Date published: 
28 June 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

JOHN FREWEN:    

Good afternoon, everybody. I just wanted to provide you an update this afternoon on our vaccine rollout actions in relation to the outbreak in New South Wales. Last week I advised that we were activating an additional 94 roving clinics in the aged care sector in New South Wales across seven local government areas. Over the course of the weekend, I have authorized the activation of an additional 144 roving clinics across an additional 11 local government areas. This will bring to a total of 238 roving clinics across 18 local government areas in New South Wales. In relation to GPs, this week we are activating an additional 236 GPs who will be able to administer Pfizer, and I'll note that 51 of these will be in New South Wales bringing to a total of 140 New South Wales GPs who can administer Pfizer this week. And that means we now have 6258 vaccination sites active across the nation.

In relation to pharmacies, we're bringing forward 12 pharmacies this week to a total of 61 pharmacies who can provide remote access to the AstraZeneca vaccine in particular. And I'll note that of these 12, six of those are in the Darwin area. In relation to vaccines, as you know, the supplies of Pfizer are still constrained, but we do have ample supplies of AstraZeneca. And for our most vulnerable population, the over 60s, this is the vaccine that is being made available to those folks. And I'll note that it's very encouraging that last week that over 122,000 people turned up for their second doses of AstraZeneca across the country. So I thank those people for doing that, and I encourage all others who are booked for their second dose of AZ to proceed with that vaccination.

Now, just a general reminder from me before I pass to Alison, we are going to be living with COVID for a long time. There will be no eradication of this disease anywhere in the near time. And we need to make sure that we are observing all health advice, we are using all of those mitigation measures that I've spoken to before. But in particular, if you are eligible for a vaccine, please get yourself booked and get vaccinated. Thank you.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Good afternoon. Again, we're here to talk about the health advice in relation to this pandemic with COVID-19. I think it's very important for me to stress to you all that we now know and can see that there are a number of restrictions across the country, and they do vary from state to state and in different territories. So it is critically important that you take the time to look and see what the restrictions are in your jurisdiction where you are and make sure you follow these restrictions. They are a part of the arsenal of activities that we've used now for over the last 18 months. For example, now for the first time in ACT, as you can see, we're wearing masks indoors. We, too, are following the instructions very much to the- as they're described, so that we can help prevent any further transmission. Each state and territory has taken these actions and restrictions based on the amount of spread and the information they have available to them. And I know sometimes people find it confusing, but this is the best way that we can contain the spread. So, again, your job is to follow the instructions and restrictions. And particularly, I call out to people clearly now in greater Sydney and areas around New South Wales who are now, I think, in their third day of lockdown.

A part of our arsenal throughout this pandemic, of course, has been contact tracing. We've, on many occasions in the past, talked about the importance of test, trace, isolate, and of course now, vaccinate. But I must call out and commend the amazing work that our contact tracers are doing across the country. Each states and territories are supporting each other collaboratively to share information so we can get to people as quickly as we can. Really importantly, what we're finding is how valuable those QR codes are unable to get- been able to get to people quickly. And so I remind you again, please do check in when and wherever you are, because that certainly can help make the contact tracers' job much easier.

As I've said before, we've been managing this virus now for more than 18 months. We all know, and you all know, what to do. So remember, sanitise your hands frequently, cough into your elbow, use a tissue. If you feel unwell at all, stay home and get tested. It's the middle of winter, and it's cold in many places, so don't dismiss those minor coughs, flu or cold symptoms that you might have, sniffles, headache, aches and pains, feeling generally unwell. Please do not ignore those. It may be that you've just got cold or influenza, but it also may be that you've got COVID. And critically important that we ask that you get tested and isolate until you get your test.

We've heard already about the current figures in relation to the vaccine, but I'm again going to reiterate to those, obviously, who are most vulnerable in our community, particularly the over-60s. If you've had your first dose of AstraZeneca and you have a booking for your second dose, please do follow up and get that second dose. It will give you the best protection against COVID. If you have any concerns or you're not sure about your vaccine, please do talk to a health professional, look at the information we provide on health.gov.au, or talk to your GP. But the best protection again against this COVID virus is to get vaccinated.

We know now from the data we've been collecting that nearly 30 per cent of the adult population of Australia who are eligible to be vaccine have had one dose of the vaccine now, and that's really, really encouraging. But as I say, if you are over 60, the best protection is being vaccinated, and you can access that vaccine through a number of avenues. Go to health.gov.au, and that will tell you where best you can access that vaccine.

Also importantly for those places where there may be restrictions in place, remember, getting vaccinated is definitely one of the reasons to leave the house. So don't feel that you can't leave the house if you've got an appointment. Please do so.

And finally, just to remind everyone, our priority here with our vaccine program is to prevent severe disease and death. And this is an important part of our approach to managing and living with this COVID pandemic, which of course is going to be around with us for a long time. It feels sometimes I think for us all that we've been at this for a very long time. If, again, the news and the information on TV, the restrictions, the changes to your life, the fact that the kids are home, whatever, it's normal for us all to feel this is really quite a challenge, particularly for our moods and for our mental health. That is normal, and it's okay to feel sometimes down. But please, there are many places to which you can seek and get help. Head to Health is one of those places. But it's also again now a great time for us to remember how we all came together last winter to support each other. Call a friend, check on somebody that you know and love. We can get through this, and we will get through this. We just need to stay together. Thank you.

JOHN FREWEN:    

We're happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: 

Lieutenant General Frewen, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian was quite pointed in her comments today about the availability of vaccines and also accused those higher up from the State Government of not having the broad-scale, longer-term planning. She mentioned that she had not been supported in having a big state vaccine clinic and said that there was still not enough GPs coming online in the coming weeks to give out enough vaccine and that more GPs wanted to be involved.

QUESTION: 

What's your response to some of those concerns? Is the Commonwealth doing all that it can be to bring more resources to this bigger end of the vaccine rollout?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Absolutely. So, you'll remember last week I released the planning data on the vaccine supply out to the end of the year, to all of the states and territories. And on Friday, I had an excellent briefing back from the NSW working level on how they are now planning to implement that vaccination program now that they understand the full supply of the vaccines out to the end of the year. And we're working very closely with both NSW and the other jurisdictions to make sure that we can deliver the vaccines as they become available, particularly towards the end of the year when we get those greatly increased supply of vaccines.

QUESTION: 

On that note, and maybe this is one for Commodore Young, you've said that vaccine supplies will double in July. We're going from about 300,000 Pfizer doses a week to 600,000. July's this week. Do you have a date for when we- like, are we going to get more doses this week or is that next week? Do you know?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Do you want to speak to her?

ERIC YOUNG:        

Suppose. So, I think I'll step back just a little bit in terms of what the Lieutenant General said, in terms of the points of presence.

Firstly, on the general practises and to go to the comments of Premier Berejiklian, as of this week, we've got about 5400 primary care sites now administering vaccines across the country. So we've gone out to every one of the GPs in the National Immunisation Program to make sure that they've- we've offered them the opportunity to vaccinate. And we've had a very good take up from those. The last 236 of those are coming on board this week.

We'll now progressively be rolling out and transitioning to Pfizer. So the additional vaccines that we'll get in July, and I think the Minister's on the record of talking about what we expect, just over 600,000 on average through July. We split between an increase, moderate increase to the states and also bringing on those GPs to Pfizer. So we'll have about 500 GPs next week administering Pfizer, along with the currently 35 Commonwealth vaccination centres that we've got administering Pfizer, an additional 500 GPs administering Pfizer in the week of 12 July, and about 310 additional GPs administering Pfizer in the week of 19 July. So, that's the best balance we have at the moment to make sure that each one of those administration sites has enough Pfizer vaccine to administer for their populations.

QUESTION: 

Sorry, just to be clear, are we going to, like, see a doubling of Pfizer doses available from next week, or is that kind of going to gradually ramp up through the month of July?

ERIC YOUNG:        

So, there's a gradual ramp up through July and the average over July, is that just over 600,000.

QUESTION: 

[Indistinct]... Firstly, just on the Delta variant, we obviously are still learning about it, but are you able to speak to what we know in terms of its infectiousness rate, particularly within households? Is its incubation period shorter than we've seen with other strands of COVID? And what is the impact? We're seeing a lot more younger people getting ill, a young person in WA today in their 30s. What do we know about this Delta strain?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Okay, I'll start at the beginning. So we do know that the Delta strain is about 60 per cent more infectious than the Alpha strain. The Alpha strain we already knew was more infectious than the original virus we saw last year. So that's 60 per cent, that's a significant amount more infectious.

We're also seeing - and you can see that by the story and the pattern that we're seeing in New South Wales - is in households definitely are where people are congregating together very closely. We are definitely seeing more transmission there than we perhaps had seen in the past. We also from overseas data are seeing that, predominantly in the UK where they've had the most of the Delta virus of the data we are accessing, that we are seeing younger people somewhat sicker than we might have seen in the past. So it's still quite early to understand that. But we are definitely seeing this is more infectious.

As to how quickly people get sick, it's still quite variable and people can get it from a very short period of time, but it can still be extended. So with each of these variants, we'll learn as we go along. We collect a great deal of information so we can better understand it. But I think the message here for everyone still is we- irrespective of which - Delta, Alpha, or whatever it is - the things that we know we can do to help prevent transmission work with all of these, irrespective of the strain of the virus that it actually is.

QUESTION: 

Just on another issue, there's been quite a focus on different types of compassionate access for people trying to cross borders or- for example, coming home from overseas to see a dying relative. At the moment, the AHPPC requires anyone who needs to transfer from, say, Sydney to Melbourne quarantined to get a chartered flight, which obviously costs thousands of dollars. Why can't they get something like a private vehicle where they're limited and travel in a COVID safe way? Why does it have to be chartered flight?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Okay, I'm not suggesting- the restrictions and requirements for people seeking an exemption from the normal standard, so normally the point of entry into the country is the place where you do your 14 days quarantine. In some occasions for a range of reasons, the chief health officer may choose to give an exemption and allow someone to travel on or to take some other arrangements if there's special needs. They are decisions made between the two chief health officers of those two jurisdictions. And ultimately, therefore, the decision by which a person might travel on is theirs to make, not a Commonwealth decision.

QUESTION: 

Lieutenant General, you're briefing emergency National Cabinet meeting later this afternoon. Can you give us an idea of what exactly you're going to be telling them and what advice you're hoping to impart to those state and territory leaders today?

JOHN FREWEN:    

Sure. So, of course, I won't speak to the specifics of what will get discussed at National Cabinet, but I'll be providing an operational update along the lines of the sort of information that I have provided you here. And of course, it's an opportunity then to have the conversation led by the Prime Minister with all of the jurisdictions on the sorts of priorities that we need to accord to over the days and weeks ahead.

QUESTION: 

And in terms of the things that we publically know that are being discussed at National Cabinet today, are there any particular areas that you think are really vital to get instituted straight away? For instance, the 16-day post quarantine testing or mandatory vaccinations for aged care workers?

JOHN FREWEN:    

So, my perspective as the vaccine rollout person, it's just to keep encouraging Australians to get vaccinated as quickly as they can. I mean, the vaccination sort of underpins all of these other measures, particularly in the long term. But the health advice right now where people are, is very important. But for all Australians, it's really, really important that we just keep getting vaccinated as quickly as we can, as supplies and availability come online.

QUESTION: 

I don't know, [indistinct] address those issues as well?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

So, as is usual, obviously, AHPPC provides its advice to the National Cabinet. It will do that and has been meeting extensively today and will provide that advice. And in due course, after their deliberations, they will report on what their recommendations and findings are. So we're not in a position to discuss that.

QUESTION: 

[Talks over] But you say-… Well, why is something like the 16-day post quarantine testing important in this current environment?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Well, because if you remember, we've talked in the past about- with the different forms of quarantine that we have, the managed quarantine, whether it's hotels or somewhere like the Centre of National Resilience, Howard Springs, we've set up a continuous improvement process where we continually review the actions and what we're seeing and make changes and improvements. So one of the things that you may- we may choose to do is look at do we test after the 14 days as someone leaves and potentially moves on to another jurisdiction? So they're considerations that we'll continue to do as we learn and understand more about preventing any further spread. So that's the reason why we'll do those sort of things, so you'll continue to see those into the future.

QUESTION: 

Just on one of the things also National Cabinet is discussing, but to maybe get your point of view on. The case on the Northern Territory mine where, obviously, someone caught COVID in that from a domestic setting, but was in international hotel quarantine. Is your concern there that that was an issue made worse by the Delta variant, or is it simply an issue with that specific hotel? When can we expect to know more? And would you expect that going forward, we wouldn't see that kind of mixing between domestic people and international travellers?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

So very much as an answer to the question I just had. Yes, each time we see something- obviously Queensland need to make an analysis, an assessment of what happened there. And in due course, they'll share that with all members of AHPPC. And that may lead to a change in a policy or a direction in which we take as we learn and make changes and adjust our approach. But certainly, it may well be associated with the increased transmissibility of the of the Delta variant. Thank you.

JOHN FREWEN:    

So do we have Madura online?

QUESTION: 

Yes, I'm here. I have a question probably for- just in terms of the Northern Territory [indistinct], because Claire's asked a lot of Queensland question. Just in terms of what we know about the Delta variant, which you mentioned earlier on, you know, the Northern Territory's population, 30 per cent Aboriginal- it's a much younger population than the rest of the country. What do you- you and the AHPPC, what are your concerns there around the spread of the Delta variant in the Northern Territory and the impacts there?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

So what I can tell you is obviously we've not seen Northern Territory has not had many cases. And this is-they're needing to take an approach in the Northern Territory that they're perhaps not done before. I think one of the important messages for me to reiterate is that all states and territories, and the Commonwealth, are supporting Northern Territory in this response. The Northern Territory has taken some very immediate steps, such as the lockdown in Darwin. And I heard just now in AHPPC, I'm sure they'd be happy for me to say that they're really pleased to see the people in Darwin complying with what they're been asked to do, which is extremely encouraging. So the wearing of masks and the limitation of movement. This is new for people in Darwin and it's really terrific to hear what a great job they are doing. That will help protect that most vulnerable population of the- in Northern Territory. So we're all working with Northern Territory to support them. And the people in Darwin and the people of Northern Territory are doing a terrific job. And we ask them to continue to do that.

JOHN FREWEN:    

Andrew?

QUESTION: 

Ah, yes, thank you, Lieutenant. On the Northern Territory, do we have any [indistinct] data on how many Indigenous people have actually been vaccinated? And looking at, sort of, the situation around the country, the constraints on vaccine supply as they're taking time to come on, and the continuing use of hotel quarantine, are we going to have to accept ongoing restrictions, like mask mandates, density restrictions, things like that for some months? Is that the sort of reality we're in, given it's winter and then different things like that, the more infections [Indistinct]…?

JOHN FREWEN:    

So I'll handle the second part, and then I'll hand to Commodore Young to speak to some of the detail you're after. As I've mentioned, we will be living with COVID for many years, not just many months and weeks. And I think all of these measures we can expect to see activated and then deactivated as we become more comfortable with the outbreak. But again, what we are trying to do with COVID is protect people's lives and keep people as safe as we can. So the key metrics here are, are we managing to do that? And I think we will have to get more comfortable with the idea that there will be ongoing outbreaks in the COVID space. But with all of those mitigation measures, we can hopefully keep people alive, keep people from getting seriously ill. And then as quickly as we can, transition back to as normal life as best we can. And vaccination underpins all of that. So, again, getting vaccinated, really important to that. But I'll pass to Eric on some of the detail about the Indigenous communities.

ERIC YOUNG:        

Well, to start really quickly with remote and regional first, and that is a discrete focus for what we do. So we have approximately 136 combination of general practises, Commonwealth vaccination centres and Aboriginal community controlled health services, as well as the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which is contracted to deliver about 28,000 vaccinations up to this point, which are specifically focussed on looking at rural remote areas. In terms of, specifically, the indigenous population, we're work in close partnership with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. We have about 100 health services administering across 200 sites. And at this stage we have 89,340 people who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders having received at least one dose of vaccination.

QUESTION: 

Thank you.

JOHN FREWEN:    

Matt?

QUESTION: 

Hi, Matt Doran from the ABC. Obviously, the issue of supplies of vaccines is an ongoing concern for you, particularly when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine. Can you confirm has there been a Pfizer shipment this week? And if not this week, when are you expecting one, and how many doses are going to be there? And secondly, on the issue of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, is there any consideration of including the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the Australian rollout, considering that the TGA has given a provisional approval?

JOHN FREWEN:    

I'll pass to Commodore Young.

ERIC YOUNG:        

I'll start with the Johnson & Johnson first. That's actually a matter for SITAG, but I can say at this stage Johnson & Johnson is not part of our national vaccination programme. In terms of the Pfizer, this week, in fact, this morning, we had 305,370 doses of Pfizer arrive onshore, which will be sample tested and batch released over the coming days.

JOHN FREWEN:    

And Chloe.

QUESTION: 

Hi, a question for Ms McMillan, please.

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

Yes, Chloe?

QUESTION: 

[Indistinct] National Cabinet tonight, discussions around not putting low risk traveller quarantine next to the high risk travellers, then for vaccinations for aged care workers, testing on day 16. Are these not common sense protocols? I mean this with no disrespect at all to the AHPPC, but is this something that the government could have implemented without having to seek health advice?

ALISON MCMILLAN:      

I think that we've seen throughout this pandemic, Chloe, the process has served us well. The health advice is considered by the AHPPC, with all of its expertise at the table. It then makes recommendations to National Cabinet so that we can look to encourage having a national approach to things we learn and work together. And this is a part of that process, as I say, that served us well. So I think this is just a part of that ongoing process that when necessary, we'll bring the country together in supporting any changes that need to be made. Thank you.

JOHN FREWEN:    

All right. Thank you very much, everybody. Have a good afternoon.

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