Topics: COVID-19 update; international travel; Bondi Beach re-opening
Let’s go live to the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, who joins us live. Minister, thank you for your time. First of all, could I ask you-
Good morning, Laura.
If you have an update yet, overnight?
Yes, we’ve had 22 cases in the last 24 hours. We have sadly now lost 74 Australians to coronavirus and it reminds us that even though we’ve been doing very well, it remains a potentially deadly disease.
And this is one of the reasons why we’ve taken such strong steps as a nation. We are succeeding in flattening the curve. It’s now on a sustained and consolidated basis which means fewer and fewer new cases each day – less than 0.5 per cent growth over the last three days, and less than 1 per cent growth now for 10 consecutive days.
But – all of that’s positive – but the lives lost remind us of just how powerful this is. At the same time, we’ve built our capacity – our PPE, or our masks, and other equipment, our ventilators, the support for the health system – and that’s what’s allowed us to develop a degree of normality, beginning elective surgery again, which will be so important for so many Australians.
Mixed emotions with low number of infections overnight, Minister, but three or four more deaths. Where were they?
So, New South Wales, that includes a third life lost; a 92-year-old in the Newmarch facility. So, each morning the first thing that I do is look at the update on our case numbers and lives lost. And I did have a very sad moment this morning when I saw that there had been three additional cases and this, it’s a constant reminder of the reality.
And in one way, we have dodged an alternative reality that we sadly see in countries that we know and love – Italy, and Spain, and France, and the UK, and the United States – and there’ll be worse to come in other countries.
But in another way, each of these lives is just a profound loss to themselves and their families – and that’s what we’re fighting against. So we’ve got more to do, we’re doing unbelievably well as a country. The rest of the world is looking at Australia and saying, “gee, we wish we were in their position”.
But these lives lost remind us of the profound task that’s still in front of us. We’re on a path to recovery, that’s what yesterday was about – the first major step on the recovery – but we still have to maintain our distancing, we still have to maintain these difficult isolation rules and practices for the time being because if we don’t then we could see a second wave, and if we see a second wave then we can see tragedy.
But we’re doing well, but it’s a sad stark reminder of the task before us.
And compliance is important, as you reiterate almost every day, you’ve got to bring the public with you. The Prime Minister and you, indeed, are saying that we have turned a corner.
How long would the effective reproduction rate need to be at one, before we can start reopening the economy?
So we’re looking at a four-week period and we’ll assess it at the end of the four-week period. But if the daily growth rate is itself below 1 per cent, that is an indicator that what’s called the effective reproduction rate – the number of people that somebody may infect in a controlled environment where we do have these careful measures in place – that’s also likely to be below one, and that’s clearly below one at this point in time.
But we can see outbreaks – whether it’s in north-west Tasmania, whether it’s in the Newmarch aged care facility and the speed with which the disease can travel if it does get in, undetected into a community, a facility.
So that’s our constant task, to help contain the cases, but to have rapid deployment in terms of the isolation, the testing and the tracing – these are the things that are so important. If we can trace the source of a case where somebody comes in and we don’t know where it is, then we can stop the spread.
But if we can’t trace that source, then that becomes a sleeping threat to everybody that the original person might inadvertently contact. Which is why we’re doing all the things we’re doing. But we’re making progress.
As I’ve said, we’re winning, but we haven’t won, and if we continue doing what we’re doing then I think we’ll be in a very, very strong position.
We haven’t won, but we are winning. Now longer term, Minister, can you use a situation where we return to normal but with social distancing and the international travel ban in place?
I think that’s a very good assessment. I think that social distancing will be with us for a considerable period now. And in terms of international travel, what’s going to happen outside of our borders will be very different to what happens in Australia.
We are going to be an island safe haven, I think, for some considerable period of time now. We’re always looking creatively as to the role of quarantine and how that might assist in bringing back international students or other things.
But on general international travel; there isn’t a time frame because we do know that outside of our borders – whether it’s Europe, or North America, whether it’s what may happen in South East Asia, or Africa, or Latin America – there are some very, very hard times ahead for the rest of the world.
I’d rather be endlessly upbeat but I think it’s my task to be completely open and honest about those challenges. So safe at home, challenging abroad, but I’d rather be in Australia than virtually anywhere else, well literally than anywhere else in the world at the moment.
Just before I let you go, Minister, Bondi Beach will reopen next week – Waverley Council voted late last night. Is that the right call?
I think this was a good step. It was a recognition that they thought they could maintain the social distancing but allow people to exercise. And the National Cabinet hasn’t banned specific activities.
What it’s focused on is the gatherings and the behaviours. And if they’re able to allow people to swim and to surf and to do that in a safe distance – obviously those activities are, by themselves, very safe – then I think that’s a good thing.
And any hint of normality, that helps the physical health but it also helps the mental health – even of those who aren’t doing it. Just to see things returning is to give real hope and real cause for optimism, whilst being realistic that the challenges will with us for a while.
But right at the outset, I remember in our earliest conversations I said that we would get through this – we are getting through this, more to go, but we are getting through this.
Indeed, Minister, thank you.