Summary of Prime Minister’s media interviews about caronavirus 16 March 2020

Canberra, Australia – 5 March 2020: Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces a ban for South Korean visitors into Australia. Photo by Rob Keating – http://keatingmedia.com.au)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was busy this morning as he joined Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon on the Today Show, Sabra Lane on ABC AM, Neil Mitchell on 3AW, Laura Jayes and Peter Stefanovic on Sky News, Alan Jones on 2GB and David Koch and Samantha Armytage on Sunrise.

In this post there are some key points from the interviews.

NEIL MITCHELL: Thank you very much for your time. Do you think there’s a chance we’ll have to look at rationing? 

PRIME MINISTER: There’ll be a range of measures that need to be considered everyday. Things like that are not necessary now and not even under active contemplation, Neil. But I think the point of the question is, will we have to do things that we haven’t had to do before? Yes, we will. And we already are. I mean, the measures we announced yesterday were pretty unprecedented, at least for about 100 years. And that means that there will be actions we’ll have to take. There will be disruption to people’s lives. There are real significant economic impacts that go from managing the spread of this virus, but if we can manage the spread, and control its spread, and reduce the peak level of infection, then that obviously enables the health system to cope better and we can save more lives. 

MITCHELL: I agree. A lot of private schools are closing. Is it, you think, inevitable, as the Victorian Premier says, at some stage we’ll have to close the schools.

PRIME MINISTER: At some stage if that’s the advice, then that certainly will happen. But I should stress that is not the advice at the moment. And different schools are doing different things. Some of them are moving towards remote learning and things like that. But the advice from all of the states, which is consensus advice from the states and territories health officers, Chief Medical Officer, is that it’s not something that’s been recommended. In fact, as I outlined yesterday, at a time like this, that could cause more problems for the involved. And we just got to deal with that issue practically. And children and younger people, I should stress, the medical advice is that they are the least at risk, unless there are very serious other health issues that they might have. The vulnerable are those who have other health issues, the elderly, and that’s, they’re the ones that I have most in my mind. And for the rest of us, about 8 or 10 of us who will contract this virus, it will be a mild illness. That’s good advice. And we can help the elderly and the vulnerable by just doing the commonsense, the sensible social distancing measures, not hand-shaking, coughing into our handkerchiefs or our elbows, and and washing their hands, and being careful about our contact with the elderly, and the 1.5 metres where that’s practical to do so. It’s not going to be practical everywhere, these things aren’t absolute, but they’re just putting them into place sensibly wherever you can. 

JOURNALIST: Will Parliament sit remotely? Or will everybody come into Canberra? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well we’ll have Parliament next week. I’m having some meetings on that today. We’ve already been doing some planning around that over the last few days. Last week, talking to the Speaker and the President. I’ll be talking to the Leader of the Opposition over the course of the next day or so about proposals as to how we can ensure Parliament can meet next week. And they have really one job, and that is to pass the measures in relation to help and economic support. And we’ll be ensuring that can be done under sensible arrangements. There won’t be a need, I think, for all the Parliamentarians to come. There also won’t be a need for all the staff to come as well. And the public galleries won’t be open and school groups won’t be visiting. And all of those things, just sensible risk mitigation measures. 

MITCHELL: Total lockdown, if necessary? As in Italy?

PRIMEMINISTER: We’re not ruling out any options ultimately, but we’re going to do it proportionately, we’re going to do it on a basis of the information and the medical advice that we have. I’ve been talking today a bit about the virus clock. The virus clock isn’t the work of the calendar. It works on the progression of the virus through your country. Now, we are well ahead. I mean, the sort of measures we put in place yesterday, other countries didn’t do until they had far more many cases than we have here in Australia. And so we continue to act well ahead of this. We are going to keep doing that. And I was talking to the Singaporean Prime Minister last night. We were exchanging notes on the things we’re doing there. I mean, their situation is different to us. They’re a city state, they’re a much smaller population. They don’t have the remote area challenges and people flying all over their country and things like that. But they’ve been doing some very good things there and we’re actually adopting many of the practices they’ve put in place in Singapore. 

LAURA JAYES: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, thank you for your time. Victoria has just declared a state of emergency. Is that required nationwide? 

PRIME MINISTER: This was discussed at the National Cabinet yesterday, as you know, that’s the first time ever that the National Cabinet has been brought together all the Premiers, Chief Ministers and myself convened that yesterday one of the key issues they discussed was how states would move to that public health emergency status. I mean, it has different expressions and different laws in different states and territories, but it’s effectively giving those states and territories powers to undertake certain actions and enforce them in managing the health crisis. And they all agreed they would sort of move towards that footing over the next few days consistent with their own laws, some have been there for a while like Queensland, South Australia moved yesterday, Victoria has moved today so we can expect that to continue and that is being done in a coordinated way between the states which I think is enormously helpful. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: Just on the bans that are in place now Prime Minister, self-isolation from people arriving at our airports. How will that be enforced? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, up until now, I mean this has been in place now for many weeks for a number of countries, and that’s been working extremely well. And that wasn’t mandatory at that time, I mean for those people who were coming home from China, coming back from places like South Korea and so on. That has worked extremely well. And we’re talking about tens of thousands of people who have been subject to those arrangements and now it moves to a much more universal imposed isolation and this will be backed up by state and territory laws. Now obviously police resources are not going to be diverted to stand outside peoples homes if they are self isolating that’s ridiculous. But what it does mean is I think all the community has a role to play here, as I said yesterday. If someone turns up to your workplace having been overseas, well, obviously they’re not complying. And that’s just not a bad call. It’s actually against the law. And so people should cooperate with that. But I must admit, over the many weeks that these arrangements have already been in place for many returned arrivals, that they’ve been doing the right thing and people have been supporting them in the community. 

LAURA JAYES: Could arrests be made,fines imposed?

PRIME MINISTER: Fines can be imposed it all depends on the state and territory laws and how they see fit to enforce that. But that, those sort of sanctions are possible. That’s right. 

PETER STEFANOVIC: Prime Minister there has been dramatic developments that Boris Johnson is moving to employ in the UK that Nursing homes will be quarantined for up to four months. Is that an option here? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as I said, we’re getting that advice on the measures we will take within the aged care facilities over the next day. And we’ll consider that advice and make a decision on that on Tuesday evening. But people can expect to see a fairly significant restriction on visitation to people in  nursing homes. Now, I understand  I mean went through the process in my own family over  summer when you have elderly relatives who are in nursing homes then you obviously want to see them. That might be the last time you do get to see them which was certainly the case in our family’s experience. And so that needs to be done sensitively and it will be done sensitively. But we need to lessen the broader risk for people in these facilities. And we also need to respect, I think, the sensitivity of families going through what is a very difficult time for them.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Before we talk about the travel ban, I just want to clarify the confusion regarding schools not closing. On one hand, you’re saying don’t come within one and a half meters of each other socially. But our kids are a lot closer in the classroom, aren’t they? That’s a mixed message, isn’t it? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, these aren’t absolute measures Karl. What we’re seeking to do is lower the risk of the spread. So where practical those social distancing arrangements should be put in place so that 1.5 metres, no more hand shakes, coughing into a handkerchief or into your elbow, avoiding contact with the elderly, all of those sorts of things should be administered wherever practical.  I mean we’ve got the mass gathering bans from today. All of this is designed just to slow all this down. You can’t manage every single risk in the community. And any suggestion that all of these measures can achieve that to the nth degree would just simply not be practical. So it’s just about the sensible way of reducing the risk, because the more we slow this virus down Karl, the more we’re able to support those who are most vulnerable. ABout 8 out of 10 people who contract this virus, most of us here are healthy, and others this will be a mild illness. But when we slow the rate of the virus down, by the way we interact, we’re actually protecting more vulnerable people in our community. 

ALLISON LANGDON: You’re saying, you know, banning 500 people or more. I mean, you look at most schools, they’ve got more than 500 kids in them. These kids are then they’re close together. They make a home. They have, they interact with their grandparents. So we really do anybody’s safest for the wide community by allowing schools to stay open?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me be clear. The medical advice from the chief officers of the health officers of the states and territories and the Commonwealth. I’m not recommending that we, universal wide closure of schools, where there are individual outbreaks in particular areas, as has been happening in New South Wales and in Victoria. There are arrangements that are put in place specifically for those schools. But schools won’t be having, they’ve already taking the decisions rightly on the mass gatherings. Not having assemblies. Students will be in classrooms, not in large gatherings in their schools. The same should be practiced in university lecture theatres and things of that nature. So at the present time, the advice is that that is not necessary. And the other issue that relates to that is children, I should say, on the medical advice that those at the lower risk end for the entire population. And it’s more of those who are at the elderly level, which are more at risk. But we also want to ensure that nurses can keep turning up to work and not have to be at home looking after their kids. That would also put great stress on the vulnerable if we weren’t able to manage our public health workforce at the same time. 

KARL STEFANOVIC: As a parent, I have to say to you, PM, I find this confusing and I find it disturbing that it’s almost okay for our kids to be in an area where there’s more than 500 kids they’re right next to each other at school. They go to big lunch or little lunch as we used to call it, and they’re surrounded by other kids. I don’t want my child to get this, OK? And so it is the only safe way to guarantee that that they they are put into isolation or at least at home while we wait this thing out?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that is not the medical advice Karl. You’re not a doctor. And neither are am I. My my my kids go to school-

KARL STEFANOVIC: But it doesn’t make sense. 

PRIME MINISTER: I trust the medical advice, if you let me finish Karl, I’m trusting the medical advice of those who are responsible for the public health of our nation. They don’t consider these things idly, they consider them very carefully and what’s in the public health interests of the nation. Now the working night and day to ensure they’re giving us the best possible information. There are a lot of opinions at the moment and I’m interested in facts. And the facts are that the younger people in our population are actually less at risk. And there are great risks right now in school closures. That’s the advice that we have. And so we have to make decisions that is in the national public interest and particularly for the most vulnerable, I’m a parent. You’re a parent. We all have the same concerns and anxieties about the health of our kids. I don’t think there’s any competition about that. We all get that. But it means we have to stay calm and take the best possible advice. And that’s what all the Premiers are doing. That’s what the chief ministers are doing. That’s what I’m doing. Now, this could change in the future, and if it does, it’ll be because of a change in the medical situation. And we will continue to respond proportionately. But I’d urge people to stay calm on these things. We know how serious it is. There has never, ever been a National Cabinet that’s been brought together to deal with a crisis like this. It is on the job and it’s making decisions based on the best possible medical advice.

LANGDON: To move on from classrooms to the 14 day isolation period for travellers entering the country, which came into effect at midnight. I mean, we just saw some pictures this morning. I mean customs was packed. People were shoulder to shoulder standing for hours in line, isn’t this exactly what we didn’t want to see? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it’s unavoidable. We’ve got people coming back from overseas and they need to go in to self isolation-

KARL STEFANOVIC: Well it can be avoided if you shut the borders.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we effectively have Karl. I mean, people have got to- Australians have got to come back from overseas. The biggest risk that has presented over the last few weeks has not been by internationals, because the global travel has been falling. It’s actually been Australians coming home from overseas. I mean, take Bali, for example. People come – the number of Indonesians coming to Australia out of flights from Indonesia is less than 10 per cent. I mean, it’s actually Australians going there and coming home, which presents the greatest health risk. That’s why we’ve advised non-essential travel overseas should stop. And that’s why when you’re coming home from overseas, there’ll be a 14 day isolation that applies to you and that’s being backed up by state and territory laws. So these are strong measures, in fact they’re some of the strongest in the world. And that will ensure that we’ll be able to again, if we slow the spread of this virus we will save more lives. 

KARL STEFANOVIC: Prime Minister, at the end of the day and look, I know this is very difficult. It’s very difficult on every level to manage this, very hard. I worry about my mum. She’s 70 plus. I worry about Dickie. He’s a friend of mine who’s now got the virus. And I worry about my kids getting it, irrespective of whether it’s harder for them to get it or that they can handle it better. We just want to make sure everyone’s safe as they can be. And do we not do not go that level and shut everything down? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the shutting down that is taking place Karl, it has never occurred before. That’s what we’re doing right now. What you’re actually advocating is actually putting in place with the measures we put in on the weekend. And in particular, what the National Cabinet agreed was the priority is the, we’ll be announcing further measures that relate to aged care facilities and enclosed spaces. And that’s the work that’s being done by the medical experts now, as well as the impact in the remote communities, which are also particularly vulnerable. That’s the next priority they’ll be giving us that advice, the national cabinet will meet again on Tuesday evening to consider that advice so people can expect more measures when it comes to visiting aged care facilities. We’re also working on the advice that relates to Anzac Day ceremonies. We can expect those to be a lot smaller this year. And that’s good practice. The other thing we’re doing right now is obviously we’ll be making changes for how parliament comes back next week. That will be done on a very different basis. And I’ll be consulting with the Leader of the Opposition over the course of this week to put those arrangements in place very, very soon. And so it’s about making practical decisions based on good advice and we’ve got ahead early on this. And we’re working hard to try and keep ahead, but we’ve all got to keep our heads. And I know we’ve all got elderly parents we’ve got kids, we’ve got others who are affected. But remember this statistic, our advice is that about 8 out of 10 Australians who contract this virus will experience a mild illness. I mean, Peter Dutton, who has the virus, joined the National Security Committee meeting of Cabinet by videoconference yesterday. We’ve changed our meeting arrangements. So people are joining by videoconference. The world can continue to turn. I spoke with the Singaporean Prime Minister on the, last night. I was supposed to be meeting with him in Australia Sunday, Monday. We’re now going to do that by video conferencing. We’re going to sign one of our bilateral agreements digitally, so things can continue to work. Shops remain open. The power is still on. The phones still work. The buses still run, the trams still go. And so we can get about our daily lives as best as we can. But there will be changes. We’ll try and telecast them as much as we can in advance so we can all adjust to them and get on with it. 

LANGDON: But I assume that there is no way that you can all then meet in Canberra for parliament because then of course you go back to your own electorates and we just can’t afford to see that kind of spread. But just in the last few moments, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, he’s declared a state of emergency. So you know on one hand, we’re saying everyone remain calm, but then we see action like this. You can understand why people are panicked?

PRIME MINISTER: A state of emergency is not a state of panic. A state of emergency puts in place special powers for state governments to help manage the spread of public health epidemics. Yesterday, it was an issue that was discussed by the state Premiers that they would be all moving effectively to that footing. Some states have been there for some time, such as in Queensland. So these actions are being coordinated between the states to put these measures in place so they’re consistent across the country. I mean, one hundred years ago we had the Spanish flu. That is that is the sort of reference event. This is a one in a 100 year event. Back then, one of the things that went wrong is all the states and territories all fought with each other and didn’t get on with each other. Now, on this occasion, I brought them together into a National Cabinet and we’re all working extremely well together. So I would certainly caution people, words like state of emergency. I can understand that they’re an anxious types of phrases. But what they’re simply doing is giving the state governments the powers and authorities to help protect you, public health and to slow the spread of the virus. 

KARL STEFANOVIC: PM really good to talk to you. Thanks for all your info this morning. Appreciate it.

SABRA LANE: An Australian arriving back from overseas this morning, returning to their family this morning, is the whole family required to self-isolate?

PRIME MINISTER: No, that’s not the medical advice, that they practice the distancing that’s required in the household. That’ll be the same for everyone else who has been going through the isolation period when they’ve come back from overseas, from the countries that have been subject to these arrangements. Those who are coming back today, the risk is low. That’s the advice from the medical experts. And that’s why the arrangements that are in place today is that people should just return home. If they have presented at the airport and they have been, as you were just reporting there, they’ve been asked about their own health. Then they would get that PPE equipment and they would put that on to accompany them on their journey home. For the rest, the medical advice was that that wasn’t necessary. These are low risk cases at this point. And by getting these arrangements in now, what it does is it’s another measure which enables us to slow the spread. If we slow the spread of the virus, which we’ve been successful so far, ahead of the rest of the world, then that means the peak impacts on hospitals and things like that will be a lot less.

SABRA LANE: What about taxi drivers and those on public transport? How are they meant to feel?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, as you know, as just reported, they’re exercising the precautions that you would expect people to to undertake. And as we’re saying, the medical advice for those who are getting off those planes today is that it’s a very low risk group. But by taking these large steps, whether it’s mass gatherings, whether it’s this, what it’s doing is lowering the broader risk right across the population of the spread of the virus. Eight out of 10 people who will contract this coronavirus, they will have a very mild illness. And what we need to do is slow the spread so we can protect the more vulnerable in the community who are at a much greater risk. So if we slow that spread, we are going to save more lives.

SABRA LANE: People are scared, though, and they’re not remaining calm, with panic buying and fights at supermarkets, medical staff being abused because people are impatient over tests or not being allowed to have one. What is your advice?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that sort of behaviour isn’t acceptable. I understand the anxiety, but it also means we need to understand that this virus is a global, it’s a global problem. It’s one that Australia is responding to. We have a world class health system. We’re putting the economic supports in place as well. And that’s under constant review. This will be a difficult six months. I said that on the weekend as well. And we expect it to be around about six months. It could be longer. It could be sooner than that. But our job is to work together to slow the spread of the virus, which at present has been so far, compared to other countries, much more advanced. And these new measures we put in place on the weekend through the National Cabinet, particularly whether it’s mass gatherings or the travel arrangements we’ve put in place, then that will help slow that spread and that will protect more vulnerable people in our community. But it does require people to get on with, you know, under some greater restrictions with their lives and to carry on.

SABRA LANE: Is the panic buying a symptom of the level of community distrust in the government? People aren’t heeding messages to be calm.

PRIME MINISTER: No, what it’s a function of, I think, Sabra, is frankly a lot of misreporting misinformation and social media. I mean, this is the first global health crisis I think we’ve seen with social media. People should not listen to Twitter or social media for their health advice. They shouldn’t be listening to opinions on health, they should be listening to the medical advice that has been provided to us through those who have the responsibility. And that’s the state health officers, the Chief Medical Officer federally. They have the responsibility of producing consensus medical advice to the government. And we’re taking that advice and we are putting decisions in place that support that advice to slow the spread of this virus.

SABRA LANE: How will you tackle the online myths? Already there are WhatsApp messages circulating. We’ve seen one this morning claiming that New South Wales will be locked down for two weeks from tomorrow. Are you going to be talking with the social media companies about what they can do about that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we’ll do whatever we can on that front, Sabra, but it also is helpful if media companies don’t report that either. These things are just untrue and it’s important that people go to health.gov.au to get their advice on what the instructions are. And an important one we’ve been sending out with the advice that was received over the weekend is particularly the stronger social distancing measures that are in place. That means not shaking hands, avoiding that physical contact. Coughing hygiene, which means into a handkerchief or into your elbow. It means washing your hands frequently and it means avoiding contact where possible with the more vulnerable in our community. We do all those things, Sabra, then we will slow the rate of transmission of this virus, which will protect the more vulnerable. It will lessen the impacts on our health system, which will come under strain. That’s to be expected with a virus of such global proportions as this one.

JONES: Thank you for your time. I wish people had listened to you. I do feel that this alarmism has taken root and it has overtaken the persistence with which you have said the majority, about 8 in 10. It’ll be a mild illness and it will pass. And Peter Dutton is a metaphor of that?

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah he is. I mean, Peter’s at home and he’s recovering well. He joined the National Security Committee meeting yesterday via videoconference. So he is continuing to do his job. And I think that sort of demonstrates, as you’ve just said, that the case for most Australians, it is a mild illness. But the reason we need to be very careful about how the virus spreads is to protect those who are more vulnerable. That’s why it’s important to do the things we announced yesterday. I mean, we have more cases now. And so now was the time to take those additional steps, which means, you know, compared to other countries, the issues we’ve done around mass gatherings was well ahead of other countries, because when they did that, they had many, many, many more cases than we do now. We were able to slow the start of this virus in Australia and now we’ll be able to continue to hopefully manage the spread, which means it’ll put less strain on the health system at its peak level. And that means that our health systems will be able to better cope. Doesn’t mean there won’t be strains and stresses. It won’t mean that there won’t need to be changes made. And of course, we’re going to have to do all of that. But if we manage the spread by doing the sensible things, so no longer shaking hands and no longer, well we be should always be practising the good hand hygiene and coughing into a handkerchief or your elbow, and avoiding contact with those who are were vulnerable. Do those sensible things. Then we will get through this. 

JONES: PM I just, I’m really concerned I have to say, as I just said earlier today, I think the media have a high responsibility to as best, to first do some homework and secondly then advise and inform and not to alarm. If you take China, Italy, Iran, South Korea and Spain and they’re the 5 countries where there are problems. And the total deaths that I took off the W.H.O. list this morning approximately two hours ago was 6,455, in those five countries the deaths are 6,099. So in the remaining 151 countries that appear on the W.H.O. list, the death toll is 356. And of the 156 countries, in 109, according to the W.H.O., there are no deaths. Now, people are given being given the impression here that a meteor is about to collide with earth and we’re all going to get the virus and suddenly our arms will fall off and there won’t be enough timber left to make the coffins that are needed. You’ve tried to to draw back from this alarmism, but it is alive. You’ve only got to look at supermarkets everywhere, the healthy people, I quoted Jeremy Faust, the the expert from Harvard University who made the point, he said it’s relatively benign disease for most young people. You’ve made this point, potentially devastating for the older and chronically ill. The mortality rate is 0 for children 10 or younger. It’s 0.2 per cent in healthy non-geriatric adults. So on the basis of that, should we be thinking of closing schools or closing universities even I might add, you know, stopping people from going to football matches. These are mostly healthy, middle aged people?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, let me start with the last one. I mean, we’ve made the decision on gatherings of more than 500 and what we call non-essential static gatherings. That is to slow the spread Alan, on, when it comes to schools and universities, it is not the medical advice at the moment that they should be closed. And in fact, as I said yesterday, that could create, particularly for schools, more problems than solutions. As you said the incidents and the impact on the younger Australians is actually, much less than for the rest of the population. But in terms of the impact it would have on them going back home, they would need to be cared for. They may actually be being cared for by older Australians, their grandparents. That is not a particularly good idea at the moment. And it would also take potentially nurses and others out of the, out of the workforce when we need them right now. Now, I’m not saying that at some point down the track, those sort of measures may become necessary and that we’ll do that on the basis of medical advice, but we won’t do it on the basis of media opinion or things like that. I mean, what we need is facts. And I want to thank you for the facts that you’re getting out there. Now is a time for facts rather than opinions. And those facts say, let’s follow the medical advice. Let’s slow the spread of this. That is the best way to protect particularly the elderly and the vulnerable, right now the next set of decisions we’re making, we made a whole range yesterday, both as the National Security Committee and then the new National Cabinet. On Tuesday night, we’ll be making more decisions around aged care facilities and around indoor gatherings. And we’re waiting for that advice, that’s being worked on right now. And also, we’ll have some advice on managing the issues in remote communities. 

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