leave that to the relevant ministers, but I think that history is very important to understand.

Then I have Josh.

JOURNALIST:

Yes. Thank you. Good afternoon. Two quick questions, please.

There’s calls for a stricter national standard on hotel quarantine around things like masks, ventilation, and testing. Do you think Australia would benefit from a concrete set of standards around that, you know, around different states?

And on the second one, on vaccines. We're currently doing I guess around 50,000 to 60000 vaccinations on a good day. I'm mindful that the PM said the Government won't be setting new targets right now, but with the revamped rollout, what’s the feasible daily number of vaccinations you’d like to get to?

GREG HUNT:

Sure. Look, firstly, of course, we've had a national review of hotel quarantine led by Jane Halton. That put in place standards and protocols across the country, and the states have done it.

The states and territories have done that. And obviously, one of the most successful systems has been the Howard Springs Centre, and I think there's a point to understand about that.

The Howard Springs Centre, from a clinical perspective for the international arrivals, has been led by the AUSMAT team, the Commonwealth, in partnership with the NT. The NT has led the domestic quarantining programme, which they have run.

At the request of the Northern Territory, clinical leadership and operational leadership of Howard Springs is being transferred, when the NT is ready, to the NT.

So there are some differing views amongst states and territories, but the NT is actually embracing and stepping up into a greater role in leadership on hotel quarantine and that approach, and we thank them for that.

We understand and respect the different views, but that national review of hotel quarantine set out by Jane Halton has put that in place.

And frankly, when you look at the New Zealand case, when you listen to the words of the New South Wales Premier today, we recognise that our system is extraordinarily tight, in my view, the best in the world. But we're always seeking to strengthen it.

And that's what we're doing. Always working in partnership with the states, and some will have different views and some will have alternative views, and we've heard that from different states over recent weeks, but the NT example of them stepping up is a very interesting case study, and it's obviously not along party lines.

The Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, leads a Labor government in the NT and it's something that they have sought, and we recognise that but we'll just work with each of the states and territories.

Then in terms of daily, we don't set a daily figure. What we want to do is to encourage as many Australians as possible, and I think the heartening thing this week that Commodore Young set out is that even though there's temporarily less access for the under 50s because of the AstraZeneca rules that have been put in place by the TGA and ATAGI, we're seeing an overall increase in weekly vaccination numbers.

So an overall increase in weekly vaccination numbers, which I think is very, very heartening.

Chris O’Keefe and then the very patient Isk in the room.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you, Minister. I think there’s an incident in New South Wales of an adverse reaction. Are you aware of this and is the TGA investigating?

GREG HUNT:

Yes, I am. And yes, they are. I would be very cautious. The preliminary advice I have is that this is not suspected to be a case of TTS or thrombosis with thrombocytopenia.

The TGA is going through its processes to see whether there is anything else. But in relation to TTS, at this point, the preliminary advice is that they are not considering it likely, but they will go through a full and thorough investigation.

Can I make the general point that the TGA has long said we have to be very, very cautious in presuming links. Wherever there's a link, the TGA and it convenes what- or even a potential link, the TGA convenes the VSIG after investigation if they believe it's of a sufficient possibility, and then they determine and publish their findings.

So, we have a Vaccine Operation Centre which reviews all potential cases of any adverse reactions, and we then have, of course, the Vaccine Safety Investigative Group, which makes the determinative findings.

And the advice of Professor Skerritt, when I stood in this same place with him just over a week ago, was that we should all exercise great caution in the judgements that we make because we have some of the best safety and medical regulators in the world who are reviewing all and any potential cases.

Then, Isk. You're entitled to more than one.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you very much. And I have a list of more than one. So, thank you for your patience.

GREG HUNT:

Three will do it.

JOURNALIST:

I’ll try and do it to with some semblance of order as well.

GREG HUNT:

Alright.

JOURNALIST:

On telehealth

GREG HUNT:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

I have a question on telehealth from a friend and colleague. In regards to telehealth, the Opposition has accused the Government of making this up on the fly, this policy on the fly, and says telehealth should be permanent.

I know that you’ve said it will be permanent eventually, but we are announcing an extension today. Why aren’t we announcing a permanent telehealth model?

GREG HUNT:

Well it’s pretty clear that the Opposition hasn't spoken with the AMA or the College of GPs who requested that this be extended in its current form whilst they're vaccinating, whilst COVID is continuing, and whilst we co-design together.

So I'm a little bit surprised, in one respect, that the Opposition forgot to ask the AMA or the College of GPs. But in another respect, I'm not surprised.

I think sometimes they just say things and then think about it later.

JOURNALIST:

Well, on the AMA a little bit, this goes back to the hotel quarantine issue a little bit and we have kind of answered it.

But, the WA AMA president has described hotel quarantine as a human rights violation. So, after more than a year, why hasn’t the Commonwealth and the states come up with a more viable alternative to quarantine?

GREG HUNT:

Well, one of the reasons that hotel quarantine was selected by the National Cabinet is precisely because of the care and conditions of the individuals.

And Eric will know a lot more about military accommodation than me, but some of it is very Spartan, and our Defence Force personnel are pretty robust and pretty tough. And many of the facilities that have been advocated by some, shared bathroom, shared communal facilities, are very, very basic accommodation, depending on the circumstances.

And the hotels, of course have individual rooms, with individual bathrooms, which have the privacy, which have the degree of protection of the individuals. Not to mention the fact that they are able, therefore, to be segregated. And I think that’s an extremely important part.

So firstly, this; the care of the individual. Secondly, there is the medical care. The ability to have proximity to ICUs, the ability to have proximity to ventilation.

The ability to have access to high quality tertiary hospitals, as well as advanced primary health and mental health systems. And then there is the safety factor, with regards to not risking remote and indigenous communities. And not risking, in particular the mass transfer of both patients and staff in and out of remote locations.

So, that’s the theory behind it. And, Howard Springs of course may not be understood by many. Not only is it transferring at the NT’s request to the NT, but it’s in the suburbs of Darwin, I know it well. I’ve visited there on two occasions.

It’s there because it has links to the Darwin hospital, it has the support of the AUSMAT team, which has the National Critical Care and Trauma Centre at the airport only 20 minutes away.

And so it has one of the highest quality medical teams in the country, linked to the Darwin hospital, based right there in Darwin.

And so that’s an example of how and why we make those decisions. But we’re always working with different states and territories, and they’ve done a great job.

That’s the take out of all this – we actually believe in the states and territories. I get the feeling that Mr Albanese doesn’t have confidence in the states and territories to carry out the operations. We do.

JOURNALIST:

Onto India.

GREG HUNT:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Flights being reduced. Is there a chance that they’ll be reduced even further?

And even if they’re not, I mean, what plans are there, what assurances do we have that stranded Australians in India will be able to get home safely.

GREG HUNT:

So in that questions is- are the two elements that we have to weigh up. That was a question about reducing flights, but then, at the same time, bringing home Australians. And an entirely reasonable question.

That is, I think, the balance as a nation that we have to strike. We have to keep Australia safe, but we also have to bring home Australians. That’s the balance, and that’s been our role.

Bringing home 500,000 Australians, and at the same time striking the balance of having one of the safest countries in the world. An island sanctuary in a sea of pandemic. That’s Australia, and that’s what we’ve done as a country.

As a nation, as a community, we all have to step up. And it’s hard, and it’s difficult, and it’s going to be with us for a long while. And so then in terms of India specifically, we’ve made the heartrending decision to have to reduce flights.

At the same time, we want to bring Australians home. National security committee of the Australian Cabinet will meet tomorrow. That’s the Federal Government’s national security committee. It will consider whether medical advice indicates more is necessary. If they do that, we will do it with a heavy heart, but without hesitation.

JOURNALIST:

So, could we cut off all flights to India?

GREG HUNT:

I’m certainly not going to pre-empt the National Security Committee of Cabinet. What I will say is that we’re taking medical advice.

Firstly, we’re looking at our humanitarian capacity to assist. And looking at both ventilation and oxygen. We provide the ventilators, if there is excess capacity in the states, to provide any oxygen. And that would be greatly received. It would literally be lifesaving in India.

The national medical stockpile is also available where we have excess capacity, as we’ve done with PNG. With gloves, gowns, and other items.

JOURNALIST:

Do we roughly know how many Australians are in India, trying to get home or registered trying to get home?

GREG HUNT:

I’ll leave that for DFAT, which has the register by individual countries.

With that, I want to thank everybody. Thank Commodore Young, again, for his work. Not just here today, but most significantly as the vaccines op- as the coordinator of vaccine logistics across the country.

And to all Australians. In a world with 800,000 cases a day, and zero in Australia today, it’s challenging. It can be difficult. But, we have achieved amazing things.

So we’ll continue to do that. Sometimes there are difficult decisions, and we just want to thank Australians for coming forward, being tested, and continuing to be vaccinated. Those vaccinations will save lives, and protect lives, over the course of the coming year and beyond, thanks.

JOURNALIST:

Just on that. I think it’s important to, just one question and answer. With the blood clotting, the latest case, how should Australians react to that? And what confidence should they still have in the AstraZeneca vaccine and the rollout in general?

GREG HUNT:

Well, I think both the Therapeutic Goods Administration and ATAGI, or the Australian Technical and Advisory Group on Immunisation have reaffirmed the existing advice and that is, Pfizer for the under-50s, AstraZeneca for the over-50s.

That’s what we do with flu. That’s what we do with other vaccines. I’ve taken the AstraZeneca vaccine, along with Julia Gillard and Brendan Murphy, myself. We’ve had 1.2 million Australians take the AstraZeneca vaccine.

There are over 20 million people, with numbers rising, in the UK. And around the world, it’s one of the backbones of the global programme.

And these vaccines save lives. But, we’ve amended the advice. This has been Eric’s role. To help recalibrate the distribution programme and the administration programme in line with that advice.

But the fact that we took the advice and we responded, not just on the same day, but within the first 15 minutes of receiving it shows how serious we are.

And following the medical advice has kept Australia safe. Following the medical advice, coming forward for vaccinating as early as you can, when it’s your time, will protect you, but it can also protect every Australian.

Thank you and take care.

Ministers: