The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
29 July 2021
INTERVIEW WITH JIM WILSON
Topics: Support for NSW, COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout
Well, Greg Hunt is the Federal Health Minister. He’s been in a Cabinet meeting this afternoon. He’s just come out of that Cabinet meeting to join me on the line. Minister, welcome back to Drive.
And good afternoon, Jim.
I know you’ve just held a media conference. There’s a lot to get through as far as that chat goes. I want to start, though, these numbers I’ve just mentioned, it’s a pretty grim situation in our city and it looks like it’s going to get worse in coming days.
Look, it is a difficult time, and for everybody in New South Wales, we understand, particularly in Sydney and all of the areas affected.
I guess the important message of hope and I think there are two messages of hope here is, you know, I’m a Victorian. We’ve lived through this. We’ve been through this. And, yes, cases did go up. But all of the measures that you’re taking now contribute to the outcomes.
There are two differences. Obviously, Delta is more infectious, but on the other hand, what we have now is a vaccination rate that, in New South Wales, has today hit 39.5 per cent. So, you know, that’s climbing at the fastest rate in the nation at the moment.
We’re seeing people step forward in record numbers. There were over 201,000 people Australia wide yesterday who were vaccinated. And so what we’re seeing is people coming forward, and so, the measures that each of us takes, wherever we are in Australia, they protect others. In Sydney, it’s even more so. And the vaccination program. Those two things are real points of hope in life.
Do you think the New South Wales Government should have locked down earlier?
Look, I think they’re doing the absolute best they can and could, and we have no criticism or disagreement.
We are very pleased to be able to support them with the ADF. The report has just come through whilst I was actually doing my press conference. But to be honest, we had our National Security Committee this morning and we were planning on deployment, subject to New South Wales requesting, to ensure that we can assist with compliance.
And what we found in Victoria is that the ADF are trusted, they provided additional support on the ground to the police. They were able to help people. And all of those things actually gave confidence, but also said to everybody, this is very serious.
If the ADF are here, we better follow what’s recommended, stay at home, because that’s just an indication that the state recognises the gravity of it. And I think that you’ve got very fine leadership there in a very difficult situation, and we’re pleased to be able to help.
And the Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, has extended the Commonwealth hotspot for a month to August 28. And what does that mean? It means that the COVID Disaster Relief payments, the $450 and $750 a week as of next week are locked in over the course of that period, and that gives people a lot of financial support at a difficult time.
So through until the end of August?
Correct. Until the August 28.
Okay. August 28. Just on this, you’ve just had a media conference, as you mentioned. You have this emergency meeting today with medical experts to discuss how other states and territories can help New South Wales. Can I just ask what type of support is being considered?
So obviously the ADF was top of our list. But the other things are, the way in which states can assist with contact tracing if that we’re required by New South Wales. If at any point, there was additional support needed for testing or other fronts, then the states are able to assist.
One of the massive differences between Victoria last year and New South Wales this year, is the aged care homes were the frontline, whereas at this point in time, there is no aged care resident, and I always preface it carefully with this point in time, that’s passed from COVID.
We’ve had six infections to the best of my advice, and five of those have been vaccinated, one hasn’t, but all of them are in a stable situation. And so, whilst staff may have been infected, the fact that every aged care home in not just Sydney, not just New South Wales, but right across Australia has been vaccinated twice, puts in place an enormous measure of protection.
So there are very important things that are occurring. The vaccinations, the lessons from Victoria, the fact that the aged care homes have been protected, all of these are different to last year, but at the same time, with a more infectious disease, it just means that the difficult work of going through that deep suppression for the coming weeks, it’s something that just has to be done.
Just on that meeting tonight, that emergency meeting with medical experts, will you be discussing extra supplies from other states for New South Wales as we combat this COVID crisis?
So the Commonwealth has already offered a million N95 masks and a million surgical masks and I think 250,000 gloves, gowns and goggles, each of the above. So those supplies are there and available.
And if they need to be added to, we’re blessed because we have very significant supplies in the National Medical Stockpile. So it exists for this moment. And at this stage, we’ve been meeting all of the requests and demands and we’ll be able to do that for a long, long time, if New South Wales need it.
But New South Wales Health is very well stocked. I’ve got to say, they’ve done a brilliant job. Brad Hazzard and Elizabeth Koff, who’s the Secretary, have done a brilliant job in ensuring that the hospitals are well stocked and well supplied.
Okay. I want to ask you about this whole thing with the Opposition, the Federal Opposition and Anthony Albanese. I had my say on this on the program earlier.
This lack of supply line and this this sort of discarding of the AstraZeneca vaccine and playing politics and actually not dealing in science.
How disappointing is that, as the Federal Health Minister, that there’s not a bipartisan support to actually just, the whole bottom line should be getting jabs in arms as a priority?
It’s disappointing, but not surprising. We have seen some very strong whole of country support throughout the pandemic from so many people. I’ve got to say, those that are playing on the fringes and talking down or implying things about particular vaccines, that’s not serving Australia.
Having said that, what we do know is that, you know, 6.6 million doses of AstraZeneca have been delivered. This is the vaccine which has been the backbone of the UK program, approaching 50 million doses.
It’s to help protect that country. It’s turned around their circumstance. Over 700 million doses worldwide, I understand. And Dame Sarah Gilbert, who was the leader of those that helped develop it, I think everybody remembers there was a standing ovation at Wimbledon, and that was the people of the UK saying thank you.
So we’re blessed, we have ample supplies of AstraZeneca. We have a million doses a week of Pfizer that are coming in, and we have Moderna that’s coming. I think there’ll be 10 million doses over the course of this year. We have Novavax. So we have significant supplies.
But think of this, 201,000 Australians vaccinated yesterday, over 583,000 in just the last three days. And so as a country, we’re at almost 11.8 million vaccinations. You know, we’ll hit 12 million in the next 48 hours, if not earlier.
And, you know, in a country of just over 20 million people who are eligible over 16 years of age, I think 20.6 million, what you’re seeing is very significant numbers and proportions of the population being vaccinated.
Okay. Just on the vaccination rollout. What percentage would you like to see by Christmas time? I mean, right now we’ve got 39 per cent with the first dose. You’ve got more than 17 per cent are now fully vaccinated. What numbers do you want to see by Christmas, percentage wise?
Well, we’d like to see as many as possible. So I won’t put a particular figure, because I don’t want to constrain it. We want to see every possible Australian step forward to be vaccinated. And what we are on track to do is to make sure that everybody who wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated.
Do you think 80 per cent is realistic by Christmas?
Well, we are absolutely of the view that we can meet all the demand in the country, that anybody who seeks to be vaccinated can get that done by the end of the year.
Now, when you look at those figures today and, you know, with 200,000, I said in my press conference this is the first time we’ve passed 200,000. But I’m very confident it won’t be the last time. And that’s an enormous number of Australians stepping forward to be vaccinated.
So can we meet the demand? Yes, we can.
Just a quick one before I let you go, about Qantas. The company is talking about stronger digital health pass, which would mean they could track passengers’ vaccinations, COVID tests. Also, that Qantas and Virgin pushing for mandatory vaccinations for aviation staff.
What’s your reaction to those things?
So they provide a business and a service, and it’s a matter for them as to the terms and conditions on which they do it, and so we respect that right.
And again, it’s a matter for them if they wish to put certain requirements on their workforce. We’re not proposing any such mandate.
But would you support that move if they decided to go down that path?
Look, I’ve said before that it’s not something we would stand in the way of, because they are a private business and they are able to put in place the requirements for customers and employees.
We just need vaccinations and compliance, don’t we? That’s the bottom line?
Yep. The message in Sydney is firstly: thank you. But secondly, we can do this, but it’s an extraordinary situation where each person can make the difference. Staying at home. If you do have symptoms, being tested. And if you are eligible and due for your dose, please come forward.
We’ve been inspired by what’s occurred in Tokyo, I’m even more inspired by what’s occurring in Sydney, by what people are doing in a different time.
And the last point is, I do want to say this, it can be tough though, for individuals, so don’t think you’re alone. Whether it’s Lifeline, whether it’s headspace, if you’re a younger person; Beyond Blue, which is our national Coronavirus helpline 1800-512-348. Beyond Blue, 1800-512-348, or just go to their website.
All of these things are there to help. And the ADF is coming and they’re there to help, along with the other states and territories. It’s a single country and everybody’s coming together to support Sydney.
Minister, I know it’s a very busy afternoon. And as always, we appreciate your time.
Good on you. That’s the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt. Just those numbers again, Lifeline 13-11-14, that’s 13-11-14. And Beyond Blue, 1800-512-348.