Press conference with Premiers and Chief Ministers - Parramatta, NSW

13 Mar 2020
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Welcome everybody. Earlier today the Council of Australian Governments met amongst first ministers. But the events of the day, I think, has produced a series of considerations by premiers, chief ministers and myself, which is leading to a number of announcements we'd like to make to you this afternoon.

Firstly, I'd note that the communique for COAG has been agreed and that's been circulated. We've dealt with a number of important issues today. Obviously the most significant of those was the briefings we took earlier today on the issue of the national response to the coronavirus, considering both the significant health issues that are associated with that response, as well as the the economic issues, and you'll be familiar with the announcements that have been made on those matters.

We were joined, of course, by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Brendan Murphy, but as well, the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Dr. Phil Lowe. And in addition to that, Dr. Steven Kennedy, the head of Treasury, as we worked through the many issues that were associated with the national response to the coronavirus. Paul Grigson from the Department of Home Affairs also joined us this morning. The Department of Home Affairs has been bringing together the national coordinating mechanism, which is the process through which all state and territory governments are working together with the Commonwealth to coordinate our response to the many issues that are related to the management of the coronavirus and its impact in Australia.

In the course of today, a number of things became very clear based on the advice that we received from the the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee, which is the health officers, chief medical officers of each of the states and territories, and of course, the Chief Medical Officer from the Commonwealth. There was growing evidence, as we were receiving, particularly overnight and over the course of today, of greater community transmission of the coronavirus throughout Australia. There has also been, as a result of what has occurred in the United States and across Europe, the disruption of some international supply chain, matters that deal with some of the medical equipment, which we now will be addressing over the course of the next few days. These issues are not constrained to Australia. They are impacting around the world. And they are matters that now need to be addressed here in Australia like they are in many other countries.

As a result of the advice which was pulled together today by the HPPC, what we have resolved to do is to form a national cabinet to deal with the national response to the coronavirus. The national cabinets will be made up of the premiers, chief Ministers and myself. We will be meeting on a weekly basis to ensure that we get coordinated response across the country to the many issues that relate to the management of the coronavirus. First and foremost, that is about the health and wellbeing of Australians and managing the health response. In relation to the key goal of that group, it is really to ensure that at first we seek to contain, but then we seek to manage how the coronavirus impacts across Australia.

There are many measures that can be taken, and the Commonwealth government, together with the states, have already been taking, to both contain and slow the transmission of the virus in Australia. Now, this is incredibly important because as we slow it, as we manage it, that ensures that the national health system, health systems run by states and territories will be able to accommodate the increasing demands that we'd expect to see as a result of the coronavirus spread throughout Australia. That goes to issues about how you managing ICUs, how you're managing emergency departments, how you're managing it in terms of GP presentations and the like. The goal here is very straightforward, and that's why we've been going about it in a very careful way and there's been an abundance of caution in our approach. It is simply to slow the rate of transmission of the coronavirus within Australia. And that is done through the containment mechanisms that have already been put in place, whether in New South Wales, Victoria or anywhere else.

The containment processes of self isolation, identifying and tracing of contacts, all of these measures worked to successfully slow the rate of transmission of this virus. And that's why Australia right now is in a position where we have low rates of this virus and the number of cases that have presented. But we've always known that the number of cases will rise. And as we continue to work together to slow the rate of transmission, then that means we will get through this. Australians will get through this and we'll be able to get through this with the support of a health system, a world class health system which will seek to minimise the level of disruption that would be seen by the Australian population.

Now in relation to that in particular and based on the advice we've received today about the increasing number of cases and the evidence of community transmission, it has been recommended to us that we move to a position by Monday where we will be advising against organised, non-essential gatherings of persons of 500 people or greater from Monday. Now, that, of course, doesn't include schools. It doesn't include university lectures. It doesn't mean people getting on public transport or going to airports or or things of that nature. These events that we're seeking to advise against and restrict is for non-essential, organised gatherings of persons of 500 or more. Now, there will be many issues to work through between now and Monday as we get the precise advice about the implementation of that advice to Australians around the country. And that is what the HPPC will be working on, the national cabinet, which will be providing and managing this response now on a weekly basis. We will be meeting again on Sunday to consider that further advice on the implementation of those arrangements, and we'll provide further advice at that point once those recommendations have been considered.

Now, as we go forward from this point, it has been timely for us to meet today, because clearly the coronavirus requires responses from all governments at all levels. And it is important that we act together. And I want to thank the premiers and chief ministers today for their strong sense of unity, cooperation and purpose that has been present all the way through, as we've seen over what has been a very difficult summer, where we've been working together on many other issues and that has now transferred into the issue of the coronavirus.

And so the members of that cabinet is who you see before you here today and we are going to be working very closely together to ensure there's a consistency of response, that there's a coordination of response. And we simply say to the Australian people that we will manage this carefully in your interests. What we're announcing today is just another step. It's precautionary. It's getting ahead of this to ensure that we can minimise the impacts on your health and we can ensure with confidence the ability for people to be accessing the health services that they and their families will need.

The national coordinating mechanism, which I referred to before, will be feeding up to the national cabinet every week, issues that can then be coordinated between states and territories. It will deal with issues such as schools and universities and all of these types of things that prisons which we even discussed today, practical issues about the management of the national response to the coronavirus. Each and every state and territory that is represented here is completely sovereign and autonomous in the decisions that they make. But what we've agreed to do together is to work together and be unified and to be as consistent and coordinated as possible in our national response. That means from time to time sharing resources, it means if there is a need to assist each other with various needs, then this group will work closely together to achieve that end.

The principal advising body to this national cabinet will be the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee, which are those medical officers. There will be many others who will be advising through to the group on the other matters that I've referred to. But that medical advice, the best medical advice, will be the basis for the protocols and the guidelines and the decisions that will be made by premiers, chief ministers and of course, myself as prime minister together with our respective cabinets.

So with those matters, I'm going to ask Brendan Murphy to speak to this arrangement today and provide some further explanation. I also want to say that we've also decided today through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that we now advise all Australians to reconsider your need to travel overseas at this time, regardless of your destination, age or health. If your travel is not essential, consider carefully whether now is the right time. So we're effectively putting in place what is called a Level 3 Travel Advice for travel of Australians overseas. This is done to protect their health and to limit their exposure, given we have so many countries now that are affected by the coronavirus. Only essential travel should be considered if you're going overseas from this point forward. And we would encourage Australians to heed that advice. And if you need further information, then you can look to the SmartTraveller website where you will find further information on those issues. With that, I'll pass you over to Professor Brendan Murphy. Thank you, Brendan.

DR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thanks, Prime Minister. So Australia has always remained ahead of the curve in this coronavirus outbreak. We certainly introduced very aggressive measures early on in the exported cases from China and have been very effectively responding to the second wave of imported cases.

But as the Prime Minister has said, there is now early evidence of community transmissions, very small cases, not widespread. We're still not saying that there is a significant risk at all to the Australian community. But all the international evidence suggests that if you have some community transmission, the way in which it can be spread more rapidly is in very large events. You might only have one or two people at a very large event who might be carrying the virus, and the chances of that being spread at those large events accelerates the rate of progression of this virus. So this is a precautionary measure on the basis of the numbers slowly increasing over the course of the last week in Australia. We have seen increases in numbers every day and we feel that they will be at such a point over coming weeks that it's time to take precautionary advance measures to limit those large events where the incidence of transmission can be supported. We're not suggesting that people should interrupt their normal daily work. It's just avoiding those particular circumstances where transmission can be accelerated. 

This is the unanimous advice of all of the chief health officers. We understand that there will be a range of implications of that advice. But as the Prime Minister said, it's advisory and we are suggesting this at the moment. We'll work through the implications of that over the coming days and present them to ministers. The risk to the Australian community in general still remains low. Most of our cases still are imported, but we know that some of those imported cases have led to some communities spread. We want to be as far ahead of the game as any country and control the spread of this virus and make sure that we keep its outbreaks in Australia to as limited as possible. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. Well, we’re happy to take some questions either to myself or any of my colleagues here. The normal process of a COAG press conference I think we’ll suspend with today, but I commend to you the communique, because there were very many important agreements today One of which I should particularly note is that the national partnership agreement on the COVID-19 health response was agreed today as was a matter in relation of emergency management and waste management, but I’ll refer to those documents to you for later reference.  

JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy, why 500? And also would people travelling through a large train station come in contact with a range of different people? Why is that any different to going to a footy game? 

DR. MURPHY: Generally speaking, we're talking about a static gathering where people together for a period of perhaps up to two hours is generally where you have a high risk of exposure. Casual exposure, walking through a train station or an airport is much, much lower risk. So we're talking about those constant periods of contact. 500 - the epidemic modellers around the world have suggested that at the state that we are, and other countries are, that is a reasonable number. There is some arbitrariness about it, but other countries around the world have chosen that number. It's based on the best available scientific modelling.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is there a reason why this ban is not, why the recommendation is not for, gatherings over 500 people was  just a recommendation why its not compulsory?

PRIME MINISTER: Because this is a scalable response. What we're doing here is taking an abundance of caution approach as we have all the way through. What we're seeking to do is lower the level of overall risk and at the same time ensure that we minimise any broader disruption that is not necessary at this stage to engage in. So what that means is this is why we've said non-essential organised gatherings of 500 or more people. Now there are a range of those and you'll be very familiar with what they are and those not proceeding at that point, and that's an advisory, will reduce that risk. In the same way introducing travel bans, reduce risk. It doesn't eliminate all risk. This is not an absolute measure. We are still in the early phases of this and community transmission is still at a very local level. And as you've just heard from the Chief Medical Officer, that remains the case today. This is a matter of state and territory governments, together with the Commonwealth, exercising an abundance of caution in the interests of Australians. It's also why we have agreed today to join together in a national cabinet. A national cabinet for an emergency response to these issues that enables us to manage this on a day to day, week to week basis. And where further measures need to be considered and where further advice comes forward than we can do that on this basis and we can take the decisions that are necessary in Australia's national interest, and particularly to protect the health and wellbeing of Australians. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why does this recommendation come in on Monday and will you still go to the footy?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I do still plan to go to the football on Saturday as I said, because this is an arrangement we're putting in place for next week as a precaution. This is an early stage action that we're undertaking to make sure we get ahead of this. And I would be going along on Saturday because I had previously planned to. And these are measures we're putting in from next week. And there'll be further measures that will come in overtime, I would expect. I said last night that there will be many challenges when I addressed the nation, and there will be. And we’ll respond to those challenges. And we together, as a cabinet of leaders from around the country, will be taking those decisions together to assist and support each other in managing the response. And so that's why I think there is every reason for calm. There is every reason for people to go about their usual business. And the national cabinet working together with each of the constituent governments, their cabinets will continue to do all of their jobs. I know mine will. I know all of my colleagues’ will as well. But it's important that we see this as just a further common sense precaution to ensure we can manage the transmission of this virus in the most effective way possible. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’re willingly going to a game this weekend, which from Monday a mass gathering which you recommend people don’t attend and they are not held. How is that responsible?  

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think you misunderstand the point of what we're doing on Monday. These are stepped responses. We are not of any great concern right now in terms of where those gatherings might be today. But in the weeks ahead, in the weeks ahead, this will change. This is a matter of scaling our response. The fact that I would still be going on Saturday speaks not just to my passion for my beloved Sharks. It might be the last game I get to go to for a long time. And that's fine. In the future, I suspect we might be watching them on television, and that's okay as well. My point is there is, there is absolute reason for calm. There is absolute reason for proportionally responding to the challenges that we have here. I'm very comfortable about it. My colleagues are very comfortable about it. Governments will take decisions, sports bodies, other organisations, will take sensible decisions. But right now, there is not that great risk. There is not that immediate threat. But these are things that will be scaled up in the weeks ahead.

JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy, was Your advice to Government that there should be this two-tiered approach, things that are essential to go ahead above 500 and then non essential [inaudible]. And Prime Minister, will Parliament need to change? Up to 6,000 people in a sitting week coming up. Is there a concern that there could be a spread there?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would consider Parliament essential. And it certainly will be when Parliament resumes at the federal level, because we'll be passing the many measures that relate to the economic stimulus package as well as the health response that we've articulated this week. I think there will be issues to work through between now and then regarding the public galleries and things of that nature - that's just common sense planning - and that will be done as I imagine many venues will do the same thing. And over the course of the next couple of days, the AHPPC will be providing further revised that so we can provide further guidelines and instructions to the community about how this will be worked out on the ground. But Parliament's essential. Going to school’s essential. Going to work’s essential. Going, and going and getting about your normal business, taking your kids to preschool, all of these things will continue. Going to university lectures. This step we're taking today, we're flagging for Monday, is just about a scalable, precautionary response. Brendan, did you want to -

DR. MURPHY: Yeah, and the recommendation was very much non-essential. This is a proportionate, early response to get ahead of the curve. And so that the AHPPC was strongly of the view that it should be non-essential.

JOURNALIST: what is the threshold though? You see things like schools closing down in lockdown, like we have seen in Italy. When is the time when that would need to be done?  

DR. MURPHY: Well, that sort of measure would be considered when there's much more widespread community transmission.

PRIME MINISTER: And that type of the decision would be made by the states and territories. But helpfully, that decision, because of their strong determination and commitment and unified support today, would enable them to make that decision based on a consistent approach that you can see right across the country.

JOURNALIST: Gladys Berejiklian, if going to school is essential, what does that mean for the schools that in your state that, in your state Daniel Andrews as well, that have shut down because people have tested positive. Will schools now remain open or should all schools be shut? 

THE HON. GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN MP, PREMIER OF NEW SOUTH WALES: Certainly today’s announcement or decision from Monday doesn't change at all. What's been occurring in New South Wales, and I daresay in other states, if someone, if a student is identified as having the virus, we’ll go into the normal process we've been adopting, which is shutting down the school until we've contained, contacted all the close contacts of that person and reopen the school when we're ready to do so. That doesn't change. But what is really critical is, is school is essential. It's safe to go to school. And when it's not, we'll shut down that particular school and work with the school community to reopen at the appropriate time. And the other important thing is I do want to commend our authorities that the feedback we've had from parents and the school community is about the communication is critical. It's really important during this process to make sure that if there is an identified case, that's dealt with appropriately. But today's decision from Monday doesn't impact at all our existing policy. In fact, it puts all of us on alert to make sure that we continue to be strident and vigilant. We're managing the spread appropriately. We want to reduce it further. And that's why today's announcement is so important. 

JOURNALIST: So you’re not considering any further mandatory shutdowns of schools, particularly in some of those hot spot areas, like North, North West?

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: No. There's no reason for us to do that. But I do want to stress this is an evolving situation. If we feel that anybody's health is compromised, if we feel there's a great risk to the community, we'll take those decisions. What we decide today may be different from next week and the week after. We have to make very clear that it's an evolving situation. But at this stage, there's no reason for us to change the existing policy we've been adopting in New South Wales. But again, that's really advice we'll take from the health experts. And to this point, we'll continue to maintain that policy. 

PRIME MINISTER: We've got a question over here.

JOURNALIST: In hot spots, should people be avoiding busy shopping centres? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well again, people can go about their normal, essential business that they do each day. That's the advice we're receiving from the AHPPC. We will continue to maintain a very pragmatic, but cautious approach to manage what is occurring with the virus in Australia. You take incremental steps. You take those based on the best medical advice and the best way, I said last night, everyone has a role to play in this. And one of those roles is to ensure that people just remain calm about these things. Take the advice that has been provided about when it's being put in place and to work cooperatively with that, to be patient, to understand that we understand that this would mean there will be some events scheduled into the future which will be disrupted and that will cause some inconvenience. And we understand that. But this gives people the time to respond to this, to plan for it, to organise for it. That's why it's not a snap decision that all comes into effect on one afternoon. It's not that nature of a health sensitivity. It's not that nature of a position that has been put in place that requires immediate effect. It's about a scaled-up effect that can enable an easily administerable transition.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what advice has Treasury provided about the impact that this will have on the economy? Just yesterday you announced $17.6 billion worth of stimulus. Is that now enough? 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, we had always anticipated, well yes, we believe that the, what we've put in place just this week was designed to deal with these types of impacts. We've always known that the economic impact of this health crisis is going to be significant. And that's why the measures that we've put in place, that we've announced this week are important. But as we discussed today, and indeed and Dan might want to speak to this, but the the Governor of the Reserve Bank made it very clear this morning that the levers of fiscal policy need to do their job here, and that the automatic stabilisers that kick in to your Budget - which is the welfare spend and these sorts of things, which will put great pressure on all of our budgets, they should be allowed to do that job. And the additional investment that needs to be made by governments at the moment to support the economy, to support jobs, to keep businesses in business, to see us through this period, that is all very important. And there was a very clear and resounding advice that came both from Dr. Lowe this morning and Dr. Kennedy, that that's what our Budgets need to do at the moment. We need to put our Budgets to work to keep people in work. But Dan you might want comment -

THE HON. DANIEL ANDREWS MP, PREMIER OF VICTORIA: Yeah, I think the Prime Minister summarises very well, the presentation that we got from senior officials, at both the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the head of Treasury level, all of us have to keep on investing in roads and bridges and hospitals and schools and all the kind of stuff that we do each and every day. That's how we will try and stabilise what will be a really big shock to the Australian economy, to the global economy. That's why the stimulus package announced yesterday was such good news. That's why the health partnership that we've been able to agree to today. All too often we squabble about health, not at this COAG. We are all united. We are all absolutely determined to work together to make sure that we keep people well, that we have less incidence of this virus and this disease than would otherwise be the case, and therefore have less people die. That's what's driving this unity. And I think it's a credit to this forum that we're able to do that.

PRIME MINISTER: Hang on, we've got another question down here. We’re just sharing them around. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’ve touched on this potentially being your last NRL game, does that mean that they will be behind closed doors after this weekend?

PRIME MINISTER: I'm sure that Todd Greenberg, and others from the AFL, I'm sure they've been considering various scenarios that they would have to work through as to how their competitions would run under this type of an arrangement. And I'll leave those decisions to them as to how they put those in place. You know, we run many things, standing, sitting at this table at the moment, but the NRL and the AFL aren't one of them. And we'll leave them to make their decisions about how they manage those issues. But we'll set the ground rules about how these events can be run in the future. And I have no doubt that there'll be strong cooperation from all of the codes as to how they manage it.

JOURNALIST: What about churches? There are some churches that have a lot of people, well over 500 every Sunday, are they essential or non-essential?

PRIME MINISTER: I know. Well, again, that is an organised gathering. And while I always consider it essential for me to go along, I think any of those social gatherings that are organised, that don't involve your daily work, or your education, or things of that nature, then obviously I think church organisations and church groups are going to have to make arrangements as well, in relation to how large their gatherings are. Now, I know because I go to one of those churches where there are a lot of people that go along. I suspect they'll do something common sense, like hold multiple services at different periods of time, over the course of a weekend, so all of their parishioners can come along. But having more than a particular amount in one place at one time, I would have no doubt that they would honour the advice that is being given to them about how many people should get together in one place on an organised basis, as Brendan says, for several hours. 

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister does that mean that you won’t go to your normal church service? 

PRIME MINISTER: No. I have no doubt that the church services that I go to regularly will be able to comply with the instruction that will be given, and I am pretty sure that our pastors would put some pretty common sense arrangements in place.

JOURNALIST: Why Monday? And Brendan is that the day that you advised?

DR. MURPHY: It was the advice of this, as we said before, we are getting ahead of the curve. We think that by that time we'll start to see again a few more cases of community transmission. We’ve, there's no immediacy about this, but we need to get ahead of the curve. And so the recommendation was Monday, and the Premiers and the Prime Minister agreed with that. It wouldn't have mattered if they'd made a decision one or two days either side. It was felt that that was a reasonable time to progress.

JOURNALIST: Has the advice been passed on to the NRL and the AFL and other codes yet? 

PRIME MINISTER: We've just literally made these decisions in the space of the last hour. And so the first people that we've communicated that to is directly to the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what are the factors that might lead to this ban coming to an end? Or the recommendation coming to an end? 

PRIME MINISTER: Medical advice. I mean, this is how we're making these decisions. We're making decisions on the basis of the best expert advice and that it will, certainly the case when it comes to the medical issues and the health issues we have to consider. But as the National Cabinet continues to to meet week on week, I have no doubt we'll be receiving recommendations, and advice, and policy advice across a whole range of issues that need to be managed in response to the coronavirus; Supply chain issues, economic issues, things of that nature, we'll be sharing a lot of information. I mean, each of the Governments obviously still have to make all their own decisions, which they're all incredibly competent to make. But what we're doing here through this National Cabinet is ensuring that we're getting a genuinely national response. That we're getting a consistent response. And I think, and importantly for Australians, to reassure you that everybody is working together to keep you safe and to try and disrupt your daily life as little as is necessary.

JOURNALIST: Can we expect a mass public education campaign on this? And is it acceptable that there hasn’t been a large-scale in the past two months?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this, this coronavirus event has been scaling up over the course of the last few months. That is true. Every single day you've seen the Chief Medical Officer, or his, or the Deputy Chief Medical officer providing this advice. I thank the media for the way that they've been reporting this information. Social media campaigns on behalf of, on a public information basis, have already commenced. The Federal Cabinet has already put $30 million into a campaign that won't be too far away when it comes to public advertisements and information packages. The website contains very clear advice at what people can and can't do. The travel advice when it relates to Smart Traveller has also been very clear. The public information and messaging you've seen at airports have also been very clear, and I do thank businesses and others, who have been displaying this sort of information in public areas, and I think that's been very helpful. So this will continue to scale-up. And this will still be many months ahead of us, as we work through this. And what you've seen, is governments right across the country getting ahead, working together to stay ahead. And I can tell you, we've all going to keep our head.

JOURNALIST: PM, you announced a sizeable stimulus package to combat the impacts of this, the virus yesterday at the federal level. Here in New South Wales, the most populous state and the one with the most cases of COVID-19. Should the New South Wales Government be putting in its own stimulus plan? And in your view, Premier Berejiklian, is that something you can do? 

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Certainly. Today can I say, we were very grateful to learn about the details of the Federal Government's package, but also to hear directly from the Governor of the Reserve Bank, the head of the Federal Treasury, and to get up-to-date information, which myself and my colleagues were appraised of. And they gave us good direction on the type of initiatives we should be looking at. So we will now take back that advice to our State Treasuries, to our State Treasurers, and formulate our respective responses. But all of us are committed to doing our bit. All of us want to make sure we get it right. And it is more important for us to get it right than pond resources where it's not going to make a difference. And the key thing for us as an economy, at a state level, and obviously at a national level is to keep the jobs going, to make sure that if there is any downturn in activity, that we keep jobs growth there. To make sure that at the end of this process we can have a sustainable growth projection because we know the next two quarters will be very difficult.

JOURNALIST: Will you, will you follow Donald Trump –

PRIME MINISTER: Hang on, I think John had one. He's been very patient there. 

JOURNALIST: Thanks. [inaudible] Premier, with respect, coming along here today you’ve only just discovered that there might be a need to stimulate the economy? 

PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Not at all. And can I just say New South Wales, we've recently put in an extra $2 billion of stimulus in regard to the bushfire recovery. We also have in place already payroll tax cuts which cut in and give back $400 million to business. We have already a number of things in place. However, off the back of the advice we've received from the federal stimulus package, because the really important thing is for us not to be working in counter to each other, but together. So now that we have a good picture of what the federal stimulus package looks at, we can now then make our own assessments as to how best we can put our additional resources. But if you're talking about the existing arrangements, we have in New South Wales, let me assure you, we've probably spent over and above in excess of $2 to $3 billion in the last few months alone which in itself provides some level of stimulus, but clearly with the new developments will consider more arrangements as well.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] are we going to [inaudible] travel ban to Australia?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, that's not the advice that we have at present from the AHPPC. What we're saying today is that Australians should reconsider any need they have to travel overseas for non-essential travel. I think that's, given the spread of the coronavirus to so many countries now across Europe, including to the UK, the United States and throughout the world, I think this is a very common sense measure to put in place at this point. Up until this time, that has not been the advice. But, you know, even a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about the number of countries through whom the coronavirus had spread was less than 50. It's well over 100 now and more are added each and every day. And so as you see things move to a pandemic phase, then these are the sorts of measures you put in place and you do it at the right time.

Australia called the need for a response to a pandemic situation more than two weeks ago. The World Health Organisation called it yesterday. So we have been ahead of the curve on this. And what Dr. Murphy is saying today in the advice that we've had from the AHPPC is you've got to stay ahead of the curve. And it's much easier to implement what we're talking about today, which is for non-essential, organised public gatherings of 500 or more. Much easier to do that right now where the level of risk is very, very low, very low. And you can get that practice in place. People can become accustomed and used to it, because in the months ahead, that issue would become, you know, more acute and more urgent. And we will already have those arrangements in place, and whatever other measures are considered necessary.

JOURNALIST: Do you anticipate you will ban travel from Europe as the US has?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the advice we've had from the AHPPC has been not to do that. See, after a while, what happens with incoming travel is we're seeing the level of travel around the world significantly reduce. And we have moved very quickly to ban travel from areas that were most affected. Obviously, firstly, it was Hubei and then mainland China and then Iran and South Korea and Italy. Those issues, as Dr Murphy I'm sure would explain after time, have a diminished return on them. I mean, to give you an idea, when we started this process, there was about 10,000 people coming from China every day. That number today is around about 100 or less. And they are Australians and residents returning. That significantly reduces the risk of people who may be exposed to the virus coming into Australia. So what we've announced today is no different to that. If you don't have a large number of gatherings of people of more than 500, that is not essential, and that is organised, then that just reduces the amount of opportunities there are for the virus to be able to spread. So it's just quite a practical precautionary step that is a very common sense thing to do at this stage of the cycle where it is much easier to do, where the sensitivity and the acute need is very low.

DR BRENDAN MURPHY: So I think travel bans only affect non-citizens and permanent residents, and you can't stop your own citizens coming back. And most of the people now travelling to Australia are people coming home. So they're all, most of the cases were imported from Iran and there've been a number, have been Australian citizens coming back. So as the Prime Minister said when you've got well over 100 cases, if you're just putting bans on all of these countries, would do very little to stop importation because most of the importation we're seeing is Australians coming home.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean Donald Trump is wrong [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: He's been making decisions for the United States. We'll make decisions for Australia. It's not our job to do commentaries and what other countries are doing. It's our job to protect the health of Australians, to keep Australians in jobs, to keep business in business, and to ensure that as a nation we bounce back strongly on the other side. That's what this National Cabinet is going to do. 

JOURNALIST: Can I clarify what medical equipment is, you mentioned there was supply chain disruptions to medical equipment [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER: I'll ask Dr Murphy to speak to that.

DR BRENDAN MURPHY: So there is an issue with some of the consumables, a temporary issue with what are used to do the COVID-19 testing at the moment across the world. There's been a huge call on it. And so we in part in Australia, that's been precipitated by the fact that we've done a lot of testing in the last few weeks on people who probably didn't meet the testing criteria. They were worried, people who hadn't been returned travellers. So we're working through that. We're working through a new testing paradigm so that we can make sure that doctors only refer those people who have a reasonable prospect of having a positive test. And we're also working through ways to significantly improve that supply chain issue. It's a temporary issue, but it relates to the fact that a number of countries have, where these consumables are made, have probably put export controls over them to keep them for their own use and we'll work through it. We've got world leading medical technology and we will fix that issue. But it has caused a temporary issue with the scale of the testing that we can do at the moment.

JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy, does what has been announced here differ in any way to what you recommended behind closed doors? And secondly, what will be the test or the threshold for community transmission that would see mass gatherings banned rather than making a recommendation they don't go ahead?

DR BRENDAN MURPHY: So the recommendation is exactly as decided by AHPPC before I went to meet the premiers and the Prime Minister. Their recommendation is that we state that mass gatherings of 500 should be encouraged, as the Prime Minister has said, to be not proceeded with. We are going to work, as the expert advice, over the weekend to work out what the implications of that are and to give advice to governments on the finer details of that. We haven't thought that through fully yet and that work is going on and we'll be presenting that to governments. In terms of, there is no magic figure about what would precipitate further advice. One of the things we have learnt in any pandemic we learnt in the swine flu pandemic, is that every outbreak is different. It will manifest itself differently in different cities. You might take decisions in one city or state that are different from others at a particular time. There's no magic number. We have to look at the proportionate risk. That's why we meet every single day. We have met every single day for the last two months and as has the CDNA, the technical advisory group, meeting every day. So our governments expect that and they expect us to respond according to the changing circumstances. 

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'm going to wrap it up there. Can I again, thank all of my colleagues here today? Can I thank you for your commitment to the national project here and the national task. And as I said, we'll be meeting each week as a National Cabinet to address these issues. And obviously we'll be providing further information as we make decisions and as each jurisdiction makes their own decisions in their own areas. So thank you all very much.