Topics: Coronavirus vaccine update, lifting restrictions, COVID-19 origin and CSIRO research, Jacinda Ardern’s involvement National Cabinet, JobKeeper eligibility.
Karen Andrews: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here to speak about one of my very favourite topics, which is the great work that Australian scientists are doing. Particularly, their work towards developing a vaccine for COVID-19. Now, Australia was actually the first nation outside of China to be able to produce the coronavirus, COVID-19, and Australian scientists have worked diligently ever since to do all they can to develop a vaccine. There’s been work done by many scientists right across Australia, here in Queensland with the University of Queensland, and of course CSIRO has been doing some amazing work. There are now about 100 vaccines being tested globally, and as we’re all very well aware, to establish and test a vaccine often takes many, many years. CSIRO is doing all that it can to fast track that development now. They are currently testing two vaccines: one is from the United States and one is from the United Kingdom. It’s possible that we will have a vaccine in the next 10 to 15 months, so it’s entirely possible that by the end of this year or early next year, we will have a vaccine for COVID-19. That’s particularly important because quite frankly, until such time as we have a vaccine, life is not going to return to normal. So whilst we have seen some easing of restrictions, particularly over the last weekend, we still have a long way to go and it’s very important that we all take baby steps. I understand people’s frustration in wanting to get out there and go to the beach and go to shopping centres, but we actually want people to be able to get ready to get back to work, to restart Australia’s economy as soon as we possibly can. So that work is well underway.
As the Minister for Industry, I have been working very closely across a number of industries to assist them to prepare their plans to get everyone safely back to work. So that work is underway now and of course, that’s going to be a topic at National Cabinet later this week. So we are very keen to get restrictions eased but to do that sensibly and based on the best medical advice that there is available. But again, it’s baby steps to make sure that we are back on track as quickly and as effectively and as safely as we can.
So, happy to take questions.
Question: When the vaccine would be released, is it going to be like the COVID-19 [tracing] app where a threshold of people must get it before further restrictions will be lifted?
Karen Andrews: Look, we’re not at that stage now. Obviously, if the vaccine becomes available, we would be encouraging people to be vaccinated but we’re still working through the process of testing a vaccine. Yes, there are some positive signs with some of the vaccines that are being tested, but over the next few months in particular, we will look at how that vaccine will be rolled out. From Australia’s point of view, I’m very keen that we continue to do our work in collaboration with other nations to develop the vaccine here. Of course, the next step for us will be to be able to manufacture it right here in Australia, so I’m working on that.
Question: If there are other countries that have vaccines as well, will the CSIRO test those as well?
Karen Andrews: Potentially, as CSIRO has long collaborated with many nations. What I can say is that the scientific community right across the world is united as one to make sure that there is a vaccine discovered, developed, tested as soon as it possibly can. So we will be working with everyone to make sure that we have that vaccine ready as soon as we can.
Question: Why has Jacinda Ardern been invited to the National Cabinet tomorrow?
Karen Andrews: Well, New Zealand is a very close neighbour of ours. They have had different experiences to us. They have undertaken different measures with their restrictions that they have put in place. So the Prime Minister had a very good discussion with Prime Minister Ardern last week, and it’s been agreed by National Cabinet that she would be able to join. I think it’s a very good opportunity for Australia and New Zealand to show how closely they have worked together and to make sure that we build on those relationships for the future.
Question: Anything on the agenda specifically for her?
Karen Andrews: The main topic on the agenda as far as I’m aware is the restrictions. Obviously, there’ll be discussions about the progress to date. The statistics will be important, they’ll be discussed. But it is really what does the future hold in terms of restriction, and again, it will be looking at the baby steps that we can take to make sure that we have Australia back on track.
Question: Do you think there’ll be discussion for an NZ version of the COVIDSafe app?
Karen Andrews: Look, I wouldn’t rule that out. I’m not aware that that’s going to be a topic for discussion. Clearly, there have been over 4 million Australians who have downloaded COVIDSafe. We continue to encourage people to make sure that that app is downloaded, because that is going to be one of the tools that we use to make sure that we keep Australians safe.
Question: There are parts of the government who seem keen to enthusiastically embrace the theory that the coronavirus may have started in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Does this reflect your view?
Karen Andrews: I’m very keen to do all that we can to work through what the origins of this virus actually were. It’s very important, particularly as we look to develop a vaccine, and quite frankly how we prepare for the future. So, I’m open to having as many discussions as I can. The truth is important to me, and I can assure Australians that I will work very closely with our scientific community to make sure that we come up with the answers that we need.
Question: Did scientists from the institute arrange for bats to be taken to the CSIRO lab in Victoria?
Karen Andrews: Look, that’s a question that really needs to be put directly to CSIRO, because I’m clearly not familiar with precisely what happened at that time, so please direct that question to the CSIRO. What I can say is that currently there is no research being undertaken at the facility in Geelong that has bats involved. But it also is very important for us to note that 75 per cent of the viruses do come from animals, and bats are certainly one of the sources of that. And the classic example is the Hendra virus, which went from bats to horses to humans. So you cannot criticise, as a standalone, bat research. You actually have to look at it in context, and it’s very important that we make sure that we have in place all of the tools that we can to make sure that we are doing the research properly and managing the risks.
Question: How important is it for people to return to the workplace and to shops as soon as possible?
Karen Andrews: Oh, it’s very important. We’re working very hard to make sure that we restart Australia. And of course, we want shops to open. We want people to go back into the shopping centres. We want them to start going about their normal business. But it’s very important that they’re mindful as they do so, that social distancing is still in place, proper hand hygiene is very important. And please, take baby steps. We don’t want to be facing a second wave of infection here in Australia. So, please, it’s baby steps.
Question: Are you determined to end JobKeeper payments no matter what?
Karen Andrews: There’s a finite life to JobKeeper, so we have been very clear that it was for a certain period of time. We are working to make sure that Australia restarts, gets back to work as soon as possible, and that there will be no further need for JobKeeper.
Question: Last question. Do you think there’s a case for churches opening to prayer only rather than full services?
Karen Andrews: Look, that’s actually a very good question. I’ve actually attended some church services online myself, and I know particularly for older members of congregations, they’ve been quite isolated and some of them haven’t had the ability to join services online. I would be very happy to work with that sector to see what the best way is that we can get them back to normal as soon as possible.
Question: Alright. Thank you very much.
Karen Andrews: Thank you.