The Hon. Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care
3 July 2021
Topics: COVID-19 vaccination update
Thank you very much to everyone who is joining us today. I think there are a series of very important steps forward for the nation with regards to the fight against COVID-19.
Firstly, with regards to vaccinations I’m really pleased to be able to say that we’ve had a record Friday of 151,496 vaccinations, but more significantly a record weekday result for the week so far.
The first five days of this week, 746,983 vaccinations, 746,983, that’s an increase of 49,000 over the previous strongest week to date. And given that it was only two weeks ago that ATAGI provided its advice, to see the strength of those results, both first doses and second doses, coming forward, I think, is very heartening for the nation.
All up we’re now at 8.121 million, so 8,121,649 vaccinations. And very significantly, we are passing five million AstraZeneca vaccinations today; and, we’ll have approximately 3.1 million Pfizer vaccinations and over 6.27 million Australians have had first doses, or 30.4 per cent of the nation; and 1.8 million Australians, or 8.8 per cent of the eligible adult population of had second doses.
Significantly we’re now at 53.4 per cent of over 50s, 62.4 per cent of over-60s, and 70.5 per cent of over 70s. So our most vulnerable, as they get progressively older, have higher and greater vaccination rates, so I think that’s extremely important.
In terms of cases, what we have seen is that, over the last 24 hours, we’ve had 36 local cases and four under investigation. Most importantly, I spoke with Professor Paul Kelly shortly before joining you, our Chief Medical Officer, he has been working both with New South Wales, but also with the AHPPC, or the principal committee of Chief Medical Officers and Chief Health Officers around the country.
His view is that New South Wales is flattening the curve and getting on top of it. And the reason why that’s so important is it’s important for the people of Sydney; important for the people of New South Wales; but it’s an important demonstration to the people of Australia that we can do this. We’ve done it before, we’re doing it now, and we’ll do it again.
And so Paul’s real point to me was that the retransmission rate, or what’s known as the REF, or the R effective rate, is now getting close to one. That means that those cases that are occurring are significantly already within isolation, or have been largely within isolation.
Some were within the community, so we have to follow each of those every day. But this is very important step forward for New South Wales and for the nation.
And in addition to that, what we also know is, in terms of Queensland, they are tracking and tracing their cases. We are keeping an eye on some of those cases which have been in the community.
But equally, during the course of this week, Western Australia and South Australia, the Northern Territory, real progress. The Northern Territory was our biggest worry this week. Even though the numbers in New South Wales are larger, the risk of these cases getting into the Indigenous community, in particular getting into the long grass community, or the significant number of people who are homeless within the Darwin area and could, in time, travel back to remote communities been a deep concern.
And I know that the Chief Minister and the Health Minister, Natasha Fyles and I have spoken most days this week, have been intensely focused on the protections and the vaccinations amongst the long grass community.
And what we’ve seen in the Northern Territory, I think, is probably the most important development of the week. Although today, I’m very pleased at the New South Wales outcome, where it is overwhelmingly cases within isolation which have been identified.
Now finally, I would also mention that the Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, has, as I outlined earlier, met with the chief health officers of Australia and begun the work on the Prime Minister’s and National Cabinet’s National COVID Recovery Plan, and this recovery or transition plan with its four stages, the Chief Health Officers have been at work today outlining those steps.
And we will get the medical advice shortly through the work of the Doherty Institute, and that will also be shared, of course, the Chief Health Officers, and that provides the pathway to progressive normalisation.
It’s hard, it’s difficult. Around the world what we know is that we’ve had, again, thousands and thousands of cases, over 2.15 million lives lost this year alone. No lives lost in Australia from people who’ve caught COVID in Australia, but there are at this moment six people in ICU, so we watch their condition and we know, however, that they are in the best of all possible medical hands.
I’m happy to take any questions. I’ll start, if I may, with those that are on the phone. I think I’ve got Fiona on the phone.
Hi Minister, thank you. There’s tens of thousands of Australian’s are registered as wanting to come home, and they’re not going to be able to come home by the looks of it until enough Australians get vaccinated. Are you confident that whatever those magic numbers may be that we will get to them by the end of this year?
Well, we’ll make sure that every Australian has the opportunity to be vaccinated during the course of the year. And we’re increasingly confident both of supply, but also of distribution.
And so the fact that this week, even only two weeks after the most recent ATAGI advice, we’ve had five days that represent, by a significant amount, a record vaccination rate, I think is a very strong sign.
And that’s before we receive the significant increases in Pfizer, which are commencing this month. And then, they grow again over the course of the rest of the year, and the Moderna, and the potential for Novavax.
So we believe that we will have significant supplies, adequate supplies to ensure all Australians are covered during the course of this year.
I was wondering if you’d mind giving us some specific numbers on how many doses of Pfizer we’re expecting? And when?
Sure. So this month we will have 2.8 million doses of Pfizer. That is an increase of 400,000 compared with what had been expected. And so we’ve been able to secure those by working with Pfizer in Australia and Pfizer internationally.
That 2.8 million will average about 700,000 a week, but it starts at 300, 500, a million and a million over the course, so will build up. Then we have after that 32.6 million for the remainder of the year.
The August figures are due to be received in the coming week. I was speaking with the head of Pfizer Australia only an hour ago, and we’re working always on trying to bring forward as many as possible, as early as possible.
And I’m not sure whether or not we have anybody else on the phone. Are either Jade or Serena there? I’m not sure. No. Jade?
Thanks, Minister. Two questions, I’m sorry, if you don’t mind.
So firstly, what would you say to Australians who are still trying to get home overseas and are devastated by the cuts to the arrivals caps? They now have no real certainty on when they’ll be able to get back.
And just secondly, and as a follow up to Fiona’s question, the Prime Minister said that hopefully we’ll be getting to Stage two by next year, but what about Stages three and four? Are we still talking years away? Can you give us any rough timeframe on that?
Sure. So look, firstly in terms of arrivals. We know that well over 500,000 people have returned home to Australia since the changes were made in March of 2020. We’ll continue to bring Australians home.
There will be a decrease in the commercial arrivals, but an increase in what are called the facilitated arrivals to Howard Springs in the Northern Territory. And we know that some of those flights have, in fact, been undersubscribed in recent weeks, and so there is that capacity to bring additional Australians home via Howard Springs.
And we’ll just keep working because, you know, this is a really important task. And many of the states did want to make these changes, we recognise that. We also recognise that the Delta strain is new, significant. We can manage it, but we have to take precautions.
Previously, when we took precautions with India, I remember there was some criticism at the time, but the precautions that we took saw new positive cases decrease from 14 per cent, was the final figure that I’ve been given, for the last flights before we put in place the India pause, to well below one per cent.
And so those are the things that keep us safe. So we have to keep Australians safe. But then the additional flights or the additional capacity that we’ll facilitate to Howard Springs will support them. Serena?
Thanks, Minister. Obviously, yesterday the Prime Minister said there would be an increase in repatriation flights. Could you give us a concrete indication of by how much, or how many more flights we can expect? Obviously, this is, you know, a huge operation to get these thousands of Australian’s home.
So DFAT, or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is now working through that. So what they’re doing is they’re looking at the particular needs and the particular numbers; looking at where the demand is, noting that many of these flights had, in fact, been undersubscribed in recent weeks.
So Foreign Affairs and Trade will complete that work and then make sure that the details are available. I’ll turn, I think, to Tom in the room.
Sorry. Sorry, Minister. Could I ask you just on obviously commercial flights, there have been a number of commercial airlines now jacking up their prices astronomically in the wake of the news that the Government’s obviously announced yesterday. What’s the Government’s reaction to that?
Well, I hope that nobody takes any advantage of this situation. These are difficult and challenging times, and we do have support programmes for Australians overseas in extremis. But I hope that there is nobody who seeks a commercial advantage from difficult circumstances. And that’s a strong, clear message. Tom?
On another topic, Minister. Is it appropriate for a current Minister to touch a MP’s thigh as Julia Banks has alleged today?
No, it wouldn’t be in those circumstances, but I’m not aware of that, I haven’t seen that story.
You haven’t read about those allegations she made in The Weekend today?
Do you think that there is a culture of sexism and misogyny in the Government?
Look, it’s not something that I’ve witnessed. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m zero, zero in Canberra, because I think, for me, it’s about work.
So do you think there needs be more done (INAUDIBLE)?
Well, I can only speak to my own practices.
And so, would you like to see that example for others (INAUDIBLE)?
Well, I’m always very cautious about putting my own behaviour and saying that it’s, you know, a model, because I try to live the best life. But for me, my practice since I’ve been there, is Canberra is a place for work.
Yeah. Sorry just back on, on the flights cap. What do you say to Australians who are advised to book beyond that cut-off date? (INAUDIBLE) considering about whether they can come back?
There is a very interesting thing. Only two days ago people were calling flights to be halted. And so there’s a pattern here that if there are cases in Australia, some will call for flights to be halted completely, and I have seen those calls. And then if we do make changes, then, of course, there are those that say that’s wrong.
We made the right decision around India. What we did with India meant that we reduced the rate of positive cases from 14 per cent to below one per cent, from 14 per cent to below one per cent.
Now more broadly, what we’re doing now is acknowledging that the Delta strain is new. It is clearly more virulent, and this gives us the chance to ensure that we are taking the maximum steps to protect Australians whilst at the same time ensuring that what we’re doing allows us to continue to bring people home.
But that’s why DFAT, or the Department of Foreign Affairs, is also ensuring that there are additional people brought on facilitated flights to Howard Springs.
But people (INAUDIBLE) in certain circumstances who really need to get home, whether it’s an illness or something, you know, some kind of family issue, and they’ve been trying for a long time.
And now they’re seeing dates be pushed back further. Surely you must have some sympathy for those people?
Immense sympathy. Profound sympathy. And indeed, this is why, you know, for the best part of 18 month, a tiny bit less than that, we have been ensuring that there are pathways for Australians to come home.
Over half a million Australians have a come home of people that have come to Australia in that time, for humanitarian reasons, for return, for work, for all of the ordinary human reasons.
And so within this, we have a vulnerable passengers programme. We have assistance to support people. They have my deep, profound, immense support and sympathy, because these are difficult decisions.
And it’s always about keeping the country safe, on the one hand. And I have seen some, in your own journal of record, demanding that flights be reduced and indeed some have talked about closing borders.
And so we haven’t done that in terms of closing the borders with regards to stopping people coming, but we’ve reduced the numbers that come on commercial flights. And as much as possible, we’ll try to provide as many other opportunities to bring people home through the facilitated flights via Darwin.
Alright, I’ll just finish by saying to everybody, I want to thank Australians for coming forward in record numbers. Each vaccination protects an individual. Each vaccination also helps protect the nation.
So every Australian is doing everything they can to, I hope, to support, and I also believe, to support the fight against COVID. Borders, testing, tracing, distancing, these are the things that protect us along with vaccination.
And so far over 8.12 million vaccinations. And this week alone, 746,000 vaccinations in the first five days. What that says is Australians are coming forward in record numbers, and each day more Australians are being vaccinated and greater protection is being offered.
And today’s news, I think, is a very important step forward for the nation, in New South Wales, in other states and territories where they’re getting on top of it, and also in relation to vaccinations and planning the road out.
Thank you very much.