Health minister’s TV admission

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has admitted the recent outbreak of coronavirus cases in Victoria is “on a scale that is greater than what was expected” and blamed “double standards” over Black Lives Matter protests for the state’s recent spike.

Mr Hunt appeared on Nine’s A Current Affair alongside host Tracy Grimshaw on Tuesday night along with an appearance on Chris Kenny’s The Kenny Report on Sky News , in which he pointed the finger largely at “breaches” in hotel quarantine.

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It came a day before stay-at-home orders and stage three restrictions were announced for metropolitan Melbourne in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19. The lockdown will last for six weeks.

Meanwhile Victorians will be physically blocked from entering NSW as the state’s second wave of COVID-19 mounts.

“This is more significant than anybody had anticipated, the extent of the breach, the scope of the breach from hotel quarantine, and the impact has had a profound effect on Victorians,” Mr Hunt said on A Current Affair.

“What we are facing now, the response we had planned for, unfortunately, is on a scale that is greater than was expected.”

Mr Hunt warned that across the country, “it’s Victoria now. It could be any one. We’re going to have to live with this virus for as long while”.

Yet in his interview with Sky News, Mr Hunt coupled blame on hotel breaches with attitudes after the recent Black Lives Matters protests in the state.

“Coupled with the hotel quarantine breaches, there were a small number of people who felt that once the protests had occurred, then ‘gosh if it’s okay for ten-thousand people to get together, then surely it’s okay for ten,” the minister told host Chris Kenny.

“The sense of a double standard was quite strong, and there was a clear mood against that as a result”.

“The Prime Minister, myself … we were absolutely crystal clear about all of those public gatherings all around the country in relation to any thing that was breaching the standards.

“It was particularly risky in Victoria, because of the underlying community transmission which had not been fully suppressed here.

“It wasn’t in the position as some of the other states so it was an additional risk in terms of the messaging and the behaviours that some took from it as a result.”

Both appearances came with warnings that difficult and challenging times lie ahead for Victoria. Mr Hunt warned viewers the severe uptick in Victoria “show how dangerous and deadly the disease is and how contagious it is”.

Greater Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire will enter a six-week lockdown at midnight Wednesday, after the state recorded the biggest daily increase the state has seen throughout the whole pandemic.

Victorian health authorities confirmed another 191 cases were recorded overnight, bringing the state’s total to 2824 after 27 previous cases were reclassified.

Mr Hunt’s comments echoed Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton who said residents have got “six very difficult weeks ahead of us”.

“It’s going to be a difficult six weeks, but we’re going to fight,” Mr Hunt said.

“We’re in a stronger state than we were, but we have to confront a very significant outbreak.”

The blame for Victoria’s surprising rise lay mainly with hotel quarantine, according to Hunt, who said there had been “real and significant breaches” within the Victorian system.

He said those breaches have caused “major consequences, enormous consequences”.

“Certainly, a hotel quarantine breach is an avoidable breach. We have been able to successfully implement that in seven out of eight states and territories, they have done a remarkable job right around the country.

“The Victorian government has acknowledged that this was a breach that could and should have been prevented, (by announcing a) judicial inquiry. We are not here to criticise, our job is to support and make it clear that we’re providing additional military support.”

Mr Hunt told Sky News Prime Minister Scott Morrison had authorised an additional 260 defence force personnel to assist in general virus duties and up to 500 personnel to assist with border restrictions in NSW.

When pressed by Grimshaw as to why authorities waited until midnight on Wednesday to begin a lockdown process, Mr Hunt replied: “That is a question for the Victorian government. Our view is that these are unfortunately necessary actions.

“People need time to adjust and they need to be able to revise plans, and that is what’s occurring.”

Last week, new lockdown restrictions came into effect for 10 postcodes across Melbourne, with residents only allowed to leave their homes for work or school, care or care giving, exercise or buying food and essentials.

On Saturday two additional postcodes, 3031 and 3051, were also placed under lockdown.

Residents in nine public housing towers in the city have also been placed on a “hard lockdown” and ordered to stay in their homes.

In announcing the lockdown of metropolitan areas, Mr Andrews told reporters Victorians “have to be realistic about the circumstances that we confront”.

“That is why the public health team has advised me to reimpose stage three stay-at-home restrictions, staying at home except for the four reasons to leave, effective from midnight tomorrow night for a period of six weeks,” he said.

The “four reasons to leave” are to exercise – though it must be inside the metropolitan area; shop for food and other essential items; attend work or school (if they can’t do so from home); and medical or caregiving.

The lockdown applies to all of metropolitan Melbourne, as well as Mitchell Shire.

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