Topics: Coronavirus update; potential easing of restrictions; elective surgery; flu vaccine; international flights.
I’ve got the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, on the line. He’s a good person this man, he’s done a fabulous job through all of this. But of course you won’t be reading the Turnbull book – I certainly won’t be, and he won’t be – but he gets the same treatment as we all get, it’s hilarious really.
Nonetheless, nonetheless – high responsibility now for Greg Hunt. I think in many ways more than ever before because, while there’s been a significant improvement and impressively low overall infection rate, people are now asking how do we reduce the economic damage?
It’s now clear that the strategies from here on in are flawed – we could lose on both the health and economic front. And he now – along with Scott Morrison, and Josh Frydenberg in particular, and others – have got to make these decisions.
We don’t want to be suffering ruinous economic harm and worsening the spread of the virus. How do we best balance a gradual reopening of the economy?
Good luck to you, Minister, good morning. Thank you. Answer my question, how do we do it?
And good morning, Alan. Now look, this is a central question and so we do have a plan and we’ve got a plan which is about exactly as you say, a gradual and progressive removal of restrictions.
The first significant change is before the National Cabinet today, and that’s about a gradual loosening of restrictions in relation to elective surgery and IVF – two really important topics that are hugely important to families or to people who might be suffering pain with hips, or knees, or other things which can be deeply debilitating.
So I’m quietly hopeful that before the day is out, we may have some positive news on elective surgery and IVF.
And that’s part of a much broader plan where, for the next four weeks, as we are winning but haven’t won the containment program with the virus, we work to continue to suppress it, and at the same time we’re planning the steps out – important social and economic steps that are low risk in terms of health, but high value in terms of people’s lives.
Just flu. Coming up to the winter, I know that’s a worry for you, and your advisers, and so on. Flu shots, I think you’ve said you’ve secured another three million flu shots – 16.5 million in total.
Will people be able to get those flu shots if they go to their doctor after listening to you today?
They should be able to. I can’t speak for every individual doctor, but Australia has sufficient supplies to meet, not just all the foreseeable demand, but to have foreseeable demand and reserves.
The CSL, a great Australian company, they have provided over 2 million of the additional 3 million flu shots and we’ve released 13.5 million of the 16.5 million and so far there – when last I heard – about 2.3 million had been taken up.
So there’s a huge supply that’s out there. It’s coming through from state warehouses – but it’s very, very good news for Australia.
Greg look, I meant to write to you about this but I have been speaking to some very, very, eminent doctors who tell me, and this is what’s called the – and I’m sure you’ve been briefed on this – the virus interference effect which is cheap and easily available.
That is live vaccines which are as safe as drink a glass of water. And they make the point to me that they’ve never seen a child suffer from two virus infections at the same time. That is a child with measles doesn’t get chickenpox, a child who has the mumps doesn’t get rubella.
And they- he is saying that the childhood disease vaccinations are made of live viruses which means the immunised person has viruses growing in their body, and therefore one virus could prevent another virus from infecting.
Now to a layman like me, that makes sense. He says this has- they say this has been tested in places like Holland. So immunise everybody with the vaccine which has seen- which has three live viruses – measles, mumps, and rubella – repeat that every two to three months and that could well neutralise any impact of the coronavirus.
Have you been briefed on any of this?
So we have had briefings on vaccines and that at this point the very strong medical advice, not just to the Australian Government, but around the world is that there is not an effective vaccine for coronavirus.
Why we’re encouraging people to have the flu vaccine is a, to protect against the flu – and our flu numbers have dropped dramatically over the course of the last four weeks. But b, we don’t want people to be suffering the risk of two respiratory conditions at once.
So at this stage our medical advice is slightly different to what you’ve been given, but –
But do you understand their point? What they’re saying is that when you put a live virus in the body it actually prevents the spread of a new virus – that’s what they’re saying.
Now, these are eminent medical people. I’m just wondering if that’s not something you can get further advice on.
Look I will follow that up, but we’ve been dealing with Professor Brendan Murphy and a medical expert panel, and their very strong advice from all of the high level global research which has been provided to the government is that there’s no effective vaccine at this stage.
We are looking at repurposing other types of vaccine. I know- for example I met with Johnson & Johnson only just over a week ago and they are looking at an Ebola vaccine that that they are using – repurposing it, testing it.
They’re currently preparing for clinical trials and we talked about production of it in Australia, if it is successful. So, of any country we’re right at the forefront of the global vaccine research.
But if it’s successful in Australia, we’ll be able to help the world, but if there’s something successful overseas we’ll be able to help Australia.
Okay, two questions before you go. The rate of increase in new cases has been below 1 per cent now for seven consecutive days which represents, to use your language, a sustained and genuine flattening of the curve.
At what point do we say – I mean we’re not aiming to sort of say that zero- a zero increase, that most probably would be ideal – but at what point do we say this is the benchmark and we’ve reached it?
So we have a four-week period now and the benchmark is the transmission rate, and we want to keep that well below one – and what does that mean? It means that if I’m infected, I’m likely to reinfect another person.
Yeah. Yeah. Infecting fewer than one people, yep.
If we can do that over the course of four weeks on a sustained basis, then we’ll be in a position to start to lift restrictions progressively.
But even today, as I say, we have the first potential real benefit for Australians – off the back of the incredible work that all of your listeners and everybody else is doing – which is elective surgery and IVF.
Elective surgery. Okay.
Fingers crossed, we’ll wait for the National Cabinet and the medical expert panel.
Okay. Right. One other thing; I mean everyone’s talking about aeroplanes – there’s a website called Flight Radar 24, you can track every commercial aircraft flying across the world – log on and you see these planes as little icons on the screen.
And we, on this program, check the flights coming in out of China every day – you can’t count them, there are hundreds and hundreds. Now given that China is to blame for the outbreak of the coronavirus and the carnage across the globe are we safe with these planes coming in and out?
Do we know how many there are? And are people on these planes – crew and passengers – in compulsory quarantine?
So Border Force is monitoring every plane that comes in. And anybody who does come in – if they’re crew they have to either remain on the plane or go in to isolation before returning and so they are under the most strict conditions imaginable.
Why they’re important is because from around the world we are getting major supplies of masks and test kits which have been absolutely essential to the Australian success story so far – 60 million masks in, another 100 million to come in the next five weeks.
And so these flights are essential to Australia being literally ahead of the world and ahead of the curve. But the restrictions – the isolation, the rules, the observation – are being carried out by Border Force at the absolute highest level.
Good on you, I hope so. Thank you for what you do. One day, you know, if you keep going you might go to sleep.
That’s success as far as I’m concerned.
Good to talk to you Minister thank you for your time.