Topics: COVID-19 Update; Black Lives Matter Protest; COVID-19 Vaccines; $12 million for research to improve treatment of cardiovascular disease and stroke patients.
Well Victoria recorded its biggest increase of coronavirus cases in over a month; 21 new cases recorded in the state yesterday, six of which are believed to have been spread by community transmission.
So is this a sign of things to come? Joining us now in is Canberra is Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt. A very good morning to you, Minister.
Now, if we exclude those who tested positive in hotel quarantine, I mean the numbers are next to nothing, aren’t they?
Look, we’ve done incredibly well as a country. Our numbers have for two months now, been below half a per cent a day in terms of increase.
In the last week, half of the cases have been in hotel quarantines, in other words, they’ve come from overseas, they’ve been safely contained and the people are being appropriately treated and cared for. And then the testing regime is picking up cases.
Really, it’s almost exclusively down to the last group of cases in Victoria which we’re continuing to chase. The other states and territories, occasionally we will get something. But overwhelmingly, as a country, we’ve zeroed in and zeroed in and progressively decreased the number of cases. So we’re doing well.
Are you surprised that there weren’t more cases from the Black Lives Matter protests?
Well, so far there have been two cases associated with the protests. I hope that that’s it. We’ll wait and see. It was always a lottery.
If there was somebody who was infectious and spreading, then that could have led to a catastrophe. At this stage, we have only the two cases.
We do know there’s still some, as the Chief Medical Officer describes it, grumbling community transmission in parts of Victoria, but the high rates of testing and then the contact tracing, all of these things helping to mop up the cases and that’s what’s allowing us to get back to our day to day activity and people to regain their freedoms, their social lives and the economic activity that’s just so critical.
I mean the fact that it wasn’t catastrophic from the protests, does that mean that we should just get rid of our restrictions all together, that there isn’t this risk that is being perceived?
Well where we started today, of course, was that there were six cases outside of the hotel quarantine, diagnosed in Victoria yesterday – six in all of Australia, noting that they were only in Victoria yesterday.
So they’re still out there. And if- what we are doing is mopping those up and if we can continue to mop them up, we can continue to progressively reduce restrictions.
But the medical advice is clear – there is still a danger. So keeping the distance, washing the hands, downloading the COVIDSafe app, and then if you do have symptoms, getting tested and staying home from work or school, they are still very important.
We’re ahead of the world, we want to stay ahead of the world, but we’ve only got here because Australians have frankly been magnificent.
Here’s the thing though, Greg, and this is hard to argue against, and I’m sure you will and you’re most welcome to. I mean, you’ve got 30,000 people in a protest in Sydney, and there was no transmission, how can you not have more than 50 in a bloody pub?
So what we are doing is opening up and we’ve been encouraging and working with the states to open up safely. So we’ve the safeguards. The protests were a lottery and they were an enormous risk. They- mass gatherings, without control, continue to be an enormous risk.
Whereas the opening up of the stadium where they’ve got distancing, they have the names of everybody, they have seated arrangements, these are the things that are keeping us safe.
So we’ve followed the medical advice to be ahead of the world, please keep the patience. I know that there were double standards in the protest, that’s why we were against it both as a risk but also to say, you know, for all those Australians who have done the right thing, you know, a small group doing the wrong thing, irrespective of the nobility of the cause, but a small group doing the wrong health thing undermines the trust for others.
But Australians have been great, we’re getting our lives back and we’re going to continue to keep ahead of the world and continue to flatten the curve.
International travel off the cards until 2021. As Health Minister, is that the right call?
Yes, it is. The advice from the medical expert panel is very clear. We know that around the world we’re well over eight million cases now and it’s accelerating at a faster pace.
The COVID pandemic globally, even though we’re doing so well here, is accelerating around the world. We’re seeing record daily numbers for the whole world. And I think the last fully reported 24-hour period was the highest the world has seen.
And so Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, all of these areas are seeing accelerating numbers. Still high European and
North American numbers. So we are an island sanctuary for now.
You know, you look at it realistically, and this is just awful news for any of the tourism operators who deal with overseas travel. But unless there is a vaccine – I mean even next year, it’s difficult, isn’t it?
I won’t get ahead of myself. We have seen positive developments on vaccines and treatments. A new treatment regime using an old drug, dexamethasone, in the UK which is looking very prospective in terms of reducing the mortality rate for the very ill.
It’s not a cure, it’s not a prevention but it’s helping protect those who are most vulnerable and at risk. We’re doing a good work on the molecular clamp which is a vaccine that the University of Queensland is leading and other countries are doing it.
So we are going to get through this. One of the things with the borders that we can do is use the quarantine system. And that’s for international students, potentially for visitor- for business travel, for potentially for long stay tourism and visitors who are willing to have two weeks in hotel quarantine and willing to pay for it, as well as opening up a non-quarantine pathway with New Zealand first.
Now, just very quickly before you go, the Government has pledged $12 million in funding to improve treatment of cardiovascular disease and stroke patients. Where exactly where that will money be going?
So $4 million will going to stroke for children. It’s amazing to know that there are 600 beautiful children who are hit with stroke every year and that’s something we’re really going to tackle and challenge and we want to give them better diagnosis and better treatment in those early hours.
That can save their lives, it can improve their outcomes. And then the other $8 million is a partnership and that’s to focus on the critical areas of women’s and Indigenous cardiovascular disease, the cross over between cancer and cardiovascular and identifying early risk factors for heart disease. So all these things will save lives.
Really important stuff. Greg, always really interesting to talk to you. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Thanks, Ally. Thanks, Karl.