Topics: New social distancing restrictions to slow the spread of coronavirus; medical industry preparedness; schools.
And the Health Minister, Greg Hunt, joins us now from Canberra. Minister, thanks for your time this morning.
I mean, if you listen to that message there it is a dire warning, isn’t it?
Well, these are very serious times, which is why the National Cabinet has taken unprecedented steps over the course of the night, that’s in terms of a new stage of restrictions on social gatherings.
Obviously pubs, clubs, nightclubs, gymnasiums and indoor sporting venues, actions such as – I’ll just read the list – cinemas and entertainment venues, casinos. So they’ve created what’s called a negative list of things which cannot go on because of social gatherings and that negative list is being published.
And I think that will provide the guidance – takeaways of course absolutely necessary in order to provide options for people – and these are being done precisely because of the concerns which we have always raised about the need to maintain social distancing.
What does it mean? It means keeping a healthy distance from others because the best way to stop this is to keep that distance, to practise the hygiene, and all of these things are being taken on medical advice and with a practical approach to both be able to keep services operating, but at the same time to protect people and to limit the spread.
And we have governments, we have local governments, we have organisations, workplaces and above all individuals who together can take these steps that are going to help protect us.
The rudimentary understanding that I have of this virus, Greg, is that it starts in the throat – three or four days; then the infection then spreads to the lungs and in severe cases a very thick mucus blocks the airways.
And the only way to treat that is by using ventilators. What the doctor, two hours ago, was saying on our program is, we just don’t have enough.
If this spreads to the point that we’re increasing now in terms of that curve we won’t have enough resources, we won’t have enough beds, we won’t have enough people to look after a population that is effectively drowning in the numbers.
Does that marry up with what your advice is?
So part is right, part is wrong – with respect. The bit that’s right was a pretty good clinical description of COVID-19 in terms of human impact. In terms of the support for the ICUs, there will be pressure.
When we talk about flattening the curve, what that actually means is slowing the spread, reducing the numbers, protecting the vulnerable, to keep within the capacity of the hospitals. It will be tight, but we are working at massively increasing the capacity from the ordinary.
I can say to your audience that, over the weekend, we’ve convened an effective war production unit within the Department of Industry. We have four companies that have indicated that they are willing to make ventilators and will be seeking approvals, which have been given at light speed.
Companies such as GE, Medtronic, Phillips and the great Australian company ResMed, all of which are looking at production of ventilators. Whether it’s invasive or non-invasive, two different classes. These are being-
How long will it take?
Well, what we know is that some are already gearing up and kitting up. We’ve appointed the former Secretary of the Industry and Health departments, Glenys Beauchamp, to work directly to the Industry Minister, Karen Andrews, to oversee this production.
And that’s working on things such as masks; that’s working on things such as ventilators, and other items that will emerge. And at the same time we are working on imports and procurements – large volumes of masks have arrived over the course of the weekend, additional volumes of testing kits.
So, all of these things we’ve been working on quietly and at the same time expanding the capacity on the one hand, reducing the impact on the other. We bought ourselves with the earliest of measures, the toughest of measures in the world, that extra time which has allowed us to prepare.
So, I heard the doctor. I respectfully say there will be real pressures but our goal is to fight, to fight, to fight and to save every life and to make sure that we do everything to make sure every Australian is protected.
That’s our job. But your job, and I’m talking to everybody who’s watching now, is to keep that distance; to make sure that you’re practising the hygiene. We are all in this together now. This is the fight of our lives, but we can get there and I believe we will.
It will be harder than anything we’ve faced; it will be a once in a lifetime experience, but over the next six months we have to pull together and do our things. But also, also to keep our humanity and to support those who are vulnerable.
Just very quickly, Minister, the message that we’re receiving from the Victorian New South Wales Premier today- we also had Dan Tehan, the Education Minister – on our show.
Do you think the message regarding schools is confusing for parents?
Look, I do understand some of the concerns. The principle is very clear that the medical advice and the agreement from National Cabinet is that continued schooling is not just appropriate, but desirable.
In each of those state cases both premiers have just spoken – I have only caught part of what they said as I was lining up for this interview – but they are bringing forward the holidays in different ways and forms in New South Wales and Victoria so as they can prepare in case there is distance learning required.
And I understand that, that’s entirely consistent with the general principle of schools being safe and desirable, but understanding that they are doing the right thing in preparing.
And so, for all of the public I understand these are difficult times but I thank you for your unbelievable commitment. We’ve had a few that have done the wrong thing but the country, the Australian spirit, has been profound and strong and deep. But it will be needed now more than ever.
It will. Greg, thank you so much for your time and we’ll talk to you very soon.