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

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Well, millions more Aussies are now eligible for the COVID jab, with the fast tracked phase 2A of the roll-out officially under way today.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

Hundreds of respiratory clinics and vaccination centres will open their doors to over 50s this week, and GPs will follow soon after. We're joined now by Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly. Thanks so much for your time this morning, Professor. Just before we get to that, the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne…

PAUL KELLY:       

Morning.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

… said yesterday that the move to threaten jail for Australians trying to return from India was based on medical advice you provided. Did you?

PAUL KELLY:       

So we were asked to provide advice in relation to the, the public health threat in relation to people coming back from India, Australians coming back from India, and that's what we provided. There is a certain section in the Biosecurity Act which requires that the Minister is satisfied that this is a- would be a proportionate action in relation to public health threat, and that it is only put in place for the minimum amount of time that that is required. And so we provided that advice.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

Okay, because it really sounded like yesterday she was throwing you under the bus.

PAUL KELLY:       

I'm the Medical Advisor to the Government, and the Department of Health is, is- it provides advice when requested. We've got to remember that our primary aim has to keep Australia safe at this point, and that was the information we were given on public health grounds. It was based on the very large number of, of cases coming back from, from India and the proportion in our hotel quarantine system. To keep that safe and to keep it available for all Australians to come back from overseas, we needed to have that brief pause. And I will point out to listeners, this is a 2-week program. The, the actual legal instrument that was signed by the Minister for Health on Friday night expires on 15 May - so it can't go beyond that without rethinking, and that's absolutely what we're, what we're trying to do now, and are committed to do. Terrible scenes in India, and we certainly have great empathy for Indian-Australians that are now stuck there for the time being, but also their families here in Australia. And we are really committed to getting them back after that pause.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

The problem is, the situation in India is not getting better. In fact, over the next couple of weeks it's probably going to get worse, so I don't know how you'll reverse that decision?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, the situation in India is, is terrible, we've all seen the scenes and the numbers that are being reported are almost certainly an underestimate of what's actually happening. So that will continue for some time. The point here, and I think this is a really important point, is it's not only what's happening in India, but it's also what that was bringing, bringing into the country in terms of the stress on our hotel quarantine system, and particularly in Howard Springs where over 70 per cent of the positive cases in Howard Springs had come from Indian flights. So, that- they have reached a point where they could not, literally could not take any more positive cases, and so that was why we really needed to act in relation to this. But it's a temporary pause. It will allow us to look at ways that we can decrease that risk.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

I'm glad you've referenced that though, there, Professor. Because earlier on the show we had Minister Alan Tudge, and he was saying that medical experts only want 2 per cent of people in quarantine to have COVID. So two in ten, I know that right now in Howard Springs that number is 15 per cent. When was that advice given? And who gave it?

PAUL KELLY:       

Sorry, the advice on the numbers?

ALLISON LANGDON:      

Yes, on only 2 per cent of people in quarantine having COVID.

PAUL KELLY:       

Oh. So, yeah. So, that's been our benchmark that we've agreed with the states and territories right throughout. So we've been charting that very carefully, and it's- and there's been a couple of times, or cert- there's been two or three times where that has increased above the 2 per cent and we've needed to take action. The last, the last time was about six weeks ago in relation to Papua New Guinea, and you will recall that we did put restrictions on Australians and others returning from Papua New Guinea into Queensland at that time on the basis of a, a big upswing in the number of cases and the percentage of positives within the hotel quarantine system. And this is now the second time for the same reason, looking at, particularly, the Northern Territory, but also other hotel quarantine systems in the other states and territories.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Professor, what magical solution are you going to come up with in the next couple of weeks when the cases in India are only going to increase? And then if we resume bringing people back home, those numbers will probably stay where they are right now?

PAUL KELLY:       

No magical solutions, but a range of solutions that we do have, which we have looked at in the past and need to strengthen. One is about testing before people get on flights. The second one is, is working with the hotel quarantine systems to make- to continue to make sure that they are safe. The third one is vaccines, and it'd be good to talk about that here in Australia, but also vaccines are rolling out in India and other part of the world, which will, which will help. And, big day here in Australia for the start of phase 2.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Yeah it is. And we saw them opening up in Victoria. It's a shame it's not happening as we speak in New South Wales as well. Would you like to see that? And then all the other states?

PAUL KELLY:       

So, we have a national program. It's been discussed and agreed about all of these issues at National Cabinet. The states, of course, have their autonomy to do what they feel is necessary in their own states, but there are also the primary care rollout, which is now well over half of the vaccines that have been given in primary care through our GPs, GP respiratory clinics and Aboriginal-controlled sector. So from today, there are, I think, 150- 136 GP respiratory clinics which are open for business and available for people over the age of 50. And we put out a call to our general practices who are part of the program, all 4600 of them, to see who might be able to start earlier than 17 May, and 400 of them are already up there on the eligibility checker. So they- fantastic work by our GPs, and that will continue to increase over the week. And by 17 May, everyone will be able to get those vaccines from those 4600 primary care places.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

Are you confident- we know that the rollout's been a little slow, are you confident that we can catch up quickly?

PAUL KELLY:       

Well, we made a decision, it's the right decision, I believe, on public health and medical grounds to concentrate on our most at-risk populations - and that was always going to be hard. We know there are, there are challenges logistically and other ways in getting to that 1A group in particular. But that's continuing, that's not stopping - 1A and 1B continue, we'll continue to roll that out in every way that we're doing it, and different ways over the coming weeks. So we'll continue to do that. But as we, as we open up to 2A, they're the easier to get to people, and they'll be able to roll up now, roll up their sleeves to get the jab, and that will start to increase our numbers as our supply chains have improved.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

I can hear it like a carrying call - roll up, roll up. All the very best with it, Professor. Thanks for your time today.

PAUL KELLY:       

Roll up.

ALLISON LANGDON:      

Thanks, Professor.

KARL STEFANOVIC:      

Appreciate it.

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