Topics: Increased COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria and in New South Wales, Aged Care, Contact tracing, PPE.
Today is one of the hardest days in Victoria’s history. In terms of health for the families that have been affected, with the lives of their loved ones, or those that have been infected.
In terms of the economy, small business owners who will face new challenges, people focusing on their jobs, their income, their mortgages, or their business overdrafts.
And, of course, for mental health, for today, this will be a very significant challenge for so many Victorians. The news of an extended lockdown, the news of an expanded lockdown, this will weigh heavily on many.
We will be, as a consequence, in a decision signed off by the Prime Minister this afternoon, expanding the Better Access psychological program under Medicare, providing an additional 10 sessions, and I’ll have more to say on that in a minute.
This is all part of the need and the supports for resilience. We will need our resilience more than ever before, but I see that resilience.
I see it in the faces of mums and dads, of small business owners, of the people working in the Mount Martha IGA only 300 metres from here and so many other shops, people who are getting on with life, who are making everything that they can do to help this situation be better, and I want to thank and acknowledge them and say this: that although we need this resilience, I believe we have this resilience.
You can never underestimate Australians and never underestimate Victorians, and at this time, they will rise to the most difficult of challenges.
We know also, though, that this community spirit is also having to face a deep and sustained community transmission. The virulence of COVID-19 is shown from the fact that from most probably a single case in hotel quarantine, we’ve seen this spread right across Melbourne and into so many parts of Victoria.
One single case, most probably, from one source in hotel quarantine, which has spread out. And so, the medical expert panel, the AHPPC, met today to consider the epidemiological or case advice from Victoria and the proposals for action, and they determined that, sadly, more action was necessary.
They accepted Victoria’s advice, and that’s been conveyed to the Prime Minister and myself and other members of the Government. And therefore, we recognise that the further measures announced by the Premier are regrettably necessary.
Regrettably necessary. In particular, we support them with a heavy heart, but we do so because they will help save and protect lives in Victoria, and as the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, said to me, they will help protect lives outside of Victoria across Australia.
That unless we can protect one state, we can never protect all states. We remain a single, contiguous land mass. We remain one country, one community. And so, these steps that are being taken are regrettably necessary to protect one, but also to protect all.
We now know there are nearly 18 million cases across the world, growing to 20 million, and every day more lives are lost in the thousands around the world. In Australia, the advice I have shortly before joining you was that there are now 17,921 cases and very sadly 208 lives lost.
Four hundred and eight people in hospital, 46 in intensive care, and 30 on ventilation. The supplies, the resources, the facilities for that hospitalisation remains strong. Remains strong. And that’s a testament to our health workers, our health system, and all those who help prepare for such an outbreak, although we hoped it would never be necessary.
In terms of Commonwealth support, with regards to the Australian Defence Force there are now approximately 1500 members on operation in Victoria assisting with the response to coronavirus.
Three hundred and fifteen are now involved in helping the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services in the contact tracing program, either within the central program or on foot, going from house to house, assisting the police in their work, in their outreach, in their checking, in their contact.
And that’s a fundamentally important task. That will save lives. The police are also involved, along with the ADF, in isolation and checkpoint work, and the ADF is specifically assisting with testing programs in different places around the state.
And so, these are incredibly important masks. In addition to that, I’m advised that the ADF will assist in Geelong with Opal Aged Care. Up to 12 ADF members will support the current health services in an outbreak there for up to three weeks. Simple important work saving lives and protecting lives.
With regards to aged care, our AUSMAT teams have been on the ground in Cumberland Lodge and now Kalyna Aged Care(*) and Florence Aged Care. Of today’s numbers, 47 aged care residents are within the 671 Victorians who have been diagnosed positive, and so we focus particularly on them.
Our Aged Care Response Centre has now been established as a joint partnership with Victoria, and that is focusing very heavily on immediate identification of cases, immediate testing of staff and of all residents in facilities, and ensuring that we have workforce and response. It’s, again, life-saving work.
But one of the things that I particularly want to focus on today is that with this lockdown, there will be mental health challenges. I want to say that it’s normal. It’s understandable for somebody to be feeling depressed or anxious, isolated, and that we understand, and there is support.
Already there have been three rounds of mental health support, including Telehealth, which has seen over 22 million consultations, a large proportion of which have been for mental health or psychological support, and over $1.25 billion invested into that.
Support services specifically, such as Beyond Blue and Lifeline, and support for Headspace, support for communication to culturally and linguistically diverse communities. But we think we need more because this is a deeply stressful time.
And I want to reach out to all people in different forms of lockdown – it could be parents who live as a single parent with small children in a flat facing isolation, facing economic hardship; older Australians who may be fearful or alone, and to say there is support, and there’s belief.
That support today is being extended with the expansion of 10 additional Better Access psychological support services. These will be available for anybody who has used their initial 10 services in a lockdown area under a public health order, and that will of course apply right across Victoria, and if more areas in Australia were to face this, it would apply to them.
So this expansion of services is a $7.3 million investment, but it’s not the money. It’s the support for individuals who are facing additional challenges. And we say to you that it is difficult, but there is mutual community support.
And so I want to finish with this notion, that we draw on our resilience as a people, a country, as a community. It’s about our individual actions in supporting others. What we do with regards to the distancing, the masks, which are important, but they are no substitute for maintaining that distance.
As the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, has said again and again, the disease travels with people, and when one person is in proximity with another, that’s when it can transfer. So distance keeps people safe.
Distance keeps people alive. And these are so counterintuitive but so vital. And then our second area of support is reaching out to each other, whether it is doing the shopping for an isolated senior who may be a neighbour, whether it’s getting on the telephone, calling people.
This is the moment to be our strongest, best community. We’re going to get through this. I know that. I believe that. These measures today are beyond what any of us could ever have imagined our community would face. But they are with us because we have had an outbreak in Victoria, one state in this great country, but now we have to go through this.
Having said that, with all of the actions that we have taken, with all of the restrictions that are now in place, the medical advice is that we will get through this and our advice and our message to all Australians, especially to Victorians, is: as difficult as this may be, this is the moment where we rise to be our best selves, and we will get through this. Thank you. I’m happy to take questions, starting with Tamsin.
Thanks, Minister. On- at the end of last week, the Prime Minister said that there was lots of work being put into the aged care facilities in Victoria to try and get those situations under control, but he said at that point the situation was not fully stable. What is the situation in those facilities at the moment, especially in Epping Gardens?
So, the advice we had this morning from the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre in a hook-up between the Prime Minister, the Chief Medical Officer, myself, the Secretary of the Department of Health, Brendan Murphy, and that response centre is that they believe that circumstances are being stabilised across all of the facilities.
Every morning we look at all of the high priority facilities, as well as speaking at different times throughout the day. We run through each facility and the circumstances and the needs.
And the advice that we have is that there has been very significant progress.
We recognise that there continue to be important challenges and steps, but by providing additional support, by having the Aged Care Response Centre and the work of the state health unit which has also been able to provide additional support on the ground, then that’s a critical step going forward. Claire?
Thanks, Minister. The use- wearing of masks in New South Wales where social distancing isn’t possible has now been formally recommended, but prior to today there was widespread wearing of masks in crowded parts of Sydney in particular, due a lot to the fear of what people are seeing happening in Victoria.
With this strategy of suppression that the Government is pursuing, is it the reality that Australians will have to keep living with this fear of a second isolated wave until there is a vaccine?
And what reassurance can you offer to people that are genuinely scared for their lives right now, even if community transmission isn’t as high in New South Wales as it is in Victoria?
So, in terms of New South Wales, they have done a magnificent job with the tracing, the tracking, the work of the disease detectives in finding the cases and the spread. They are in a position that Victoria was in over a month ago, and yet they’ve maintained those numbers without them increasing now for a period of some weeks, and that’s been consistent.
So I would give strong confidence to people in New South Wales about the work being done to contain and to control the virus, but it is a dangerous virus. We know that. We’ve seen how it can get away. We’ve seen around the world with accelerating numbers, over a million cases in the last four days alone.
That’s an extraordinary figure with an immense human toll that follows. But having said that, yes, we are going to get through this. We will have to be vigilant for a long while. I won’t speculate on the specific measures, but we do have to be vigilant.
The keeping of distance, which is so counterintuitive, is so important. So, we re-emphasise those measures. We recognise that they’re difficult. It is a moment in history through which all nations have to pass.
Australia has done incredibly well overall. Seven out of eight states and territories are in a very strong situation. Victoria has a difficult and hard moment and a difficult and hard six weeks to follow, but necessary and fundamental to us being able to protect exactly those lives to which you refer. Richard?
Hi, Minister. Thank you for your time. Is there any more details now, Minister, on the modelling of what a Stage 4 lockdown would hopefully prevent? For example, do we know how many infections there would be if we didn’t go to Stage 4 lockdowns, and even how many deaths there might be if we didn’t go to Stage 4 lockdowns?
I’ll leave that to Victoria, but the Premier has previously said that without these current restrictions that have been in place, the Stage 3, there would have been thousands of cases a day, and I think that’s right.
We don’t have any doubt that without the difficult restrictions through which Victoria has been going through, there would have been potentially thousands of cases a day.
The goal of all of this is to bring it down from case numbers in the hundreds to head towards zero community transmission. That’s our goal. Zero community transmission.
But we recognise that in a world that’s interconnected, where planes come in, where ships bring goods that are vital, whether they are medicines or other elements, that we are linked to that outside world, so the risk is with us.
And that’s why we’re cautious in our promises but vigilant in our actions. I hope that covers it. Isk?
Yes. Thanks, Minister. Back to New South Wales and its recommendation now that people wear masks in public. Why not just make it mandatory like Victoria? What’s the harm in making it mandatory? What are your thoughts on making masks mandatory in New South Wales?
Well, New South Wales has increased its advice to the public, and we support the New South Wales advice. What happens here is we set out, back in February, a calibrated series of steps that each jurisdiction can take, dependant on the spread of community transmission.
Around the country we have virtually zero community transmission in six out of eight states and territories. There are some elements in South Australia and Queensland which are being followed up, following given cases that have travelled across border.
New South Wales has kept very low numbers, but they still have consistent low levels of community transmission. So for them to go to a higher level is appropriate, but they’re following the pattern and plan which we established in February, built on the longstanding pandemic preparedness of Australia, and that is rings of containment, increasing levels of protection dependent on the community transmission.
What we see now is deep and sustained community transmission in Victoria, which is why the Victorian Government has made the decisions today, and what we see in New South Wales is a consistent low-level transmission, which is why they’ve gone to a higher level.
The option remains for higher levels in any jurisdiction at any time, dependant on that community transmission. So, I’ll finish with that. Thank you for the questions. But say to all Victorians: firstly, thank you. These are difficult days.
But Victorians and Australians are rising to this challenge. It is hard, and it is unprecedented. It’s something that none of us would ever have believed we would face, let alone hope we would face.
But having said that, with these measures, with the supports that are in place, we will save lives, we will protect lives, and each of us has the unique gift through our actions of being able to save lives and protect lives. I thank you. I recognise the challenge but above all else believe with every fibre of my being we will get through this.