The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health
26 July 2021
INTERVIEW WITH LEON BYNER
Topics: South Australian COVID-19 update; vaccine rollout; international border restrictions
Now, the Government, the Federal Government, has secured an additional 85 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and that provides access to additional booster vaccinations that are going to allegedly and hopefully protect us all in the future.
I caught up with Greg Hunt just a few minutes ago, Greg Hunt, thanks for joining us today.
How are we going with the distribution of the vaccine and getting it into people’s arms? Do you have a sense of how SA is going on this?
Yes. So, what we’ve seen is that I think South Australia’s doing an excellent job. Around the country, we’ve just had over a million. In the last week we’ll have the weekly report out today. But more than a million doses administered around the country.
In South Australia, we’ve had so far over, at this stage, for the over 70s, more than 75 per cent, 75.5 per cent of the population have had a vaccination. For the over 50s, 60 per cent of the population. And for the general population, 38.6 per cent.
So, I think that that’s really important progressive and I want to thank everybody for coming forwards. What we’re seeing is over a million doses around the country a week. Very, very significant supplies and uptake.
So, yes, it took a little bit longer with the impact of the reduced age range that was recommended for AstraZeneca, but with the increased supplies of Pfizer, with the uptake around the country, we’re seeing very, very good results now.
If there’s anyone listening who hasn’t got a vaccination and wants one, is that going to be an easy thing to do?
Well, if you are eligible, there should be access for everybody. Sometimes, if you’re in the 40 to 60 age group, there will be a booking process where it may take a little bit of time to have your booking come through, but those supplies are increasing very, very significantly.
And so these are really important numbers coming through. The other thing is that for everybody over 60, there’s no reason to be delaying at all. And that’s the most vulnerable population. And so we’d urge you to continue coming forward as soon as possible.
Is there such a thing as a vaccination passport?
No. Everybody already has access to your own vaccination record or your digital vaccination certificate. That goes through Medicare. And that’s something that was already in place, you know, whether it was for measles, mumps, rubella, whether it was for whooping cough, whether it’s for flu vaccination, because people are entitled to their own records.
What’s your attitude to people wearing masks? In what circumstances, should they always wear one?
Well, it’s always a medical question. And so, you follow the medical advice of your relevant state. But it is an important part of limiting where there is an outbreak, where there’s potential.
And so, you know, in Victoria at the moment where I am, we have to wear them when we’re outside of the home. And that’s both outside and inside if you’ve left the home. In New South Wales, obviously they have very significant restrictions.
South Australia, you’re making great progress. I’m very hopeful that the signs are that you’ll be able to come off restrictions this week. But masks are an important part of protecting where there is the disease within the community to simply limit the spread and limit the capacity to catch.
Do you see this issue of restrictions to finish completely or is it possible or likely that they’re going to continue from time to time?
Well, our goal is to continuously reduce that. So, we have a four stage plan. The vaccination is a critical process, but what’s kept Australia safer than almost all of the world, it’s the fact that we’ve got a range of things. Borders, testing, tracing, distancing and vaccination.
Those elements come together. And what we’ve seen in New South Wales is some terrible tragedy. You know, the loss of eight people is just devastating. But what we’ve also seen is that overwhelmingly our aged care homes in Victoria and New South Wales, as around the country, 100 per cent have been twice vaccinated.
At this stage, despite these outbreaks in Victoria, New South Wales, we haven’t seen anybody in residential aged care lose their lives. There’s been incursions, and yet those vaccinations presented. So, all of those things work together.
What does it mean for the country? The more we’re vaccinated, the less we’ll have to have lockdowns, and the PM’s set out through National Cabinet with Premier Marshall a four stage plan to increase the freedoms and decrease the role of lockdowns as we go forward.
So there’s enough vaccine at the moment and it’s just a matter of getting into people’s arms? Is that the scenario now?
Every week we’re getting in a million Pfizer and we have sufficient AstraZeneca to meet all of the demand across Australia. And we keep very, very clearly, you know, if you are eligible, please do not wait. It will help protect you and it helps protect your family.
So, we’ve got 40 million Pfizer this year, we have another 10 million Moderna which is coming in- commencing in September with the weight of it through October, November, December. And we’ve also just signed an agreement for an additional 85 million Pfizer if boosters are needed for both 2022 and 2023.
So, there’s a very strong pipeline. And you know, with a million a week being vaccinated, what we’re seeing is huge numbers of people coming forward.
Just for the record, as a Federal Minister, are we good to let the people of South Australia and beyond know, what was ground zero for COVID in the first place?
Well, all our evidence and advice is that it came out of Wuhan in China.
And we haven’t seen anything that- other than a very clear indication that that’s the source, that’s the origin. And I think it radiates out from there.
What’s happening with our international borders? Is there any particular restriction at the moment?
Well, at the moment, obviously, we’ve got very significant limitations on people coming to Australia that’s governed by the caps that are in place for a number of people that can arrive and be absorbed through the quarantine system.
And obviously, for Australians leaving, it’s essential purposes only because they then have to come back.
So that is difficult. And I am apologetic that we have to do that. But it’s those border protections which have meant that we have, you know, this year have had 96 days without any cases. At the moment, obviously, New South Wales is battling a difficult, challenging outbreak.
But ultimately, these are the things when you look at all of those rings of containment – borders, testing, tracing, distancing and vaccination that have meant that our situation is so infinitely different, you know, 30,000 lives saved compared with the OECD, 45,000 lives saved compared with the US and the UK on a per capita basis in Australia.
And it’s not been easy for any country. And Australia has had huge challenges. But our challenges, as other health ministers are often said to me, are vastly preferable to the ones that so much of the world has faced.
Are you seeing daylight at the head of all this for Australia?
Yes, absolutely. I have a deep, profound hope.
I think that is a really important question. And, you know, what we’ve achieved has been extraordinary but difficult and New South Wales is going through a hard time. Victoria, I’m also hopeful will come out of lockdown this week subject to the Victorian Government’s decisions and the medical advice.
But in New South Wales, do I believe we can get on top of it? Yes. Do I believe we will? Yes.
You know, their tracing system is extraordinary, the global gold standard. And so, they have to go through a difficult period. But as we vaccinate, and Australia has a great record of high vaccination rates and I just continue to say to people, please, please protect yourself and your family and your community by being vaccinated, all of these things come together.
And so, I have a deep hope. When you think of this, the lives saved in Australia are almost unimaginable in scope and scale compared with what we’ve seen in the rest of the developed world.
The livelihoods, you have unemployment down to 4.9 per cent. These are huge national achievements that are measured in lives saved and people’s lives being vastly better than they would have been. And so, you know, it’s hard, it’s difficult, but an amazing testament to, you know, who and what Australia is.
As a Federal Health Minister, what is it you’re asking of people? What would you like them to do?
So, please come forward to be tested if you have symptoms and please be vaccinated. You know, when your time comes, particularly if you’re eligible for a second dose, come forward, make sure you get that second dose. And as you’re available to get the first dose, please take that opportunity. And it’s a really simple thing.
And South Australia has had a tough week, but I’m very, very hopeful about the coming days. And the Victorian has had a tough know nearly two weeks. And again, I’m hopeful about that outcome. And in Sydney, there’s more to be done, but we’re very confident that they will get on top of it.
It’s hard and it’s challenging. But, you know, this has been, I think in many ways, whilst it’s been the hardest peace time period Australia’s faced in 100 years, I think the last 18 months have been arguably our greatest and most important 18 months.
What we’ve achieved, I think, we have to stop and reflect on, and then just resolute that we’ll keep doing it.
You want everybody to wear a mask out?
Well, it depends on the health restrictions in the particular state. So, if your state restrictions are wear the mask, then please do that. The different health requirements follow the different epidemiology or the disease load on the ground. So, where the state is recommending it, then absolutely, please.
That’s the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt.