“We will not (apologise) for the fact we are always going to prioritise public health,” Jenny Mikakos said today.
“I want to make sure healthcare workers, in particular, are (aware of) the risks. It may well be the case that people have presented to work in the past if they have been unwell. That needs to change,” Ms Mikakos said.
She was being quizzed by reporters about whether she’d been too strident in her language last week, when she said she was “flabbergasted” by the decision of Dr Chris Higgins to continue treating patients while exhibiting the symptoms of a cold.
Dr Higgins, the father of singer Missy Higgins, has since tested positive for coronavirus, after he had treated more than 70 patients while having what he thought was a mild cold.
Ms Mikakos said on Saturday she was “flabbergasted” a doctor with flu-like symptoms had continued to treat patients. Her comments caused the Australian Medical Association and Dr Higgins to see red, demanding the minister apologise for her comments.
“At the time that he returned to Australia, the guidelines did not require him to be tested,” AMA president Tony Bartone said on Sunday.
“When he did have the test, he still (didn’t) need to be tested, and indeed … those guidelines still do not require that anyone returning from the USA to be tested.
“I believe that an apology is appropriate in the circumstances.”
Dr Higgins, aged in his 70s, had a mild cold after returning from the USA on February 29 which had almost resolved two days later, so he decided to go to work.
Dr Higgins, his patients and staff at The Toorak Clinic in Melbourne are now self-isolating, along with two patients he visited at Malvern’s Mecwacare nursing home.
On Sunday, Ms Mikakos did not apologise; instead she urged everyone to play their part.
Ms Mikakos doubled down on her refusal to say sorry today, urging members of the public to “look at what’s happening internationally at the moment”.
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She said there were now “110,000 cases across the world. More cases in Australia every day. We’ve increased in Victoria the biggest jump we have had so far.”
“I’ve reached out to the GP involved and, look, I’m very happy to speak to him about this matter … My thoughts are with him. I wish him a speedy recovery. My thoughts are with his patients.”
Colleagues of Dr Higgins have started an online petition demanding Ms Mikakos apologise. The petition has now received more than 5400 signatures.