Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Questions without notice and ministers statements




Dr READ (Brunswick) (14:24): My question is to the Premier, and it relates to the ongoing crisis in our hospitals. Our ambulance and hospital system is struggling to cope right now with more than 500 COVID inpatients, the equivalent of filling up a large public hospital, and staff are away sick and exhausted, so COVID is both reducing the number of staff and increasing their workload. We are already averaging around 100 COVID deaths each week, and so hospital staff are asking me why aren’t we doing more to prevent COVID transmission in the community as we move into winter with things like campaigns to encourage Victorians to wear masks more often indoors. What more does the government plan to do to reduce COVID transmission in the community?

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier) (14:25): I thank the member for Brunswick for his question. He does reference winter, so if I can just move away from COVID for one moment, it is not unrelated. The question is: ‘What are you doing?’. Well, just last week the Minister for Health—who I am sure would love to be here today except that he has got COVID himself—announced on behalf of the government free flu vaccinations. So the question was about winter, respiratory conditions, taking pressure off our nurses. I would have thought free flu vax—the other point too is not racing to make the announcement as if the announcement is the only thing that matters. We had a bit of that out of Canberra—vaccination announcements that were not backed up with a plan. We took the time to sit down with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, to sit down with the AMA and to sit down with the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and to develop a plan so that when we made an announcement of free flu shots they could actually get into people’s arms—a novel concept, one that we really do wish had perhaps been employed by a former federal government at a national level.

But let us not digress. The key point here is I am asked what we are doing—well, free flu shots. Flu puts enormous pressure on our health system, particularly when you think about flu and COVID together. The point I was making earlier on in response to a question from a member of the Liberal Party is of course we do have issues of deferred care, people who for the best of reasons have not gone and got care during the pandemic. They are now sicker than they would otherwise be. We do have some—not all, but we do have some—primary care providers who are refusing to see respiratory patients.

Dr Read: On a point of order, Speaker, I do not need to remind you what the question was about, but I was wondering if you could remind the Premier it was about COVID.

The SPEAKER: It was a fairly broad question. I think the Premier is being relevant to it.

Mr ANDREWS: With the greatest respect to the member for Brunswick, some GPs refusing to see patients with respiratory conditions is all about COVID. And I thought the question was actually about staff who have apparently spoken to the member for Brunswick and urged the member for Brunswick to ask me this question. In any event, regardless of what the member for Brunswick has asked, let us be very clear about this: ‘What are we doing?’ was the question. The notion that after 2½ years anyone in Victoria does not know about the efficacy of masks; that is to say—

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for South-West Coast can leave the chamber for the period of 1 hour.

Member for South-West Coast withdrew from chamber.

Mr ANDREWS: On the notion that Victorians need to be reminded about the efficacy of mask wearing, the clear public health benefits of mask wearing, together with the benefits of getting vaccinated—first dose, second dose, third dose and getting a flu shot as well or a fourth dose if you are eligible for that—the notion of hand hygiene, the notion of distancing and the notion of ‘Don’t go to work if you’ve got symptoms, instead get tested if you’ve got symptoms’—I reckon that Victorians know a bit about all of that because they have lived it for 2½ years. So, with the greatest of respect to the member for Brunswick, I do not think a further TV commercial campaign or a ‘campaign’, as he puts it, is necessarily needed. People know and understand, and that is why if you go down to the shops or on public transport or to lots of other settings, you see people making their own decision to wear a mask, just as some in this chamber made that decision today.

Dr READ (Brunswick) (14:29): I thank the Premier for his answer. SARS-CoV-2 is mainly spread through the air, but when we go into shops, bars and venues we frequently see hand sanitiser everywhere but air purifiers are much less common. The government has an excellent program subsidising air purifiers for businesses, but it seems to be little known or used. As we head into winter will the government contact all businesses and workplaces with up-to-date information on how best to reduce airborne transmission to protect their staff and customers and by extension protect our hospitals and our health workers?

Mr ANDREWS (Mulgrave—Premier) (14:29): I am indebted to my honourable friend the minister for COVID recovery. There is a program. If the question is that we ought to advertise it more, then I will take that more as a comment than anything else. There is a program. It has been quite successful. I do not accept that HEPA filters and other air filtration devices are not common. That is simply wrong. I can think of 111 000 units that have been put in every classroom in every school across our state, and that is well in advance of many other places across our country. There are many businesses that have availed themselves of that particular program, and again I would have thought that businesses across the state know only too well that doing everything you possibly can to keep COVID out of your workplace is a good thing to do. They have been doing it for the last 2½ years.

I should correct the record: it is every school. Not every classroom needs one of those filters in fact.