The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
18 January 2022
Topics: Private Hospitals Agreement; National Medical Stockpile; provision of PPE; Omicron variant; vaccination rates.
Welcome, everybody. I’m joined this afternoon by the Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly.
We’re here to indicate that the Australian vaccination program has now reached almost two million vaccinations a week.
And also to announce the next stage in our Omicron response plan, as has been planned, prepared and anticipated for any surge in either case numbers or hospital numbers.
In particular, there are three actions that we’re announcing today.
Firstly, we are activating the Private Hospitals Agreement. This agreement was established over the course of late March and early April in 2020. And it was designed for supporting state hospital systems at any time where they may have significant numbers.
As Professor Kelly and I were just discussing, we have strong confidence in the Victorian hospital system and strong confidence in its preparedness, that there is significant capacity within the system but, of course, workforce challenges not just in hospitals, but in workplaces in any Omicron affected area remain the principal challenge.
And so this is a response to that. The Private Hospitals Agreement will see up to 57,000 nurses and over 100,000 staff made available to Omicron affected areas around the country.
So it’s a workforce which is skilled, planned, appropriate and available. The states and territories will, where necessary, work directly with the staff and with the hospitals themselves.
Whether it’s the large private hospital networks or the smaller private hospitals, it will be up to the states and territories to activate those, but we have activated them at the Commonwealth end.
And that will mean there will also be assistance available where necessary in any aged care facilities that require that additional workforce. It’s one of five actions that are available for workforce support within the aged care sector.
The second thing that we are doing is that the Australian Government, on my authorisation, is activating the National Medical Stockpile to support any states or territories that have shortages of PPE.
I have to say, all my advice is that all states and territories are well prepared in relation to PPE. We have provided 160 million units of PPE so far to state and territory hospital systems, to private hospital systems, to aged care, to general practices and pharmacies over the course of the last two years.
But the National Medical Stockpile is well supplied, well supported and if there are any shortages, which at this stage we don’t foresee, but we are making this available, then that’s an important thing. That includes of course the 10 million rapid antigen tests to states and territories.
The third thing we’re doing is providing 10 million units of PPE and related products to the aged care sector and facilities around the country. We have already provided 5.6 million rapid antigen tests, another 100,000 today which will take to 5.7 million and a further three million to come.
So out of those 10 million units, there are three million rapid antigen tests, two million N95 masks, two million surgical masks and up to a million each of gloves, gowns and goggles. And so that’s an important additional protection to be made available to our aged care sector.
So far, and this is not a figure that I’m aware that has been released yet, we have provided over 2.3 million rapid antigen tests already just in 2022 to our aged care facilities.
That then brings me to vaccinations. I want to thank everybody that has stepped forward to be vaccinated, but to all of our vaccinators and those that are supporting the system. We have had
1.995 million vaccinations in the last seven days.
So almost two million vaccinations. And we are likely to pass the two million mark on a rolling 7-day basis over the coming days.
And that’s with staff that are furloughed, with people that are still on summer leave, but our GPs in particular and our pharmacies in particular have stood up, and we’ve had a series of record days for primary care.
We’re vaccinating at a rate which saw the fastest three day period in Australian history on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week in terms of vaccinations.
The other things to note, we have now passed over 5.33 million boosters that have been done. There were just yesterday over 241,000 boosters delivered, over 56,000 children’s vaccinations delivered and that number has passed 379,000, and during the course of the coming days will pass half a million.
So our parents are coming forward, our kids are coming forward very bravely. And as has been noted, there are significant vaccination spots available for both adult and children in the state system.
So over 10 million vaccines that have been in the field, that are available and now being taken up in record numbers.
The last thing I want to do is again to say thank you. We have planned, prepared and now we’re activating our next stage today with those three areas of action.
The Private Hospitals Agreement, the support of the National Medical Stockpile for states and territories if needed, and the additional support in terms of rapid antigen tests and PPE for our aged care sector.
We are, as the Minister has said, we have been planning for workforce pressure in our healthcare sector for some time, right back to actually the beginning of the pandemic.
This is the first time that the health system has come under pressure, really, to the extent that we’re seeing in the last week or two. I said on the weekend and I stand by those statements that we are either at or close to the peak of this wave in certain states.
Some states are lagging a bit further behind. We do know that peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have a cadence to them. They go up, they get to a peak, and then they go down. And that is happening. It will happen.
And we also know a couple of other things. Firstly, that hospital admissions and ICU admissions and unfortunately deaths do lag a little bit behind cases.
Now in terms of the case load in Australia, we know there’s been a lot of cases in the last few weeks. Over a million cases since the beginning of the year.
We do know with the Omicron variant that it is a less severe, but there are a proportion of people that get severe disease and end in hospital or ICU. And that is what has been seen in the whole of the rest of the world, and we are making the same plans as many other parts of the world have done.
I think the other thing I’d just like to say is that at the moment it is a balance like in other industries between decreasing the chance of infection in a workplace, as well as making sure that workplace can function.
And so the health system at the moment in Victoria and certainly in other states is facing that, the same as other essential industries.
And so several weeks ago the AHPPC did start some work on behalf of National Cabinet to look at that balance. What can we do to make sure that the health system, that other essential services, aged care and many others can continue to function whilst we have a large caseload in the community.
And so those measures are being introduced in Victoria today, alongside the issues that the Minister has raised.
People probably are wondering what can I do? What can I do for myself and my family at this time? And I think that’s important. We all have an ability to consider what to do during this pandemic.
The first one very importantly the Minister has already mentioned, if you are due for a booster, go and get it. If you have a child that is now five years or older, get them vaccinated. So that vaccination is definitely something you can and should be doing and should be doing that today.
Wear a mask when asked, follow those public health directions. They are still important, we are still trying to decrease the transmission of the virus.
In terms of testing, if you’re asked to get a test or if you are close contact, make sure you do get that test and follow the instructions and the advice from public health officials.
And also, and I think this is very reasonable, we’ve been talking about this myself and Professor Kidd in particular, and my other colleagues in the states. I heard Professor Brett Sutton saying similar words yesterday. Get yourself prepared in case you do become a case.
My sister and her whole family came down with COVID this week, and so they were prepared. They did have the advantage of being able to talk directly to the Chief Medical Officer, so I did give them some advice, and they even took some of it.
But you can be prepared, and make sure you have some paracetamol or some ibuprofen at home. Make sure that you are ready in case you are positive so you can protect yourself and your family.
And then there is help available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on the National Coronavirus Helpline – 1800 020 080. I believe in Victoria they also have a 1300 number – 1300 606 024. That’s in Victoria specifically. And healthdirect.gov.au.
We’ve a been spending a lot of time with GPs and GP peak groups over the last few weeks talking through the range of things that need to be available out in the community. And our clinical guidelines are second to none in terms of hospital care as well.
So we are prepared. We do have all of this work has been under way for some time. And Australia should be confident that that is the case.
Thanks very much, Paul. And I’ll start, if you can just self-identify on the left as you’re facing forward, and then we’ll work across the room. If I can keep it to one question each because there are a number of people in the room.
Minister, Jonathan Kearsley from 9News.
To both yourself and to Professor Kelly, the Australian Government has talked about living with COVID-19. The UK government is reportedly considering zero days mandated isolation for COVID positive people. Can you see a scenario in Australia in 2022 when that could be applied here?
And just briefly, if I could get your responses, both of you, to George Christensen saying in no uncertain terms: do not get your children vaccinated.
I hadn’t heard those words. But I would say this: get your children vaccinated.
Please bring your children forward. We have had over, as I’ve said already, we’ve had almost 400,000 children vaccinated. We’ll pass 500,000 in the coming days. Vaccinations save lives.
And I would flatly, plainly disagree with anyone who said that.
In terms of isolation, that’s not something that has been part of any discussion that I’ve been involved with. So certainly not something that’s been considered in the National Security Committee or the broader Cabinet.
But Paul, this is your area.
I won’t comment on other people’s comments.
I think just if people could listen to the Chief Medical Officer and my colleagues in the states, we’re all of agreement. The ATAGI group, which is, I would say, amongst the best experts on immunisation in the world, certainly in Australia. We are of one voice.
It is very important for children now down to the age of five to be vaccinated. And so please go ahead with that and listen to the experts.
In terms of your other question about living with COVID, it’s a live issue, and I think we need to really start thinking about that.
We’ve found with this variant it’s been very different experience to previous variants. We have had a very different experience to the UK, to be honest, since the beginning of the pandemic. So they’ll make their decisions.
I’m in close contact with my CMO colleagues in England and the UK and elsewhere in the world. And I think now is the time to think about what we do into the future. COVID’s going to be with us for many years.
The only thing I’d add is frankly, the anti-vaxxers aren’t just losing the debate, they’ve lost the debate. We’re at a 95 per cent national 16-plus vaccination rate.
That’s beyond the conception of almost any commentator or observer through the course of the pandemic, and yet we pushed through, and it’s the Australian public, the Australian medical workforce, and in partnership with local, state, territory and Federal governments that have achieved that.
So we’ll just keep going, and we want that number to go higher.
Claire from the Daily Telegraph.
Just picking up from Jono. Maybe, Professor, we might not get to zero days of isolation, but is it possible we do what the US is doing with five days’ isolation if you test positive, could you see that happening, given we are now, as you say, at our past the peak of the Omicron wave?
So, I think these are difficult balancing questions.
So the more you go down that path of shorter isolation periods, the higher the risk of having transmission in the community. That’s very clear.
Different countries have taken different approaches to this. We, as you remember, not so long ago, we were insisting on 14 days. We brought that down to seven. And we will continue to look at the evidence on this.
The US CDC has gone down from seven to five, as has the European CDC and the UK’s, as has been mentioned similarly.
But some are at seven, some are at 10. Some are still at 14. And both the CDC in Atlanta and the European equivalent in Stockholm admit there is no evidence behind that decision. It is a decision of balance. It’s a decision about workforces and a trade-off with increased transmission in the community.
So, we will look at that. We continue to look at that. We’re still meeting several days a week at AHPPC and providing that information through to National Cabinet who will be meeting again on Thursday.
Great. And we’ll just come to the front, please.
Thanks, Minister. Shuba Krishnan from SBS.
There are reports from aged care facilities that their residents still haven’t been given their booster shots. Some of these facilities have active outbreaks, and they’re obviously supposed to be at the front of the queue. Why has this process stalled and what’s being done to fast-track the rollout?
And to Prof Kelly, some of these people were technically eligible for their boosters months ago. They’ll be coming up to a year since their first jab. How exposed does this leave them?
So the first thing here is I, respectfully, don’t accept the characterisation you used.
In fact, the aged care booster program is well ahead of the schedule that we set out. We have now had over 1,800 facilities that have been boosted, and that’s increasing significantly every day.
And having spoken with General Frewen yesterday, we’re on track to ensure that over the course of the coming weeks that all facilities do have that program in place. And so that’s actually well ahead of that schedule.
And it’s important to note that 99 per cent, over 99 per cent of aged care staff are vaccinated. We believe that is one of if not the highest rates in the world. That we have over 90 per cent of residents that have accepted vaccination. All have been offered.
And this booster program is actually well ahead of schedule. And General Frewen has in fact worked to bring it forward even more.
Just a couple of things to add there.
One is, firstly, the booster program is relatively recent, so you will recall that it was firstly six months between the second dose and the third dose, and then it’s been brought down and now four months soon to be three months from the end of the month.
So there were some of the aged care facilities that were not actually eligible until fairly recently, so they’re going through that process. I was on the call with the Minister and JJ Frewen yesterday. They were talking through what the plans are for the rest of the year, and that’s very encouraging.
Certainly, they are high risk people. We want to get that booster in. The second dose does give protection still against severe disease, and we’re seeing that.
We’re seeing a lot of a lot of outbreaks in aged care. We’re seeing a lot of aged care residents and staff affected, but it’s a very different situation and look to going back to winter of 2020, the pre-vaccine era, when we saw very large numbers of people that were severely affected.
That is not how we’re seeing it now. So that two doses does give some effect, but absolutely, we want the boosters as quickly as possible, and that’s happening.
And we’ll just go to the back of the room, please, and then we’ll go across. So just back, I think, in pink?
So just to start with you, Professor, for the past two years we’ve had lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 so we don’t overwhelm our hospital systems and see a spike in death rates. We are now at a Code Brown in Victoria. We’re also have record death rates. Have we failed to adequately prepare for a new variant?
And then just for the Minister, one expert said: fringe politicians are much more inspirational to the local anti-vax movement than Novak Djokovic. How are you happy to have people like Alex Antic and like Gerard Rennick in your party, dismissing the science and undermining the vaccine rollout when you don’t want a tennis star in the country full stop?
Well look, I’ll just address that and then let Paul deal with the other questions.
We are pro vaccination and have helped deliver a 95 per cent vaccination rate.
Wherever people have said things that are anti vax, we disagree with them whether it’s people within our own movement, I disagree.
Whether it is somebody such as Michelle Ananda-Rajah who is notorious for her anti AstraZeneca comments, hand-picked by the Labor leadership to represent that party in the seat of Higgins.
And so across the board I disagree and the anti vaxxers are losing and have lost the debate with a 95 per cent vaccination rate which is still increasing.
(INADUIBLE) Apart from being members of the Government?
Guess what? We disagree and the Government makes the policy. So I’ll leave it at that.
So in terms of what’s happening and I said in my opening remarks that we knew that there would be a large wave of Omicron. We knew that it was less severe but there would be a small proportion that have severe disease and require hospitalisation.
I think as I said before, the vast majority of people are mild and can be cared for at home. Those that are going to hospital, that is a challenge and we’re taking on that challenge in terms of the workforce planning, the private hospital guarantee and so forth that was mentioned by the Minister.
But this is a balance. It was envisaged that there would be cases and some of those would be severe when the National Reopening Plan was announced and agreed at National Cabinet.
And we’re coping with that along with the perimeters that we have using the levers we have in terms of control as well as dealing with those severe end of the spectrum.
Great. Front and centre please.
Thank you. To both the Minister and the Chief Medical Officer, the Victorian Nurses’ Federation says it’s time to call in the Army. They say it’s time to call in the Defence Force, they’re at absolute maximum capacity. Why won’t you do that? They are the experts, that’s what they say is needed.
We’re actually, we’re invoking the private hospitals agreement and the nurses, doctors, support staff in private hospitals are clinical experts and around the country there are 57,000 nurses in private hospitals, over 100,000 staff and they are clinically trained. They are expert.
Matters in relation to the ADF are obviously a matter for the Prime Minister.
But let me be very clear that the people that have the capacity to step straight into a hospital environment, those that have the training, the expertise, the skills, the knowledge, the history are the nurses, doctors and care staff within the private hospital system.
And we prepared for this moment. Then there are 57,000 nurses and over 100,000 staff within the private health and hospital system that are available on that front.
With respect, the Nurses Federation of Victoria would know that. So if they’re now saying the Defence Force is needed, I think they’re aware that the private system also has that capacity. They say more is needed.
Well, at this stage there is enormous capacity as yet unutilised, which can be drawn upon in the private health system.
So we monitor, we maintain that. And I think certainly the skill set of a nurse coming from a major private hospital, whether it’s the emergency ward, whether it’s a frontline triage role, whether it’s any of the important roles is exactly the set of skills that one would want in a COVID ward or in a public hospital.
And the states and territories are drawing upon this. So there’s more that can be done that way. And using hospital staff to help support hospitals is obviously the safest, most important and most readily available resource.
Jonathan Lea from Sky News. First and foremost, where are we at with Novavax? We’ve been talking about it for months. Is it almost approved, this 51 million doses? I suppose if Australia doesn’t need it, perhaps the Pacific Islands could use it.
And if we can be reinfected with COVID, as the Prime Minister said the other day, how do we know that we’re not going to see a similar wave come wintertime?
Sure look, I’ll take the first question and Professor Kelly can take the second.
In terms of Novavax, the TGA is now at advanced stages of consideration. They’ve only just received the final data, and I’m hopeful that that will be very promising.
I’m speaking with the company again in the coming days to ensure that we have those early supplies, were there a TGA and an ATAGI approval.
I’m hopeful that we would see over one per cent of people who have not yet had their vaccination, there are only five per cent that have not yet had their vaccination, but that this would help with at least one per cent of those.
If that’s 200,000 Australians who, for whatever reason, have chosen not to be vaccinated but feel more comfortable, then that will have been significant. And those doses that we don’t use, we will absolutely share with our Pacific neighbours.
So I’m very hopeful that we will hear more from the TGA over the course of the coming 10 days on that front.
And the other question, sorry, was about the reinfection? Yeah.
The Prime Minister said last week that COVID parties don’t work because we can be reinfected. And he talked about the wave. Is there any assurance that we’re not going to see a similar wave come wintertime, obviously, with the cold weather and then people being indoors and spreading viruses?
So the reinfection story seems to have got quite a lot of interest. So let me go through that as best as I can.
So we know from the beginning of the pandemic that reinfection was actually quite rare in previous waves. So if you had the original virus, it was unlikely you would get that again. And even whether it was protection from all of the previous waves up until Omicron in terms of reinfection, so it was quite rare.
What we’re finding with Omicron is that there is a much higher risk of being reinfected when you’ve had previous versions of the virus.
What happens in the future with Omicron? We don’t know. Does Omicron protect against other versions of the virus? Possibly. There’s some early, early signs that it protects against Delta, for example.
Does Omicron protect against future variants of the virus? We have no way of knowing that until we know what those future variants might hold.
Is that because it’s mutated with a common cold?
No, I don’t think it’s mutated with the common cold.
So there is a chance of reinfection. What happens in winter? I think winter we will see more COVID. That’s been the case in every winter so far in all parts of the world. Whether that will be Omicron for people that have not yet got it during this wave or another variant, I can’t tell that that’s a crystal ball matter.
What I do know, though, is we’re almost certainly going to have a flu season this year as well in winter. And flu and coronavirus together, as has been seen in several countries in the northern hemisphere right now is a challenge.
And so that’s a challenge we’re up to and up for, and we’ll have further to say about that in coming months.
One thing I’ll add to that is last year, as we were planning for 2022 and 2023, we secured 60 million doses of Pfizer for 2022, precisely in contemplation of if there were a third and a fourth dose required that we would be prepared.
At that stage, it was not expected that there was a fourth dose or a second booster that may be required. And we don’t know yet, but we’re prepared for, we secured, we invested on that front. There’s also 15 million Moderna and as was mentioned earlier, 51 million of the Novavax.
Next, I think it’s a third across and then at the back of the room, please.
Minister, the biggest issue facing aged care centres at the moment is lack of staff. Many are off sick with the virus, or they’re isolating because they’re in contact. Basic care is once again declining in many of the facilities.
Have you properly prepared for this crisis, for the rise in cases? And will residents once again face neglect in aged care centres?
So this has been our number one focus as a government along with the programme to ensure that there was vaccination right around the country.
So there were three pillars to what we’ve done. First is vaccination within the facilities. And at this point in time, as I say, over 99 per cent of staff have been vaccinated.
We have, importantly, had one of the lowest rates of loss of life in aged care facilities in the world. And I think that that’s a very significant point to make.
The second thing is what we’re doing in relation to workforce. And with regards to workforce, there are five actions that we’re taking.
One is the changes which have been done through AHPPC, or the medical expert panel, and National Cabinet with regards to furloughing; the change to the definition of close contacts; and then allowing asymptomatic close contacts to work under appropriate conditions.
The second is provision of surge workforce. And so we’ve provided over 60,000 shifts through surge workforce.
The third part of the plan in terms of workforce support is the provision of the Aged Care National Classification staff or the AN-ACC staff. The first of those have commenced this week. They’re being made available to assist with the actual duties within the aged care facilities.
The fourth is the return and recruitment of former staff that may have retired or left the sector, and Deb Thoms, the previous chief nursing and midwifery officer, is overseeing that program.
And then the fifth is the private hospitals agreement. And so all of those have been put in place to provide that assistance.
And then the third pillar of action is the PPE. And as I’ve mentioned today, the 10 million units, including the three million rapid antigen tests being made available. And already, just since 1 January, 2.3 million rapid antigen tests made available.
If we can come to the right hand side, front row, please.
David Crowe from The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
On rapid antigen tests, what’s your response to the proposition that the Government failed badly last year by not doing more to increase the supply of rapid antigen tests when the Omicron wave was in prospect?
And what’s your message to Australians now who want free tests widely available to all? Why can’t they have that?
Look, I understand that is the Anthony Albanese policy. I’d be interested to know, David, how many you would imagine that would mean would need to be delivered over a year.
I’m asking the question because I think that it’s a common issue in the community.
The question basically is: or what’s your message to Australians who want them to be free? But also, that question about whether the Government got it wrong last year by not doing more to make sure there was a widespread supply?
It’s a legitimate question to understand what that ALP policy means, and they can’t estimate it, but I can. If you had the daily use of 10 million a day over 100 days, that’s a billion tests. If you had it over 300 days, that’s three billion tests.
It’s not a matter of costs. It’s a matter of supply chain and of diverting those tests from people who most need them. It’s a very dangerous and irresponsible policy.
We saw the claim that they would pay $300 for vaccinations. We’re now at 95 per cent. This is an equally made-up policy by the ALP, and I’d urge people to be very, very, very careful of what is a dangerous and irresponsible policy.
Forget the cost, I think Simon Birmingham indicated that it’s a $13 billion cost, but it’s about supply chain and diverting vitally needed resources from those that most need it. And that is absolutely clear.
Now, what have we done? We were in the market early. We were in the market in August of last year. We’ve provided 5.6 million rapid antigen tests to our area of responsibility, the aged care sector, prior to now, another 100,000 today, another three million coming, which I’ve announced and referred to today.
We have secured 70 million tests. And so, we’re fortunate in that we were in the market early. We’ve had the TGA commence this program, and they have approved 66 tests around the country, 44 point-of-care and 22 of the self-tests.
And then in terms of access, tests are free in a healthcare environment. Tests are free in a healthcare environment. We’ve done 58 million point-of-care tests.
The states and territories are now acquiring the rapid antigen tests. We started in August, and different states and territories have started at different times, and we’ve had continuous supply through that period.
We saw Victoria announce that they’ve had three million arrive, so I’m pleased that they have entered the market. Testing has always been the states’ responsibility, but we’re supporting them with 10 million tests.
We also have the concessional scheme for pensioners and healthcare card holders, which includes 6.6 million Australians with access to 66 million free tests.
And so, you have free tests in healthcare; you have support for 6.6 million concessional cardholders; and then you have community access through pharmacies and through supermarkets.
But my point to Mr Albanese, and it’s your right and role to ask about the ALP policy. Their policy, if you calculate it out, could lead to anywhere from one to three billion tests, destroy the supply chain, take the tests away from the hospitals, from those that are sick and from close contacts and critical industries.
And just like the $300 vaccine incentive, it was not considered, there are no numbers, they have not done the work, and it could have a profound impact on denying healthcare where it’s vitally needed.
Sorry. Just on Victoria’s Code Brown order, why do you think that’s been necessary in Victoria and not in other states? Has it got to do with bad governance?
No, look, let me be supportive of the Victorian Government.
Obviously, Paul is better placed in terms of a clinical governance discussion, but it’s a response to the fact that they have a significant Omicron wave.
The timing, as the Victorian Chief Health Officer has indicated, is that they are likely to reach that peak, if they have not reached that peak already, in the very near future. And I think that that is an important sign of hope.
But as was always planned, as was always planned, the surge capacity in the hospitals is there. The challenge now is workforce, and they are responding with workforce measures, and we are responding with workforce measures.
And so, to be fair to Victoria, I respect the decision, respect the call.
Probably my one area of concern is to make sure that IVF is not stalled. I think that should be regarded as a critical service. I think IVF is something where, for many families, there is a very narrow window of opportunity, and it is absolutely essential.
But I do support and respect what they have done and respect the need, so there’s no criticism.
I’d classify it as good governance. When I was the Chief Health Officer in the ACT, I called a Code Brown in relation to an external threat in terms of cases coming to the hospital and potentially causing pressure on the system.
That is a standard practice in hospital systems around the world, in fact. But the Code Brown, that’s what it means. It means there’s an external threat, and there’s a response being made appropriately in case that threat causes issues with hospital capacity.
So they’re doing the right thing.
Minister, Jane Norman from the ABC.
You’ve obviously enacted the Private Hospitals Agreement today to alleviate pressure on the workforce, but when it comes to aged care, is any consideration being given to allowing foreign workers to come in to sort of easing that process of skilled migration?
And a second question, today is the deadliest day of the pandemic. Professor Kelly, you touched on this a bit earlier, but I mean, how much worse does the modelling, does the expert advice suggest it’s actually going to get?
So, in relation to visas, we’re constantly reviewing the visa situation in relation to workforce, either of those that are here or those that might come.
And indeed, in the latter part of last year, we were able to bring in additional workforce from overseas to support the whole of the health system.
I would just say this: that bringing in overseas workers has a lead time because people have to change their lives. So we have already done and prepared for that last year, for this year, and that was put in place.
And actually, Professor Murphy oversaw that, I think during the course of the latter part of last year, during the last quarter. But right now the Government continues to look at all of the visa arrangements of people who are in Australia to see whether there is additional work or additional capacity.
But the private hospitals guarantee is the lever which can provide additional staff on a rapid basis.
And then last of all, up the back, I think?
About the death rates. We know there is a death rate with this disease as with other infectious diseases. It is much less than it was in previous waves. We know that it’s less than one per cent here in Australia.
But deaths will occur. I’ve actually asked my team to have a very close look at the deaths that have happened in the Omicron wave and will have more to say about that later in the week.
But what I do know is that it’s following the similar pattern. So it’s still older people are most at risk, older people with risk factors that we know about and we know very clearly about now.
And we do know what to do to prevent those deaths. It won’t always be successful but we do have treatments now, and if people end up in hospital we know our doctors and nurses are fantastic at dealing with this. But there will some that do pass away.
Two things that people can do, back to being active about this. The first is get vaccinated. We know that the first two doses and the third dose do give protection against severe disease. That’s very clear particularly the third dose for those that are due for their boosters.
The second thing is, if you are over the age of 70 in particular and you have one of the list of chronic diseases and there’s information, I won’t go into the details here but they’re quite common in older people, you are higher risk of having severe disease. Make sure you do seek out care to give that best care at the right place at the right time as you need it.
And I think the last person at the back, please?
Yeah, thanks. It’s Josh from The New Daily.
Just back on childhood vaccinations, obviously the Government is trying to get parents to get their kids vaccinated, which is really good even though there are fringe voices speaking the other way.
Could you maybe, Professor Kelly, remind us of the safety and protection that these do give to children and remind us on the regulatory processes and approvals it’s gone through?
Yeah, thanks for the opportunity to say that. We don’t have any medicines or any vaccines in Australia that have not gone through the full process of the TGA, based on the evidence that is given to them by the companies that are selling those products as well as independent clinical trials from around the world.
The second thing they very closely look at and this is very important for the children’s vaccine is the real world experience of roll outs in other places.
So we had the advantage of watching multiple millions of children of that age group, five to 11, get their first and their second doses in the US. They have not seen a single issue in terms of severe safety signals.
So we were looking very closely at that, and so that’s a real reassurance of real world experience plus the TGA tick and the ATAGI tick in terms of safety and efficacy.
They do work particularly against severe disease in children, the same as they do in adults. They do, at least during the initial period after the second dose, decrease the transmission in the wider community.
So it has that double advantage of assisting individuals as well as families and the wider community.
Minister, sorry, just Jonathan Kearsley from Nine News.
I just wanted to pick up with respect something you said in response to David Crowe’s question about rapid antigen tests. You said you went to market early.
With respect, that’s not the case. This was a live issue for governments in the second quarter of last year. The U.K. was able to distribute seven rapid antigen tests to every NHS card holder in the country of a population of 70 million without disruption to supply chain issues.
Didn’t the Government fail to plan properly to have enough supply, private at home use supply, the supply you talk about for August was for aged care residents, didn’t the Government fail to secure enough supply for private at home use by the end of last year?
No, with respect, because the balance of responsibility has always been that the states had principal responsibility for testing.
They had followed the advice of the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia, the AHPPC, which is the medical expert panel, which has state and Commonwealth officials on it, obviously with Professor Kelly, and that has been very clear that one of the things that’s protected Australia is the use of PCR tests.
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has identified Australia as one of the most accurate testing nations in the world.
And sometimes people compare us with the UK and I have enormous respect for the UK, but their death rate is 20 times higher than Australia. Is that really something that people are saying is the model for Australia?
I respect what they’ve done. I respect what they’ve faced. They had been dealing with a different circumstance. The medical advice in Australia was crystal clear and that has helped save not just thousands, but tens of thousands of lives in Australia, 30,000 lives saved compared with the OECD average, 45,000 compared with the United Kingdom.
And so I would stand by our medical advisers on what they have given us. But at the same time, we’ve made available for the aged care sector, as of today, it will have increased to 5.7 million rapid antigen tests, 5.6 million prior to today and another three million coming.
We’re providing 10 million to the states. We’ve got 70 million to assist with aged care going forwards.
And then the states have entered the market and are now supplementing the PCR tests with those additional tests that they’ve secured. All up over 200 million across Commonwealth and state.
So look, I’ll just finish with two points, if I may. But firstly, by the way, thank you for your patience. It’s been long, but what we have done today is add to that support the next phase of our Omicron response plan and the support with the private hospitals, the support to states and territories, and the support to aged care with rapid antigen tests and PPE.
But I want to finish with a message of genuine hope. It is challenging. This pandemic has been challenging. We’re seeing over four million cases officially a day around the world. In reality, that’s likely to be well over 10 million cases a day.
And this is the moment for which we have prepared over two years. And enacting those elements is an important part of providing that hope and confidence to the Australian public that as we see the peaking of Omicron and then the challenges with workforce, that we’re well prepared, that it’s difficult, but we will get through it.
And I want to thank Australians for their work, their support. But the last thing, the single most important thing that anybody can do if they have not been vaccinated yet, if they’ve not had their second dose, if they’ve not had their booster or if their child hasn’t been vaccinated, please come forward to vaccinate yourself and your families.
Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much