A national emergency centre that evolved to respond to a measles outbreak in 2019 has clocked up two years of service as bushfires rolled into COVID-19 and kept public servants at the forefront of Australians’ safety.
The National Incident Centre, headquartered in the health department’s Canberra offices, has been where many of the actions to protect the lives and health of Australians have stemmed from.
At its peak during the coronavirus pandemic, 200 public servants staffed the centre from the health, prime minister and cabinet, foreign affairs and trade departments and from the Australian Border Force.
Health minister Greg Hunt acknowledged the “critical” role the public servants had played as the centre notched up its second year on Tuesday.
“I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to all those officials who work or have worked in the NIC over the past two years, and the teams supporting them from across the Australian Public Service,” Hunt said.
“Their service continues to be critical to the effectiveness of Australia’s response to COVID-19.”
He said staff were continuing to provide support to states and territories including contact tracing and case interviews, and in recent months had shifted to support the staged reopening of Australia to travel.
“Their support through contact tracing has resulted in more than 15,000 notifications to various authorities on the movement across borders of people with COVID-19 to date,” Hunt said.
Originally coined the National Incident Room, the health department established the centre in November 2019 in response to a measles outbreak in Samoa. It then led the Black Summer bushfires response, and Australia’s response to the White Island volcanic eruption in New Zealand in early 2020.
The centre has been Australia’s primary means of communicating with the World Health Organisation during the pandemic, distributes PPE from the national medical stockpile to states and territories and through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee provides advice to national cabinet.
“As we return to many of the freedoms we took for granted before COVID-19, it is important to acknowledge the service of all those who have been involved in the heath response to the pandemic,” Hunt said.
“The officials in the NIC have done, and continue to do, an incredible job in helping protect the lives and health of Australians.”