Date published: 
24 August 2020
Media event date: 
23 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

ALISON MCMILLAN:

So, I can tell you that today in Australia, we have in the last 24 hours 216 new cases of COVID-19. That brings us to a total of 34,812. Four of those cases were in New South Wales, 208 in Victoria, two in Queensland, one in Western Australia, and one in South Australia. Sadly, we’ve seen now 502 deaths across Australia related to COVID-19, and again, I offer my condolences to anyone who has lost a loved one, family or friend, to this COVID outbreak and pass on my condolences to all of them. Seventeen deaths in the last 24 hours in Australia; those are in Victoria. We have 4261 active cases currently across the country, 604 people in hospital, and 39 of those are in intensive care. Now across Australia, we have been incredibly successful in promoting testing, and we’ve seen more than 5.5 million tests conducted across the country since the outbreak of this pandemic. And we continue to encourage anyone, if you have any symptoms whatsoever, however mild, it is really important that you get tested. Stay at home, get tested, and we will help across the country to prevent the transmission of this disease and hopefully return at some point to a hopefully return at some point to a more normal life.           

Today, I’d particularly like to call my enormous respect and appreciation for all healthcare workers and aged care workers, disability workers, anyone working in this extremely challenging time in Australia, but particularly to those in Victoria, where we’re seeing people working in aged care facilities and in hospital at the front-line with COVID-positive. Particularly, again, in this International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, it is so important to recognise and acknowledge the terrific work they all do. I recently returned from Victoria, where I was privileged to work with many of my colleagues who are doing such an amazing job, and again we thank them for that wholeheartedly, not only from myself but on behalf of the Australian Government and I think all Australians across the country for the terrific work that they do. So, I'm going to go now to questions. And Jade, you have a question for me?

QUESTION:

Can I just ask if you're concerned about the cluster that has emerged in Queensland? And also, ahead of Federal Parliament returning tomorrow, do you think that given those extra cases in Queensland that there should be any further restrictions on Queensland politicians when they come to Canberra?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Thank you, Jade. So the- yes, the outbreak in Queensland. We are monitoring very closely. We have enormous confidence in the terrific work that Professor Jeannette Young and her team are doing to identify the source of these outbreaks and do that extensive testing. We encourage that they are really well across this outbreak and are working to contain it as quickly as they can. The necessary arrangements for Parliament returning this week is that Parliament, like any other workplace, is a- does need to comply with COVIDSafe requirements, and we will see everyone doing that in a very sensible way. So we will see them taking all of the necessary precautions. I don't believe that there's any need at this point in time to do anything further for the politicians returning from Queensland. I would suggest that they're already here. Thanks, Jade. Cassandra.

QUESTION:

Hello. Yes, some medical experts have raised possible safety concerns over a fast-tracked COVID-19 vaccine, yet the Government hasn't ruled out policy measures compelling Australians to take it when it becomes available. Is that appropriate?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Thank you, Cassandra. We are extremely encouraged in Australia about all of the work going on across the world in relation to finding a vaccine for this virus. Australia has very, very strong regulatory systems in place to ensure that if and when any vaccine becomes available, it will go through all of those necessary checks and balances to ensure that it’s provided safely and effectively to the Australian community, and we won’t sidestep those necessary requirements. There are- obviously, there's a great focus at the moment on the Oxford vaccine, but there are numerous other vaccines coming to clinical trial across the world. As always, we will be ensuring we provide clear, accurate, and concise information to all Australians about the nature of the vaccine and how safe it is. We hope and encourage all Australians to seek out the information from a reliable source. And Tamzin?

QUESTION:

Thanks, Alison. I was just wondering if you could explain the current advice for all Australians around hugs and handshakes and how long you imagine that the advice will be in place. And what’s the importance of keeping up social distancing no matter how much we’d all like to be hugging our friends and family at the moment?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Thank you, Tamzin. So, the questions are really important about hugs and handshakes. If you- I suggest that we have reached a point at the moment where a handshake is no longer something we should be doing socially. It has become very much part of our culture over a very long time. Handshakes are something we should avoid at this point in time. We all know that. When it comes to hugs, I encourage you to – if you are within your family unit, the people you live with, whether it’s your children or your loved one – of course if they live with you, you can hug. But when it comes to the broader community and hugging others outside of your family unit, then no. We really think that this point in time we need to think of innovative and different ways to show a welcome or a greeting to someone but not a hug, Tamzin. I think at some point perhaps in the future we may reach a point where we would see hugging again but not at this point in time.

Thanks, Tamzin.

QUESTION:

Alison, I'm wondering about Parliament. I thought it was not compulsory to wear the masks next week. Is that an impression… is that the wrong impression?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

It's my understanding, yes. There's no requirement in Parliament for parliamentarians to wear masks. Obviously, everyone may choose to wear a mask, and we encourage them then to do it safely and follow the sort of requirements we've provided advice on, but masks are not mandated in parliament. No.

QUESTION:

And one more question. Just regarding vaccines, I guess, I just heard it – and I might have this wrong totally – but the vaccine doesn’t actually kill the virus. Is that correct, or have I got that wrong?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

A vaccine- vaccines can work in a range of different ways, but essentially what we're looking to do with a vaccine is to create a response to our immune system in order that if we do become exposed to the vaccine [sic], we're able to fight it and we don't get infected by it. It doesn't kill it as such, but it does prevent us from becoming infected because our immune system has been bolstered in order that it won't affect us.

QUESTION:

Just finally, just regarding vaccines again, the- I guess in the past, vaccines have taken years and years and so many years to circulate throughout the world. What’s the chance nowadays for this sort of thing to…

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I would- so, in relation to the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, the best minds in the world have all turned their attention to this, and we are seeing- the Australian Government has invested significant amounts of money in a number of vaccines in Australia, and we're seeing a broad range of vaccines being considered. They come in a range of shapes and forms, but we are already early encouraged by, as I said, the Oxford work, which is now at an extensive clinical trial, but there are many others. We may see a series of vaccines coming available for human testing and human use over the next period of time as we see this this work progress.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] I mean distribution. You know, distribution of vaccines around the world. How long would that take? Because you see, you know, in TV and stuff like that it’s still going on to how many years [indistinct]…

ALISON MCMILLAN:

[Talks over] Yeah. In relation to distribution, obviously each country [audio skip] particular approaches to how they might go about distributing a vaccine and a prioritisation, but in general terms we do identify priority groups, and I would say that across the world the World Health Organization obviously will play an important part in ensuring the wide distribution of a vaccine to all across the world. Thank you. Thank you for your time.

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