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Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Page: 3273

Mr HUNT (FlindersMinister for Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Cabinet) (12:04): by leave—Yesterday was International Nurses Day. Today is a day when we celebrate, acknowledge and honour the work of our doctors, our nurses, our pharmacists, our allied health workers, our aged-care workers and our disability workers. It is a day when we also acknowledge the extraordinary achievement and commitment of Australians in helping to fight COVID-19 and to flatten the coronavirus curve for Australia.

In years to come, Australians who have lived through these most difficult of days in 2020 will look back at a period when Australia was threatened and, across the country, people will be able to say, I played my part.

Australians in all corners of the land have made sacrifices. They have been distanced from their families. They have been through the challenge of having had their small businesses closed, of putting their jobs on the line or relying on welfare, or having seen so much of their life's work put on hold or put at risk.

All of this though has been to protect Australians from the sad and tragic fate, which we have seen in so many countries that we know so well. And we have done this as a single Australian family. We have perhaps come together as a nation, as a country, as one people, in a way not seen since the Second World War. This has been our most difficult year in 75 years but arguably it has been our finest year in 75. And for that I want to say thank you to all Australians.

The key to the success of Australia's COVID response has therefore been the community but it has also been a very clear strategic framework where the government, led by the Prime Minister, determined in late January and early February to prioritise health in order to prioritise all of the other elements of Australian life—to make each life count, to make each life fundamental and to do everything we could to protect Australians, young and old.

And that strategy was a very simple strategy. It was the strategy built around the two pillars of containment and capacity. Containment means flattening the epidemiological curve and reducing the daily rate of growth and then reducing the daily numbers of those who were affected by coronavirus. And at the same time building the capacity of our primary care, our aged care, our hospitals and our medical research.

These are the things that Australians have done together and today I want to set out the steps that Australians have taken and the road we still have to travel to protect our national health.

Let me be clear. The job is not done. Our work is not finished. The virus is not defeated. We are winning, but we have not won.

1. Current situation

Turning to the current situation, as at 6.30 am today (13 May), Australia has 6,970 confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 6,257 of these are fully recovered. Fifteen people are in intensive care and 13 of those are on ventilators. Tragically, there have been a total of 98 deaths from COVID-19.

We've reduced our rate of increase in new cases from 25 to 30 per cent per day at the peak of the growth in cases at the end of March to much less than 0.5 per cent a day now. The rate of increase in new cases has been below 0.5 per cent for 23 consecutive days.

Approximately two-thirds of our total cases were acquired overseas. Indeed, globally, more than four million cases have been confirmed, with more than 290,000 lives lost. This puts the threat that we have faced and continue to face in the clearest context.

2. Containment

The government therefore developed and adopted a clear strategy to protect Australians based on the twin pillars of containment and capacity.

Four key measures have been implemented under Australia's strategy to contain the spread of the virus. On 21 January 2020, 'human coronavirus with pandemic potential' was listed as a human disease under the Biosecurity Act. This enabled the use of enhanced border measures. This was significantly ahead of the World Health Organization International Health Regulations Emergency Committee, which met on 30 January 2020 and declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a 'public health emergency of international concern'.

2.1 First, Australia's border measures have included:

closing international borders to foreign nationals who have been in or transited through China from 1 February, and then progressively to Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea before closing Australia's border to all foreign nationals;

implementing mandatory quarantine periods for returning Australians;

internal movement restrictions, including restricting access to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; and

a ban on cruise ships from foreign ports coming to Australia.

2.2 The second of Australia's containment strategies has been testing.

We have been identified by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a world leader in testing accuracy. To date, Australia has conducted more than 886,000 COVID tests. We have recently expanded testing criteria to all people with respiratory symptoms, however mild, or fever.

The establishment of respiratory and fever clinics is a major initiative in the government's COVID-19 response, providing dedicated and expert testing facilities and diverting away from hospitals and general practices people who have mild to moderate respiratory symptoms.

2.3 Our third containment strategy is contact tracing, led by the states and territories.

We continue vigilant contact tracing with all confirmed cases in Australia followed up by their local public health unit. This enables us to inform contacts of confirmed cases early, so that they can self-isolate and protect their loved ones and the broader community from infection.

On 26 April, the Australian government launched the COVIDSafe app. The app speeds up the manual process of finding people who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19. This means people can be contacted quicker and reduces the chance of passing on the virus. More than 5.6 million Australians have now downloaded the COVIDSafe app, which is voluntary, with people's privacy protected by legislation. COVIDSafe will help keep us safe, and I urge Australians to continue to download the app.

2.4 The fourth containment measure has been isolation and social distancing. Australia has implemented these measures progressively. They have included:

practising essential hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette;

encouraging people to stay home where possible and keep 1½ metres apart when out of their home; and

introducing further restrictions to limit both indoor and outdoor gatherings to two persons only, with exemptions for funerals (maximum of 10 people), weddings (maximum of five people), family units and households.

3. Capacity

Turning to our capacity, a crucial part of Australia's COVID-19 response has been building capacity across the primary healthcare, aged-care and hospital systems. There has been unprecedented integration across health protection, primary care, aged care, mental health, disability care, hospitals and research. This represents a systemic shift in the way our health system operates.

3.1 Primary and mental health care

In particular, with regard to primary and mental health care, the government is investing in a $1.1 billion community health package, including a $669 million whole-of-population telehealth primary care program, opening up telehealth and telephone Medicare Benefits Schedule items to all Australians, doubling the bulk-billing incentive for GPs, and introducing a new incentive payment to help general practices stay open to provide face-to-face services for patients with conditions that cannot be treated via telehealth. Telehealth is helping to keep both GPs and patients safe from infection, and I hope and intend for it to be an abiding legacy of the crisis.

Clinicians are now delivering a significant proportion of primary care through telephone and video consultations, protecting both patients and clinicians from infections. To date, more than nine million services have been provided.

Other actions in primary care have included:

Establishing a new National COVID-19 Helpline supporting more than 815,000 callers


allocating 75 million masks,

receiving 100 million and

contracting for more than 500 million masks

In pathology testing—more than 886,000 tests have been conducted. The cumulative per cent of positive diagnoses is 0.8 per cent. Current positivity based on the past week is down to 0.1 per cent.

In telehealth—more than $467 million in benefits have been paid.

With regard to respiratory clinics—436 respiratory clinics are operating nationally, with over 100 GP led clinics now completed more than two weeks ahead of schedule. All of the 436 are funded in whole or in part by the Commonwealth.

With regard to training and infection control—over 655,000 care workers have completed basic infection control training, including over 120,000 aged-care workers and almost 61,000 disability care workers.

In relation to home medicines—302,663 deliveries have been made to houses from over 3,600 pharmacies.

In Indigenous Australia—up to 15 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS) have had GP respiratory clinics established, and up to 83 rapid COVID-19 point-of-care testing programs for remote and rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will be implemented.

A priority on the road out of the pandemic is, in particular for both the Prime Minister and me, supporting the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians. Supporting the mental health of Australians is a deep personal passion shared by the two of us and by members on all sides of this chamber. It is a priority of this government.

The government's $74 million mental health support package will make sure Australians have access to the right services and support, wherever they are around the country.

The expanded telehealth program is playing a critical role in providing mental health care and support during the pandemic. About half of all mental health Medicare-subsidised services are currently provided by telehealth, as well as a significant proportion of general consultations under the $669 million program.

We've implemented a new, free of charge, 24-hour-a-day Beyond Blue support service, specifically designed to help people through the pandemic, which is available via phone or online. We've established a dedicated program for our heroic frontline health workers, led by the Black Dog Institute, to keep this essential workforce well. A number of crisis and support lines, including Lifeline, headspace and Kids Helpline, have boosted their capacity to respond to increased contacts to their services.

I am today delighted to announce the new position of Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health. The mental health impacts of COVID-19 and the ongoing impact of other major events such as the bushfires and drought will be significant and take many months to resolve. These impacts will be felt by people of all ages and across all our communities. With this in mind, leading psychiatrist Dr Ruth Vine has been appointed as a Deputy Chief Medical Officer with expertise in mental health.

Just as the government is modelling the spread of COVID-19 infection to continue flattening the curve, we are also closely monitoring mental health service usage so that we can respond quickly and thus lessen the mental health impacts of the pandemic and the recovery phase.

As a next step, a National Mental Health Pandemic Response Plan will this week be discussed with states and territories through the national cabinet. The plan has been prepared with the support of the National Mental Health Commission in consultation with states and territories and key stakeholders.

3.2 Aged care

I specifically want to thank our magnificent aged-care nurses, carers and support staff.

We are boosting protections for senior Australians through a more than $850 million investment. This includes a range of specific measures in place to limit the transmission of COVID-19 in aged-care settings, including:

a residential aged-care facility visits code to protect residents and workers developed by the minister for aged care, and I want to thank and congratulate Senator Colbeck for his work.

routine screening of staff and visitors on entry into residential aged-care facilities;

providing access to masks and other PPE for aged-care workers;

a COVID-19 training program for aged-care workers on health management techniques in all aged-care settings, with more than 120,000 aged-care workers successfully completing infection control training; and

significant funding to support retention of carers and emergency workforce support.

3.3 Hospitals

We have boosted our hospital capacity to address any surge in COVID-19 patients.

Australia has reached our goal of more than 7,500 ventilators (up from 2,200) and increased intensive care unit capacity. We have recently launched the Critical Health Resource Information System tool to share live data on available ICU beds and equipment.

We are making sure we have the workforce for the response needed, upskilling the nation's nurse workforce with additional training. Refresher training is being provided to 3,000 registered nurses holding general registration but not currently practising. This is fully subscribed, and 2,377 nurses have already completed the training. A total of 22,000 registered nurses are upgrading their skills to critical care nursing, with 5,559 nurses having completed at least one course so far.

We've partnered with the private hospital sector through a $1.3 billion investment to ensure the full resources of our health system are ready and focused on treating patients, as required, through this pandemic. This historic partnership makes sure that infrastructure, essential equipment (including ventilators), supplies (including PPE), workforce and additional resources are fully available to all levels of the health system.

We have also contributed up to $500 million to a COVID-19 National Partnership Agreement with all states and territories.

3.4 Research

The government is also making substantial investments in critical health and medical research to support Australia's response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes significant research investment in vaccine development, identifying and developing antiviral therapies, respiratory medicine research to support better treatment, and management of COVID-19 patients and diagnostics.

Australia is providing $352 million towards the global effort to fight COVID-19 through accelerated development and deployment of universally available vaccinations, treatments and diagnostics. Of this, $57.5 million has been directed specifically towards the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

There are six Australian organisations and institutions working to develop COVID-19 vaccines, including:

University of Queensland, in collaboration with the Doherty Institute

Burnet Institute, in collaboration with Monash University and 360BioLabs (Australia)

Doherty Institute

Griffith University

Monash University

Westmead Institute

All of these are part of a global fight to protect not just Australia but people everywhere.

4. Recovery

All of these measures have helped keep Australia safe. However, they have not come without social, economic and emotional cost for the Australian people. Therefore, defining a clear path to recovery is at the forefront of the government's agenda. Our success and our future is defined in five key stages:

Stage 1: flatten the curve and save lives.

Stage 2: extend economic support to Australians to help protect their livelihoods.

Stage 3: a three-step road map to open a COVID-safe economy.

Stage 4: building confidence and momentum.

Stage 5: a reset for growth.

National cabinet has therefore agreed a three-step plan to gradually remove baseline restrictions between now and July. The plan is based on the expert advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on how to establish COVID-safe ways of working and living. Under the 3-Step Framework to a COVIDSafe Australia, each state and territory government will decide which restrictions can be eased when, taking into account their local circumstances. This means that states and territories may move at different speeds, although always in the same direction.

States and territories will need to maintain steady low case numbers and be able to rapidly contain any outbreaks. But states and territories have already prepared rapid-response capabilities for any future outbreaks—and I have to warn that there will be such outbreaks. The 3-Step Framework to a COVIDSafe Australia gives Australians a road map for what is to come in the months ahead. It will help our businesses make decisions about how they can operate in a COVID-safe way to protect their customers and their workers.

Steps 1 to 3 will still require Australians to maintain a 1.5-metre distance between one another and to practise good hygiene but will allow for more social activities and opportunities to gather together. These include the following:

Step 1: gatherings of up to five visitors at home and 10 in business and public places; opening of restaurants, cafes, community centres and playgrounds; local and regional travel.

Step 2: gatherings of up to 20 people at home, business and public places; opening of galleries, cinemas, camping grounds and some interstate travel.

Step 3: an increase in gathering size to 100; all interstate travel allowed.

The national cabinet will be closely monitoring the situation as restrictions are eased to assess the impact of the changes so that we can move forward safely and with confidence.


There are many people to thank for the success so far of Australia's COVID-19 response: my department, led magnificently by Caroline Edwards; my office; the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy; the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Ms Alison McMillan; the Deputy Chief Medical Officers, led by Professor Paul Kelly, for their extraordinary service; the National Incident Centre, led by Ms Celia Street; public health officers; frontline workers; and, fundamentally, the Australian public.

The Chief Medical Officer and the state chief health officers will continue to keep all Australians up to date with the latest health advice on COVID-19. The AHPPC has done an outstanding job. and I would like to recognise their efforts and the efforts of every state and territory health minister.

I particularly want to thank the Prime Minister. He committed to support the medical advice from the outset. He proposed and established the National Cabinet. He has, very simply, led us and carried the weight of the nation while quietly grieving his own loss. Thank you, Scott.

Going forward, the COVIDSafe mobile app is a key element in building a COVID-safe Australia, and I encourage people to download it if they have not already. Our strongest protection is our own personal responsibility. Each of us can help save a life or inadvertently risk a life through our own actions. It is up to us—each of us, all of us. Ultimately, though, we've already shown that we can do this. We have already risen to the task. With every fibre of my being, I believe we can and will continue to rise to the task and keep each other safe. Thank you.