Date published: 
3 May 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LISA MILLAR:       

Well, we can speak now with the Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly. He joins us from Canberra. Paul Kelly, good morning and thank you for your time. So, Greg Hunt said that this was brought in on the basis of your health advice. What did you advise to the Health Minister?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, we were requested to provide advice on Friday in relation to the Biosecurity Act and how that might be used to continue to keep Australians safe, which is the- ultimately the reason why that Act exists. There is a particular section under the Act which requires that the Minister, before he makes a decision, is provided with advice in relation to several matters.

But the crucial ones are that any decision that are made- that is made under the emergency powers are proportionate, are the least restrictive thing that could be done to get to a particular outcome and is only introduced for the period of time where that is absolutely necessary. And so, we provided advice to answer all of those questions.

LISA MILLAR:       

Did that advice include implementing fines and jail time for Australians who seek to return from India?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, our advice was the public health advice about the situation and the situation which has developed is that we've all seen the scenes in India and my heart goes out to all Indians, anyone in India and including and in particular Australians that are in India right now. Terrible scenes and we really understand that. But our [indistinct]-

LISA MILLAR:       

[Interrupts] Did you advise the fines and the jail?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, just to understand the Biosecurity Act, so that what I was asked for was public health advice and then once a decision is made by Government as it has- was done on Friday night, there is another section of the Act which talks about what happens if you breach those things. So, that's in the Act itself, I didn't advise anything in relation to fines or any of those other matters. That is the law.

LISA MILLAR:       

Okay. So, you didn't specifically recommend that. The Minister came back with that and we've heard from a government spokesman this morning that you agreed in writing that those were okay, essentially, that you would support those penalties?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, the penalties are what is written in the Act. That's not the advice on the basis of health grounds or indeed the ministerial decision. That is what the law says. If a decision is made around the Biosecurity Act to put in particular issue, then those are the penalties. So that wasn't a decision that needed to be made.

LISA MILLAR:       

So - okay. So, just to be clear though, under that Act, that was brought in by the Health Minister rather than you, because they're saying that they have implemented this on the basis of medical advice?

PAUL KELLY:       

Of course. And they must do that. The Act is very explicit that the Minister must be satisfied by those things that I mentioned, that whatever is brought into place is proportionate to the risk. And can we just be clear about that, what we were faced with was a quarantine system under [audio skip]. We've seen, again in Perth, the breach of quarantine which has led to a case or three cases now in the community.

We've seen, particularly in the Northern Territory, that over 70 per cent of the positive cases which was far and above the maximum- almost over seven times more than what we had planned for in Howard Springs in relation to positive cases in that facility putting great stress on the medical authorities there.

So, the quarantine system is a ring of containment which we've talked about before. And this was another ring of containment around that to decrease the stress for a very short time. Just to be very clear, this is a two-week pause and in fact, the instrument that was signed on Friday night will expire on the 15th. That's the end of it, it can't continue from then on without another process.

LISA MILLAR:       

Okay. So, why when- then is it proportionate to ban and fine and jail Australians returning from one country when it wasn't proportionate when the US had similar caseloads?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, very early on in the pandemic when we were getting cases from all over the world and then we introduced the hotel quarantine system for that reason, they were coming from many other countries, and we coped with that. But soon after that, we did actually set this limit of two per cent of positivity rate and have kept well below that for almost the entire- well over a year now except for two occasions.

One is now and that has been very clearly related to people returning from India, and the other time was people returning from Papua New Guinea about six weeks ago, when we saw a very similar rapid increase in the number of positive cases in our quarantine system in Queensland because that was where there was [indistinct] ...

LISA MILLAR:       

[Interrupts] Yeah. But Australians weren't criminalised for returning home in the case of PNG.

PAUL KELLY:       

So, for PNG, it was relatively easy to work with airlines and restrict the number of airlines coming in and the caps. For the Indian- for people returning from India, it's slightly more complex because there are a range of other third parties- third countries that people could fly through.

So, that was- we have taken similar action, as related to the Papua New Guinea situation, the Government has stopped the facilitated flights or paused them at least for a couple of weeks into the Northern Territory and similarly with direct flights.

But the matters we were asked to advise on was about the public health threat which we did on Friday and that decision has been made for a short time.

LISA MILLAR:       

Okay. Can I just ask one more really briefly of you, If I can, Paul Kelly? We see today, over 50s being eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine. What sort of numbers are you expecting? We're finally going to be able to see a vaccine roll up hit on a daily basis now that this is brought in?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, as many people as possible. I really encourage anyone over 50 to have a look at our eligibility checker online or to phone us to see where you can get those vaccines from the state and territory-run clinics, but also GPs will be starting from today. And many of them have rolled up to commence earlier than expected. There's already 136 GP respiratory clinics available right throughout the country and over- and 400 GPs as well have put their hands up and more later this week. So, that information is on the website.

GPs, we'd really encourage them to call out to their own patients first and get them booked in over the coming weeks. We're going to see a major increase in people taking the vaccine, I'm sure.

LISA MILLAR:       

Let's hope so. Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

PAUL KELLY:       

You're welcome. Thanks.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID21437, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-professor-paul-kellys-interview-on-abc-news-breakfast-on-3-may-2021)

View contact