Scott Morrison’s coronavirus COVID-10 crisis stimulus package
Extra: Latest update Prime Minster Video Below
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, everyone. I said yesterday, in 2020 is one focus: the health and wellbeing of Australians, their livelihoods, their jobs and ensuring that Australia bounces back better on the other side. That’s our focus. That’s what the Government is intently been working on. From the outset, back in January, we moved to get ahead. We’ve been working hard to stay ahead, and it’s important that we keep our heads as well when it comes to how we’re addressing these issues. Every Australian has a role to play, whether you’re in a government, federal, state, local, whether you’re an employer, whether you’re an employee, wherever you happen to be. We all have a role to play. To stay together, work together, to work through this very challenging time. And importantly, on the other side, because there is another side, that we bounce back stronger than ever. The health response has always been our first response to the COVID-10 crisis that has been enveloping the world. It’s a health crisis. It’s a health contagion. It’s a virus. And that’s the first thing that around the world countries are working hard to address and to ensure that the health responses are in place to support our people. There are many other implications of this and the economic consequences of this are very serious, as I’ve already outlined on numerous occasions. And tomorrow the Treasurer and I will be making announcements in relation to that response. But today it is to outline the first response, which is always on the issue of our health preparedness and what we’re putting in place to protect people’s health. Today, $2.4 billion is being committed in substantively demand-driven programs to support the health and wellbeing of Australians. Just under $1.2 billion of that will actually, we anticipate, be spent this financial year, particularly as the virus and its impacts ramp up in the months ahead. That health response covers the areas of primary care, support in aged care, support in the hospital system, which I announced last week with the Health Minister, that $500 million in shared support with the states and territories matched 50/50, which the Premiers and I and Chief Ministers will be discussing again on Friday. And investing in research, everything from telehealth to testing, to clinics, hotlines, ensuring people can get access to the medicines, ensuring importantly that the most vulnerable parts of our community are very much in our attention and that not just means those who are elderly or frail and in care facilities, but those who are in remote parts of the country, particularly those in Indigenous communities. And there are specific measures that we’re announcing today that go to those issues.
We have a world-class health system. That is one of our great advantages. We have an economy and we have a balance sheet that enables us to address this crisis, both in terms of providing for the health response as well as the many other responses, in particular the response that is needed to address the challenges in our economy. Of course, this system will come under stress and it will come under strain. That is to be expected. These will not be usual times and usual demands on our health system. And so I anticipate there will be times where that will come under great stress. That is not a reason for alarm or concern, because a plan and the resource and the preparedness and the professionalism of our health system will attend to those needs. And so it’s important that as we go through the months that are ahead, that we all have confidence in that plan. I have great confidence in those, particularly, obviously, Dr. Murphy, and the tremendous advice that he’s provided, together with all of his state and territory colleagues over these many weeks now. The state governments are also very focussed on this, the Premiers, the Health Ministers, of course our Cabinet led in the health area by Greg Hunt is doing exactly the same thing. It doesn’t mean there won’t be stresses and strains. It won’t mean there won’t be difficult times or days, and waiting from time to time. But the surging of these resources into our health system, some 2.4 billion. And as I said, the majority of this is demand-driven. And that means if the demand is greater than the resource will be provided.
One other point I’d make today is we received advice from the AHPPC today regarding Iran and sorry, regarding Italy. And that advice is that the situation in Italy is now commensurate with the other countries where we’ve previously had travel bans put in place. And so we’ll be extending that travel ban to Italy now. That ban will come into effect at 6PM this evening. That’s what Border Force has advised me. And effectively though, I think it’s important not to overstate this, I mean, Italy itself has effectively put itself into lockdown with travel now, and this largely closes that loop. We already had the enhanced screening measures that are in place. This of course will mean that any Australians, residents or others who are obviously exempt from those travel bans, would be subject to the same 14-day isolation period that applies to the other countries for which there are travel bans. So health first. That’s always been our focus. This is a health crisis. We have to address the health issues and that’s what this package of measures is designed to do today. I’ll hand you over to Greg and then to Brendan.
THE HON. GREG HUNT MP, MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks very much, Prime Minister and Brendan. Today’s package is the next step in supporting and protecting the health of Australians. It flows from the medical advice and it’s designed to cover the four pillars of the Australian health system: primary care, the aged care system, the hospital system and research; as well as providing national support underneath all of those. In terms of the primary care system, it’s a $615 million package, but as the Prime Minister said, uncapped in its elements. And that is focussed on expanding the capacity of people to have treatment, diagnosis and testing. And at present, people ordinarily have access to their General Practice or to the Emergency Department at a hospital for those in more serious circumstances. This is adding to that existing capacity. And so in particular, we will be creating a Medicare telehealth item. What that means is that you will be able to get telehealth for coronavirus patients up through, from the home. And by being able to get telehealth from the home, it both deals with the situation of patients who are isolated, but it also protects the health system. There will in fact be two groups who can qualify for this. Those that are in isolation, but also on the medical advice, those that do not have coronavirus, but are vulnerable patients. And I think this was a very important piece of advice that came out of the primary care roundtable last week by working with the medical community. They were able to give us that additional advice, and Brendan, I want to thank you and everybody involved in that, and that means for our elderly, for Indigenous Australians over the age of 50, elderly over the age of 70, for people with chronic conditions, and either pregnant mums or parents with young children who are isolated at home, they can also receive advice over the phone. That means that they don’t necessarily have to go into a General Practice or hospital environment if they are immune-compromised.
The next thing is, of course, we’ll be expanding the respiratory clinics, so these are what are sometimes called pop-up clinics. They will be there in addition to the General Practice, the Emergency Department and the telehealth. Just over $200 million will be provided, but if more is needed, more will be provided, and that is to develop 100 clinics across the country. And in addition to that, there will be many General Practices that simply seek to have a drive-through or another entrance and we’ll be able to assist them as well. So we’re expanding the ways in which people can seek assistance to make it easy for people and to support our magnificent, magnificent doctors and nurses.
We’re also creating a new Medicare pathology test, that’s a specific test for coronavirus. It will be delivered in conjunction with the flu tests. So it will add approximately $170 million of support, again that’s uncapped, and that will include both the capacity for individuals to be given those tests on the advice of medical professionals and we will be testing in aged care homes. And so these two things come together to provide that maximum support. We’ve spoken with the pathology companies overnight and that’s been very well received. Upgrading of the national hotline up provision of home medicine services, which is an important system, I mean we’re expanding that capacity and that will assist people who are isolated. And then also remote community preparedness and retrieval, where you might have an Indigenous community, for example, where if the virus were to break out, we have the capacity to treat, and to transport, and then to assist. And so those are extremely important things. In aged care, we’ll be providing additional workforce support of just over $100 million. That’s to ensure if there are temporary shortages or additional costs over and above those which they would ordinarily have. The hospitals, the Prime Minister announced last Thursday, of a 50/50 share with the states on their in-hospital coronavirus-related health activities and their public health and related activities in the community.
In terms of research, we will invest $30 million in research into vaccines, antivirals and immunotherapy or respiratory treatments – that’s a very important step, and we’ll be working with the research community on that. And then finally, we’ll be investing over a billion dollars in national support across the country, and that funding goes to the national medical stockpile, to the incident room, to modelling, in particular to the workforce and communications, so all of those things go together. The last thing is, today’s goal is very simple. It’s to support our magnificent doctors and nurses and to allow the public to have multiple avenues in, to receive the advice and the care that they need, they deserve and they will get.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Greg. Dr. Murphy.
DR. BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thanks, Prime Minister and Minister. So these packages are really important. And as Minister Hunt has said, they were designed in partnership with the sector. We’ve had very good engagement with this, this is what the sector has been asking for. So they’re very important to respond to the current demand. But even more important to be prepared for future demand. And I do want to briefly talk about demand. We have seen over recent days a number of people seeking testing who don’t need it. We are, it’s clear that there is some anxiety in the community with over 100 cases. But I say, as I’ve said on many occasions, a couple of things. Most of these cases are related to imports from overseas. There is only one element of significant community transmission and that’s small and controlled in Sydney.
There is no point being tested at the moment if you have not travelled or if you’ve not been in contact, even if you have flu-like illnesses, we are not saying to people who get acute respiratory symptoms, a cold or flu, to go and get tested for COVID-19. We are saying that if you’ve come back from a return traveller or you’ve been in contact with someone, who has been a confirmed case, then you should be tested. But other Australians do not need testing, and all they are doing is putting an unnecessary burden on the testing. But the testing is being expanded and the new package will substantially increase our capacity to test with the clinics and the new pathology service. The only other people we are looking at now is whether health care workers who have significant febrile illnesses might also be tested simply because of the impact of a sick health care worker, but we’re seeking further advice from AHPPC on that. So the number of Australians who should be tested at the moment is well within the capacity of current testing, but we are expanding and getting ready, and I’m just trying to tell people to stay reasonably calm about this. We’ve got small numbers of cases at the moment. We do expect more, and I’ve also said on many occasions, for most people who get this virus, it is a very mild illness. Certainly we are worried about the elderly. Certainly we are worried if we have a large outbreak, that that would put pressure on our hospitals, as the Prime Minister and Minister have said. But at the moment, there is no reason for community panic in Australia.
JOURNALIST: When will these pop-up clinics appear and who will be responsible for building them?
MINISTER HUNT: Already we’ve seen the states establish clinics. We have, for example, four out of Melbourne hospitals up, which the Victorian Government has established. South Australia has pioneered a very innovative drive through model, I think featured on the front of one of the papers today. We have the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and New South Wales, Queensland, and other states are already doing that. So we’ll be building on those. And we’re now working through what are called the primary health networks on identifying those practices that wish to be part of this. And so we’ll continue to roll them out as soon as a practice is ready. We’re in a position to support.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] going to be based in existing GP clinics, or they’ll –
MINISTER HUNT: So there’s a number of options here. So we’re, what we’re doing is entering into a flexible situation. Some General Practices may choose to become dedicated respiratory clinics, and in that situation, there’ll be very significant funding. Some, such as the example of the great innovative Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, have established a drive through clinic, and we’ll provide funds for that. He’ll continue the ordinary practice work in his practice, but where funds are needed to assist with that supplementary work. So we’re creating flexible models. And that’s why the primary health networks will work with GPs across the country.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a few weeks ago, I think it might have been a fortnight ago, we were being told that the expectation was it was going to peak in about April, coronavirus. What’s the latest? What are the latest modelling on how many people might be infected at its peak in Australia, given that states like Victoria are preparing for tens of thousands?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, Andrew, I’m not sure what that April figure is you’re referring to because the Government has not been providing that type of information.
JOURNALIST: It was being discussed at an international level.
PRIME MINISTER: Okay, fine. But in terms of what the Australian government has been saying, we have not indicated those types of horizons. The government is continuing to do modelling on these issues and working closely with the states and territories, because the profiling of how the virus extends in the weeks and months ahead obviously has implications for ensuring that you can deal with any sort of peak capacity requirements. And that is the, that is the very planning phase that we’re currently engaged in. One of the challenges to date has been that the data that has been available and these models depend on the data that goes into them, and so it’s important that when you’re making those sorts of decisions, you’re getting a quality of data. And more recently, I’m sure Dr Murphy would agree, the sort of information was seen coming out of Korea where you’ve got a very wide scale testing program where you have a much better handle on what the level of, number of people who actually have the virus, and that relates also to the mortality rates. I mean, the mortality rates we’re now seeing in Korea are much less than what we’ve seen based on other data. And I think that’s as a result of the better read that you’re getting on this. So at this stage, we’re looking for the best data to make those assessments. But the government is not making any public statements on that at this point. I think that would be speculative at this point. But the government is working on the various scenarios that would ensure that we can work with the states to meet the demands that we would anticipate. But Dr. Murphy, did you want to add to that?
DR. MURPHY: Yeah so modelling is a very tricky science. And one of the things that we’ve had in Australia is that we have, by very early and quite aggressive containment methods, we’re behind the curve of many other countries and we are still in containment mode. How long we stay in that mode depends on the success of our public health interventions over the next few weeks. If we develop sustained community transmission, then the models can predict how long it might take to develop a peak. And again, those models depend on how well you contain during the development of the sustained community transmission. So there are a variety of potential models, but a pandemic or an epidemic in Australia could last as short as 8 weeks, or as long as 14 to 16 weeks. But we don’t actually know when we are going to enter that stage if we do have sustained community transmission. So it’s really hard to predict and certainly it’s very unlikely that we will peak in April.
JOURNALIST: Dr Murphy, how far away are we from a vaccine? Are there any encouraging signs that you’ve seen?
DR. MURPHY: A lot of research scientists are very positive about getting candidate molecules. The challenge is taking a candidate molecule through animal testing into human testing and the best estimates that that would take a year or more. Some researchers are much more optimistic. Researchers, I used to be one, we’re always optimistic. And you never know what might happen. But I think it would be very unrealistic to expect a vaccine is going to be here to do anything to impact on the current phase of an international outbreak.
PRIME MINISTER: There’s also a lot of work that’s being done on anti-virals as well which support the treatment, so there’s the issue of the vaccine, which deals with the virus. But then there’s also the issue of the treatment that can be available, which can moderate, obviously, the severity of the impact. And that’s important, particularly when you’re talking about older patients as well. So, and the private sector equally is investing quite a lot on that front as well.
JOURNALIST: Minister Hunt, the spike in general, members of the general public getting tested unnecessarily was somewhat sparked by a misinterpreted comment of your own on Sunday. The line, ‘If in doubt, get tested’, which was obviously specifically in the context of if you were one of the at risk groups or a medical professional, does that in your mind highlight the importance of very clear public messaging and as a result of that, when can we expect the public health campaign to launch?
MINISTER HUNT: Look I think that’s a very important question on two fronts. One as you’ve noticed, a particular news agency, not yours, had to issue a clarification that they had excluded the very conditions which Professor Murphy set out, that if you’ve been in a high risk area or if you’ve been in contact and you have symptoms, then that’s appropriate and that’s the time to to seek the advice and the testing. Unfortunately, that organisation excluded that. It took a while but we got the clarification. And I, and so this is a message to all of us. And it wasn’t intentional, by the way. It’s a message to all of us to make sure that we’re reporting carefully and fully, but equally for us, we’ve already begun our communications in terms of what we’re providing online and the advice, but that will roll out progressively over the coming period in terms of further online, radio and electronic and other means of communicating with Australians. So that’s that’s an ongoing process.
PRIME MINISTER: Mark?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister can pensioners and other welfare recipients expect to get some form of cash payment or other benefit from your stimulus?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow with the Treasurer, and that’s when we’ll announce those measures. We’re still finalising some of those measures after what was a very lengthy meeting yesterday. The Treasury, together with other departments, have been working very solidly on pulling together what is a very well balanced package. Obviously, stimulus will form part of that. I’ve been very clear about that. And those who’ve been around this place for a long time will know that the Coalition actually supported stimulus back in the first round, in response to the global financial crisis. And that’s exactly what we did. There were two tranches to that stimulus at that time, the first one acted and worked through the existing payment mechanisms, and that was able to be able to put through fairly quickly. The Coalition supported those measures at that time.
So, you know, these are measures that the government has been looking closely at. I have said from this platform and others that we need to address the demand side and supply side. But what the package is all about, is keeping Australians in jobs, keeping business in business and ensuring that the Australian economy and the businesses that form that economy bounce back stronger on the other side of this. It’s important to understand the economic impacts of this are highly connected to the health crisis and the life of the virus. These viruses have a trajectory. They have a life cycle. And that is not indefinite. How long that is is still not clear. But it is clear that these have finite lives and it will have a finite impact on the economy. And that’s why the principles that I set out yesterday, that there is a clear fiscal exit strategy, that the measures are timely but targeted, that they’re proportionate. This is what has been carefully weighed up by the government as we prepare to put that in place. And what will happen is we’ll announce those measures tomorrow. I’ll have the opportunity then to take specifically the Premiers and Chief Ministers through that on Friday. State governments then will make their own decisions, as some already have, about what role they want to play and what role they can play. I mean, they have payroll taxes, they have a range of other things and levers that they can pull. They have local governments, they have roadworks, maintenance programs. They have a range of things that they have available to them. And I’m sure they will consider those in the same way. But I think it’s important that they can do that after they’ve seen the totality of what the government’s response has been.
The legislation that will support all of those measures, that will be developed over the course of the next week and when parliament returns, we’ll be able to move quickly to take that through the parliament. We might go over here? Sorry Michelle.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, or I don’t if this is for you Dr. Murphy, but do you think it’s likely that America will become the next big problem country with this disease?
DR. MURPHY: I think America has significant, has more more cases than we have. And I think they were, by their own admission, a bit slow in getting testing. But they have a very good, robust centre for disease control and public health systems. And they’re working very, very actively now at trying to contain the outbreaks in America. So it’s a little hard to predict at this stage, but obviously we’re watching that closely.
MINISTER HUNT: I will just add one thing there, Dr. Murphy referred to testing. The latest advice we have from the National Incident Centre this morning is that we have now had approximately 20,000 tests in Australia, which puts us very much at the global forefront.
PRIME MINISTER: That’s right. Michelle?
JOURNALIST: Senator Rex Patrick has suggested that the parliamentary timetable should be changed. Can you envisage any circumstances in which you think that should be done?
PRIME MINISTER: We have no plans to change the parliamentary sitting schedule based on the information that we have. Andrew, you’ve had one go, I’m happy to come back to you but there’s lots of people here.
JOURNALIST: Just on your aged care package, there are some reports of insufficient personal protective gear in aged care centres. Is there specific funding for that, or will they be prioritized in terms of the national stockpile?
MINISTER HUNT: So I can answer that, so we have capacity to assist through the national stockpile and where there any organisations that do have issues, there’s the capacity to work through the primary health networks. And if they do have shortfalls, we’ll be assisting them.
PRIME MINISTER: Andrew? He’ll burst if he doesn’t get it out.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister what do you say to employers who believe that a declaration of isolation, self-isolation, perhaps a declaration by Brendan Murphy himself, lifts the obligation of them paying a wage to their employees?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, look everyone’s cases will be different depending on what their health situation is. I think that’s fair to say. I’m just going to repeat what I said yesterday, when I spoke to the business group in Sydney, all of us have a role to play. And large businesses, in particular, have an important role to play. Large businesses have much stronger balance sheets, they’re in a position to take actions to support their employees. I’ve highlighted I think the example of Qantas is a very positive one, and one that is seeking to make use of the flexibility it has, when that’s whether people are taking leave or things of that nature, where people are in a position where they have to isolate, either have an obligation to or otherwise, I’d be encouraging employees to take a flexible and forward-leaning approach in supporting their employees during this process. They’ll need their people on the other side. And businesses, particularly large businesses, they will be watched closely I think through the months ahead. You know businesses spend a lot of time talking about the value and integrity of their brands, well their brands will be defined in these months ahead.
The government will be leaning heavily on its balance sheet that we’ve taken great care to put in good order in bringing the Budget back to balance to be able to to respond to this. Equally, large businesses are in a similar position. And that’s why, again, I give credit where it’s due in terms of the banks passing on the 25 basis point rate cut, the first time all four of them have done that in five years. And I think that is a demonstration of, I think, their willingness to do that. So I look, I would urge people to be practical about these things, to be sensible about these things, to act with a sense of good faith to both towards employees and towards employers, about how you manage these issues.
Getting through this is all of our responsibility, acting with a sense of common sense. I think, with a sense of patience, with calmness and having, I think an assurance about the arrangements that are being put in place, whether at the government level or otherwise.
JOURNALIST: Dr. Murphy, what is Australia’s testing capacity? How many tests can we get through in a day or a week? And can you explain a little more about the plans to extend testing, please, to aged care and doctors?
DR. MURPHY: So at the moment, most of the testing has to be done in our public health labs. But with these measures announced today by increased Medicare funding, all of the private laboratories, many of whom have already started doing testing, they are all scaling up rapidly to do testing. And they will do as many tests as we require. They have huge capacity, these can be automated assays and they can scale up enormously as needed. So we haven’t set a number on that, they’ll do as many as needed. What we want to have is the capacity for people to get a test with essentially a same day turnaround. And that’s going to be our aim throughout this. In terms of aged care we will be specifically looking, because we don’t want to have difficulties in aged care getting testing, we will be looking at pathology companies, possibly going into aged care facilities, taking the tests and coming out to make it easier for the facility and for the residents. But we’re working through those measures.
JOURNALIST: What about symptoms in aged care?
DR MURPHY: No we’re not testing people without symptoms at the moment. There is no value in testing people without symptoms. Currently our approach is testing – and that’s the international approach – is testing people who have respiratory symptoms and who have been a return traveller or who are a contact.
JOURNALIST: So just to clarify, your efforts to limit the number of tests is not about sort of a limitation on the number we have available? It’s about the same day turnaround, is that correct?
DR. MURPHY: So same day turnaround is important. But what I’m saying, we’re not testing asymptomatic people is because there’s no value. If you if you think you’ve been in contact with someone and you have a test that’s negative, it doesn’t mean at all that you’re not incubating the virus because you may not shed the virus until you’re symptomatic. So that’s why we’re not favouring doing tests on asymptomatic people so that the challenge- we want to test the people for whom it’s appropriate to test and to get quick results.
JOURNALIST: Just on Indigenous Australians, just on Indigenous Australians, can you explain why those specific measures are being taken to target those at risk groups?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll just ask Greg,
MINISTER HUNT: So one of the things which is is very clear, is that we know that in many indigenous communities in particular, you can have health challenges and also in a close community, transmission can occur easily. The primary health systems have emphasized the importance of that. The chief medical officer and the deputy chief medical officer and also working with the states and territories, so we’ve all recognised that. That’s why we’re providing two additional forms of support. One is the telehealth capacity for the over 50 indigenous Australians based on the relative health position, and then secondly, the preparedness and retrieval and treatment support for remote communities.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, will the government in the stimulus package –
PRIME MINISTER: Sorry couldn’t quite hear you Katherine?
JOURNALIST: Sorry, just referencing your answer before about business, and stepping up and doing the right thing. Will the government provide any support to businesses in the stimulus package to cover entitlements for work, for casual workers, for people who are not not, you know, don’t qualify for sick pay?
PRIME MINISTER: Tomorrow the Treasurer and I will –
JOURNALIST: I’m sorry Prime Minister, I have another one.
PRIME MINISTER: Sorry, yep?
JOURNALIST: Another one, sorry. Bridget McKenzie says she made in her statement on Thursday night, says she made no changes to either the ministerial brief or the spreadsheets in relation to the sports grants after April 4, the audit office told Senate estimates that changes were made to the spreadsheets on April 10 and April 11, one at the request of your office. So who made these changes after April 4 and on what legal authority, given that my understanding is ministerial advisers cannot cannot make decisions in the way Ministers can make decisions?
PRIME MINISTER: Ministerial authority for the program was with the Minister for Sport, that is the position. On the other issue that you raised, tomorrow I’ll be back here with the Treasurer we’ll be outlining what I believe will be a well-targeted, proportionate, appropriate response to address the very real economic challenges that are being presented by the coronavirus here in Australia. Importantly, it will be a response that is focused on the challenges we have here in Australia. We’re not trying to solve problems that are occurring in other countries or in the dimension of the economic challenge there in other countries, we’re tailoring this to deal with the challenges that we face here in Australia. And that program is comprehensive. It addresses both supply and demand-side issues, it deals with investment issues. It ensures that we can put Australia in the best possible position to bounce back, to bounce back strongly economically, to support people’s jobs, to keep business in business, and to ensure that we are even stronger on the other side. Thank you very much.
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