The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
24 August 2021
INTERVIEW WITH SABRA LANE
Topics: high COVID-19 case numbers in NSW and Victoria; Doherty Institute modelling; Australia’s national plan;
Well, Australia’s path out of the pandemic is looking a bit rocky because the high case numbers in New South Wales and the growing outbreak in Victoria are making other states very nervous about opening up. The Health Minister is Greg Hunt and he joins us now.
Good morning. The Prime Minister has made it clear, Mr Hunt, that it’s highly unlikely Australia will get back to zero COVID cases. The New South Wales Premier has too. What’s the plan to bolster hospitals and the healthcare system so that they can deal with high case numbers?
So, there are a series of things that we’ve been doing. Firstly, making sure that there’s strong ventilation capacity in Australia. Early last year, we prepared and made sure that we had a 7500 ventilated bed surge capacity. As of yesterday, there were 40 cases on ventilation for COVID in Australia.
Secondly, making sure that we have additional staff training. Thirdly, that we had additional staff coming into the system, returning nurses and others.
I should emphasise, though, the latest statement from the Doherty Institute overnight was very, very clear that once we achieve the 70 to 80 per cent vaccination, we will see less transmission – I’m quoting from it – of COVID-19, fewer people with severe illness and therefore fewer hospitalisations and deaths.
And so that’s the exact words from the Doherty Institute overnight in response to public commentary on this.
So, we’re both preparing the system, we’re vaccinating. And a record first day of the week – I’ve just had the figures – almost 290,000, and 17.44 million Australians and 53.6 per cent first dose of Australians. So we’re both preparing the system and vaccinating at record levels.
Okay, just on that Doherty Institute statement, it points out that with opening up of 70 per cent of the adult population vaccinated, including partial public health measures, that there’ll be around 385,000 cases and 1400 deaths over six months. That will be confronting for some. How comfortable are you with that?
But the next sentence, which you didn’t read, is with optimal public health measures and no lockdowns, this can be significantly reduced to 2737 infections and 13 deaths. That’s the path which we’re pursuing.
Optimal public health measures, the goal of limiting lockdowns, of making sure that- to use plan- the phase B of the Doherty modelling. At that stage, lockdowns are less likely but possible – that’s the 70 per cent phase. In phase C, highly targeted lockdowns only.
But those other measures are absolutely critical. And that’s the fundamental point that the Doherty Institute says it’s not a freedom day. It’s a progressive process. And that is the national plan.
And I think that’s the fundamental thing. That is the national plan which we’ve put in place, and that’s what’s about protecting Australians, but also ensuring that that ultimately we cannot live in lockdown forever.
We cannot live in lockdown forever. For mental health, for health, for all of the different reasons. So, it’s a pathway and a balance.
Minister, sorry, sorry, Minister, prolonged lockdowns are to protect those who aren’t vaccinated and those who choose not to be vaccinated. What’s your message to them?
Look, ultimately, our task is to ensure that every Australian, every Australian who seeks to be vaccinated can be vaccinated. And the other alternative.
And my question.
The other alternative, with great respect, is we’re in lockdown forever on that logic. And is that really what people are saying?
Queensland and WA are now pushing back on the opening up plan and this is now playing out publicly. Won’t this just further undermine public confidence?
No, can I respectfully and take a different analysis of what’s occurring. The path which has been agreed by all of the premiers and chief ministers of a national plan in a partnership with their populations is, I think, a shared plan. And I’ve heard the commentary but I’ve actually.
But it’s not, we heard from Queensland- sorry, we heard from Queensland yesterday. We heard from the WA Premier yesterday. They are pushing back.
I don’t think they’re actually saying that they want to keep their people locked down forever, because if there’s not a moment where vaccination allows us to progressively return with the very points that the Doherty Institute has set out of optimal public health measures, then what is the alternative?
The alternative is a permanent state of a community locked down, of kids unable to go to school, of people being unable to go to work, of people in some situations being unable to go to the park or to visit mum or dad or other relatives. And I don’t think that anybody is seriously proposing that.
So right now, we’re vaccinating at record levels, at levels that surpass the highest weekly averages in the UK and are comparable to the highest weekly averages in the United States. As I say, of almost 290,000 yesterday, and Australians keep coming forward, so we’re on that path to achieve those goals.
Minister, we’re almost out of time. The opening up plan doesn’t factor in the vaccination of kids under 12, sorry, over 12; should it, given that some leaders say that they must be included? Like Andrew Barr.
So, there are two different things here. And we interrogated the Doherty team who are fearlessly frank and robust and independent on this question. And they said 15 plus is the figure for the national- the national goals and the national targets and were very, very strong on that.
The 12 to 15 year olds in terms of individual vaccination, we’ve already opened that up on the basis of the medical advice for children with disabilities, with underlying medical conditions, in Indigenous communities and remote communities.
We’re expecting within the week the final advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. And that would open up all children 12 to 15. And if they recommend it, we’ll do it. And I do want to stop and step back for a second.
Well, Minister, I’m sorry, we can’t. We’re now out of time.
That yesterday’s message was there’s light at the end of the tunnel – I think this is important, Sabra. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we must have that view and vision as a nation. And that’s where we’re heading. And we’ll get there.
Minister, we’re out of time. Thanks for joining us.