TV interview with Minister Butler and Natalie Barr, Sunrise - 13 July 2022

Read the transcript of the TV interview with Minister Butler and Natalie Barr, Sunrise on Fourth and winter doses; restrictions, masks and working from home.

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

Media event date:
Date published:
Media type:
General public


Health Minister Mark Butler joins us now. Good morning to you. Australians are being encouraged to work from home a bit more during this time. Do we really need to introduce work from home restrictions again? I thought we were sort of surging forward.

Good morning Nat. I think the change with this particular wave is the advice from the Chief Health Officers that was released last week. It is not in the form of a mandate, there are no sort of government mandates to work from home or to wear masks very broadly in the community. We have moved to a position now where the Chief Health Officers are giving advice really about how employers and general members of the community should deal with this third Omicron wave this year. People are strongly encouraged in indoor crowded spaces to wear a mask because we know it will cut transmission and cut the number of cases. Employers have been asked by Chief Health Officers to think about whether their business can deal with a short period of working from home arrangements. Really, it will be a matter for employers to decide in consultation with their employees and given the circumstances of their business, rather than a decision or a mandate from governments.

We are only halfway through winter. How concerning is this with the expectation that it could continue to rise with more pressure on the hospital system?

 I think this is a very concerning wave. This is the third wave just this year that Omicron has thrown at Australia. We’re seeing case numbers rise already. It’s likely over coming weeks that some millions of Australians will catch COVID, some of them catching it again after perhaps having caught it earlier this year.
We’ll want to reduce that number and limit transmission through people, just thinking a bit more about wearing masks in indoor areas, particularly where they cannot socially distance. Our main focus has to be on reducing the number of people who get severely unwell, who are at risk of attending hospital, being admitted to hospital, or even worse. That’s why we have really rolled out this campaign to reinforce the importance of getting boosters, particularly that third dose.
We have expanded eligibility for older Australians to get a fourth dose, because we know that will lift their protection over winter and also we have very significantly expanded access to antiviral medicines which are highly effective at stopping people moving into severe illness, hospitalisation, or even worse.

Okay, let’s go to some viewer questions. Lewis from Victoria asks: “I’m uncomfortable wearing a mask. I feel like it’s going back in time.” I think this sums up, given what the Chief Health Officer said in Victoria, that they want to go back to masks, and then the Minister in Victoria yesterday said “don't worry about it”… when do people wear masks? You’re the federal guy.

The Victorian Minister didn’t quite say “don’t worry about it”. Victoria now has the strongest advice around mask wearing. And we, I think outside Victoria, understand how tough the last couple of years have been, particularly for Victorians. Other parts of the country as well, but none of us have really gone through what Victoria has gone through over the last 2.5 years. I think we have moved deep into the third year of the pandemic to a phase where people don’t want government mandates. They want good advice, they want government to support them with vaccines, with medicines where possible, and that advice from Chief Health Officers is: if you are in a crowded indoor space, you're not able to socially distance, put on a mask. It will not only protect you from getting infected but potentially people around you who might be at risk of severe illness.

Becky from NSW wants to know: her two kids are due back to school next week. She’s nervous with all this COVID confusion that our schools could go back into lockdown during term 3. Do you think this could happen?

I have got no advice before me, there was no advice from the meeting of Chief Health Officers only a few days ago to suggest that schools will go back into lockdown. We really want to move beyond the era of lockdowns, so that really is the crucial message for the community. We need to move to a phase where this is still a very serious illness, a big challenge for our health and hospital system, but we are moving beyond government mandates and lockdowns, to an era where we focus on reducing severe illness and hospitalisation, in particular, and give members of the community and employers just good solid health advice for them to apply all of those common sense lessons we have learned over the last couple of years. 

Yep, we’ve certainly been scarred by those lockdowns. It’s good news that we won’t have to go back there. Federal Minister, thank you very much for your time. 


Related ministers:

Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.