Press conference

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Vaccine rollout; home quarantine trial; Sydney lockdown; overseas travel; hotel quarantine.
10 July 2021

Dan Tehan: Well, thanks for coming this afternoon. I’d like to start by just saying, obviously, my thoughts and the thoughts of the government and, I think, all Australians are with those people in Greater Sydney at the moment as they go through the lockdown and, obviously, all of us want to give our sympathy and empathy to the situation they’re dealing with at the moment. And, obviously, we hope that it will end as quickly as it possibly can and the best way that we can do that is to make sure that all Australians continue to get vaccinated, and the welcome news today is that we’ve reached nine million vaccinations. We’ve gone from eight million to nine million in the space of seven days, and when you think that the first million – from zero to a million – took 45 days, we’re really seeing the vaccination program beginning to ramp up. And the really, really good news about that is, obviously, it’s meaning that Australia and Australians are safer with every vaccine which goes into every arm, and that’s why we continue to implore all Australians to make sure they roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. But, also, what it means is that we can start looking at more innovative ways that we can trial quarantine, which will ultimately allow us to further open up the Australian economy and us as a nation.

And that’s why it’s so pleasing, especially as Australia’s Tourism Minister, to see the announcement by the South Australian Government of the trial, the two-week trial, for home quarantine. That obviously— that trial will enable us then to explore other ways we can look at quarantine, and particularly, hopefully, over time will enable us to have further discussions with countries overseas to see whether we can use these innovative ways to increase the travel bubbles that we have now.

All this will take time. The two-week quarantine at-home trial that the South Australian Government with putting in place will take place over the coming months but hopefully, if it’s successful, we’ll be able to expand that over the coming months and enable us to begin that process of opening Australia up. Happy to take any questions.

Journalist: Minister, just to unpack this, if I’m not mistaken, the idea is that at the moment the trial will only be allowed for Australians who’ve had full vaccinations here in Australia, but down the track – I think it’s August – is the idea that we might look at allowing people who’ve had Australian-approved vaccines overseas come in and try a similar thing. Is that right?

Dan Tehan: That’s right. So, at the moment, the South Australian trial would use those vaccines approved here in Australia and administered here in Australia but over time we would look at those vaccines which have been approved here in Australia and have been administered overseas. And with vaccine passports and the like, we should be able to then use those people who’ve been vaccinated overseas to also take place in these home quarantine trials.

Journalist: If the trial is successful, how soon could people from overseas be using that home quarantine system? Could we see this in place by December so that people can spend Christmas with their families?

Dan Tehan: That would be wonderful if we could reach that milestone. I think all of us would like to see something like that occurring. Obviously, it would depend on Australians continuing to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated and, as I’ve said, nine million today, and we’re really seeing a step up and a ramp up of the vaccine rollout. So, if we can continue down that track then, ultimately, it would be wonderful to be able to see home quarantine being used in the lead-up to Christmas.

Journalist: On the vaccine rollout at the moment, the number of people over 60 that still haven’t received a first dose is nearly 2 million people. Given we’ve got enough supply of AstraZeneca vaccine, why do you think those 2 million people haven’t even got a seeding dose yet?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously, we want all Australians to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated. We have seen some hesitancy, but my view is as we continue to roll out and ramp up the vaccine rollout, we’re going to see, I think, more and more people want to get vaccinated, and especially when they understand how important it’s going to be to keeping themselves safe and all Australians safe. So, I think what we’re starting to see is the ramp up of the vaccine rollout, I think people getting more comfortable and – more confident and comfortable – with the rollout. So, I think, we’re going to see more of those Australians rolling up their sleeves and wanting to get vaccinated.

Journalist: With the hesitancy, one way you can address that, is that through that advertising rollout tomorrow? Is that trying to address hesitancy specifically?

Dan Tehan: No doubt that one of the things that we’ll be very keen to do is to make sure that we’re assuring all Australians of the safety of the vaccine and to make sure that they do go out and get vaccinated. An advertising campaign which is targeted to make sure that Australians do that is incredibly important. That’s why we have been advertising over the last months, and it’s why we’re about to step it up again to make sure as we ramp-up the vaccine rollout, more and more Australians are getting vaccinated.

Journalist: What barriers to success with the home quarantine trial and beyond that is it a compliance issue, and how will compliance be addressed beyond the trial?

Dan Tehan: One of the keys will be compliance and that’s why in the South Australian trial they’ll be using a mobile app to make sure that that compliance is adhered to and if that works, I think, that will be a real breakthrough, because it will mean we’ll be able to balance that personal security side versus the public health aspects of home quarantine. If we can get that right I think that will enable us then to further expand home quarantine and, as I’ve said, look at more innovative ways to do it and also look at potential use of it when it comes to opening up travel bubbles or when it comes to all those Australians who want to return home before Christmas.

Journalist: As a Victorian you’ve had some experience, as all Victorians last year, with what was a pretty strict lockdown put in place by the Dan Andrews Government. Now Gladys Berejiklian has been criticised in some quarters for not having locked up – locked down hard enough and not having locked done early enough. What’s your take on that?

Dan Tehan: Well, I think what we’ve seen is that state governments have listened to the medical experts in what they’ve done with regards to their lockdowns. And so, I think, New South Wales continues to take that medical expert advice. Obviously, it’s a difficult time in Greater Sydney at the moment, my hope is that what we’ll see, especially through their contact tracing, through their testing, that they’ll be able to get through this quicker than they might otherwise have been. And if they can do that I think that will be welcomed by everyone, including Victorians who went through a lockdown and a very severe lockdown and understand exactly how harsh that can be if you can’t get it right.

Journalist: Just flipping that around, the ACT last had an active case here something like August last year. We’re still considered an orange zone by Victoria. Is that going too far the other way? Is that being overly cautious?

Dan Tehan: Well, ultimately, Victoria will be listening to the expert medical advice that they’re getting from their chief medical officer and putting in place the precautions that they think are necessary. My hope is that what we will be able to see is the lifting of those orange zones where there aren’t community transmission of the virus, as there isn’t here in the ACT. And hopefully there’ll be the confidence to lift those types of requirements, especially for our tourism industry, because it just means travel between regions, in particular, states and regions, can occur much more freely and those over 600,000 jobs in the tourism industry, they get a lot more certainty in knowing that people are more freely available to travel without those types of restrictions in place.

Journalist: In Sydney, we’re seeing a number of younger people hospitalised now because of COVID-19. So, do we need to open up vaccines to people under 40 given that we’re seeing people in hospital under 40 with Covid?

Dan Tehan: So, we’ll continue to take the medical advice on that but one of the things, obviously, with the increase of Pfizer, which is about to hit Australia, we will be able to look at how we can further roll out the Pfizer to those people under 40. But that will be done based on the medical advice that we’re given as to how we open that up over time. But I think the most important message about that is it doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old; the most important thing you can do is get vaccinated.

Journalist: But can you understand the frustration of under 40s that there is no timeline on when they’re able to get the vaccine. They’re pretty desperate to do so.

Dan Tehan: So obviously with the very, very welcome news this week that we are going to see a ramp-up in the level of Pfizer vaccines available here in Australia, we’ll now be able to step out and plan that and make Pfizer more readily available and that obviously will help young Australians but also we’ve got to make sure that everyone over 60 continues to get vaccinated as well. But what we’re seeing is a marked ramp up in the vaccine rollout – 9 million people now have been vaccinated and the big push now has to be let’s make sure that we can get as many Australians vaccinated as possible over the coming months. Thanks.

Journalist: The Delta strain – sorry, just one final one – the Delta strain has proven just how leaky hotel quarantine can be. Will home quarantine be a safer option, and at what point will we see hotel quarantine, the need for that, eradicated?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously, what we want to do is through the trial that the South Australian Government are about to embark on is test all this and to make sure that home quarantine is safe and can work, like we all hope that it will. But we also want to make sure that we’re continuing to use hotel quarantine. As long as it’s done safely and properly, hotel quarantine has meant that well over 99 per cent of people who have used it have done so safely. So, at this stage, obviously, we want to continue to look at trials, and that’s why this first trial in South Australia is so important but hotel quarantine will also remain an important aspect of our quarantine system.

Journalist: Do you see a time when we don’t have hotel quarantine?

Dan Tehan: Well, what I see is the first step, which is looking at how well this home quarantine trial goes and I think that’s going to be incredibly important. Once again, I commend the South Australian Government for putting in place this home quarantine trial, because if it can work, then our ability to be able to expand on that I think it will be a real game-changer ultimately for us. Thanks very much.

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