Topics: Hotel quarantine breaches; Melbourne lockdown; ICU in Melbourne; Use of masks in Victoria.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt joins me now from Melbourne. Minister, I appreciate your time. You’re the busiest man in the country.
Good evening Peta.
I’ve got to ask you about the failure of that hotel quarantining.
We know outside of Victoria almost 40,000 people were processed in New South Wales to enter the country safely and they did.
Nowhere is there- we know in Victoria there were 15,000.
We know in Brisbane there were about 11,000. And Victoria was the only one who went it alone and didn’t use the uniforms, either police or military, and they’ve got themselves in a spot of bother.
How confident are you when Victoria says it wants to reopen the entry of people from overseas to Victoria that they will be able to remedy some of these mistakes?
Well we will scrutinise very carefully, the conduct and the standards of hotel quarantine in Victoria. Seven out of eight states and territories, they’ve done a great job.
This has been one of our major protections, one of our four central points of containment along with the testing, the tracing and the distancing, has been our border protection.
Seven out of eight states and territories, they’ve done a great job.
Clearly in Victoria there was a significant breach with major consequences, not just for individuals but for 5 million people.
And so it’s a significant area which the Victorian Premier has acknowledged, they’ve called a judicial inquiry. But our offer is for the ADF to be available to assist with hotel quarantine, that’s a standing offer, it has been made on multiple occasions and I’m reaffirming it again this evening.
At the end of the day if there are uniforms there, people will stand up straighter.
Look I agree with you but unfortunately you’re a Victorian as well as a Federal Minister.
The Victorian leader keeps knocking it back and we know that there’s an admission today of really serious concerns about contact tracing failures in Victoria.
Why aren’t the military in Victoria being taken up to help remedy this problem?
Because this isn’t a case of our caseload going up because people are returning from overseas.
We’re in the situation that we didn’t ever want to be in that our cases are going up from community transmission and even tonight many of those, the links, the origins of those cases are unknown. Why not take that up?
So we have offered to the Victorian Government and I’ll repeat that offer again this evening, that the Australian Defence Force is available.
We are willing to provide that support, to provide that assistance.
We’ve helped bring in support from other states and territories, that’s both individuals who are working in Victoria including a deputy chief health officer from Queensland, a former chief health officer from Western Australia.
But automated tracing in conjunction with New South Wales where they have compatible systems and so we’ve helped build that national coalition to support Victoria.
But the ADF is there. The ADF is willing. The ADF is capable and it’s I think a potentially important addition to assist with that contact tracing where the standard has to be every case every day.
That’s the national standard and that’s what we want to see achieved in each state in each territory because that will save lives and hunt down these cases.
You’re one of the best Ministers I ever worked with in 20 years of government, incredible eye for detail, amazing work ethic.
I want to tell people at home tonight you’ve cancelled your leave that has long been planned for this week because you think Victoria needs to be watched carefully and you want to be available.
So thank you Greg Hunt from all of the Victorians, I think everyone around the country.
We’ve got to put these things into perspective. There are a lot of Victorians doing it very tough.
They’re the ones that are really (inaudible).
They are, Minister. But you know, as I said, you have an incredible eye on detail.
Have you ever seen so many unforced errors, such a litany of failures in a government?
There’s a lot of people beyond just be writing in the newspapers today that this is the worst case of state government failure in living memory.
Look I did see those comments. I won’t respectfully be a commentator.
Our job is just to help each state and each territory to achieve the best outcomes because lives are literally on the line.
Since these case numbers have gone up, what we’ve seen is that hospitalisations, 46 people in hospital on the last advice.
We have ten in ICU. We have a series of people now on ventilation.
So these things really matter and our job is to provide the assistance to make sure that it’s the hotel quarantine, the testing which is absolutely critical, that is going well, very large numbers.
We help provide those supplies for the country, and Victoria is doing a very good job on the testing.
The tracing has to be done each case every day, and we’re providing that public benchmark, but we’re also doing our best to encourage and to support and to bring all of the states and territories together to also assist.
But then with the distancing, to send the very clear message that even though there were protests, which many people understandably saw as a double standard, it wasn’t okay for all those people to get together, and therefore it’s not okay for those social distancing rules to be breached.
They are literally physical protections for people.
Right, well you mentioned hospitals and intensive care beds.
Let’s go to a story that was in the Sydney Morning Herald today because this concerned me. Now when the claim was that a number of the preparations for Victoria have since been cancelled or scaled back from when they were announced a bit earlier in the year.
We’re told that major orders for ventilators, defibrillators, intensive care monitors have been cancelled or renegotiate.
Plans to buy defibrillators overseas never proceeded after the curve started to flatten in April.
We’re also told that plans for a 750 bed Intensive Care Unit in Melbourne were quietly shelved.
As I said, you’re a Victorian individual as well as a Federal MP.
How confident are you that Victoria can cope with the spike – it’s not a spike, it’s a second wave, let’s be very honest there – as it stands or will they need to urgently review all of these cancelled plans?
So I can’t speak to the Victorian orders. I can speak to what the Commonwealth has done.
We’ve worked around the country to make sure that there are 7500 ventilators available; that’s up from 2200, to 4400, to 7500.
I spoke with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth today.
He’s overseeing the respiratory program and the ventilation program around the country, and his advice is that Victoria is well prepared.
We’ve worked with them. We’ve made sure that the ventilation is there.
Those other items that you’ve mentioned, I don’t have any insight on that. I do know that right back in February, one of the things that the PM set out was he wanted to see that every state, every territory had real ventilator capacity to deal with, you know, the curve on a worst case basis.
And since then, overwhelmingly we’ve flattened the curve. Seven out of eight states and territories; and it was eight out of eight.
At the same time, we’ve built that capacity. So the ventilator capacity is real and there because we’ve overseen it.
We’ve guaranteed that it’s in place, and that’s the advice that I had reaffirmed to me just this morning. The other items, you’ll have to ask Victoria.
Just quickly before we go, I want to ask you about masks. A big report in the US saying that 65 per cent reduction in risk by wearing a mask.
We know masks are used in a lot of countries around the world.
Tonight, the Victorian Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton left the door very much open to masks.
Now, can they just bring it in? Why do they need to take it to National Cabinet tomorrow? And do you recommend Victorians wear a mask if they’re outdoors?
Sure. So there’s no barrier to any state or territory either recommending masks or even prescribing masks in a particular area or across the state.
That has always been part of the protocols which had been put in place.
So that power is already with them. There’s no need for approval.
Indeed, the standards that were set were- as a general rule, if there’s low community transmission, there’s not a specific need or requirement.
But if there’s high community transmission, or in particular if you can’t social distance such as you’re trapped on a tram, or a bus, or a train and unable to have that, then it’s perfectly appropriate.
And that has always been the situation.
So that powers with Victoria now.
We have already distributed 50 million masks to the states and territories, and we have brought into Australia a total of 250 million masks.
So at the moment we have approximately 200 million on hand.
They’re available to use for health care and for those health needs.
And as a country, that was one of the great risks we faced and one of the great mountains we were able to climb, to have that strong secure national supply.
But it’s up to them. They could prescribe it on the basis of high community transmission in any particular area if they so wish.
I know your family won’t be too happy, Minister, but I think most Australians are happy that you’re not on leave for the next foreseeable future certainly while we get this under control.
Greg Hunt, Thank you very much for your time tonight.
Thanks very much. And you know, as difficult as it is, we will get through this.