Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, has tested positive to Covid-19 while on a visit to the United States.
The government says Joyce – who was in London earlier this week and met with the British justice secretary, Dominic Raab, and the Australian high commissioner to the UK, George Brandis – will isolate in the US until it is safe for him to return to Australia.
Joyce’s office said the deputy prime minister had tested positive while in Washington DC after experiencing mild symptoms. Joyce said he chose to get tested.
“Remaining members of the delegation have tested negative,” Joyce’s office said in a statement issued on Thursday morning Australia time.
“Mr Joyce will remain in isolation until further advice.”
The statement did not specify when and where Joyce is suspected of acquiring the infection.
In an interview on Sky News, Joyce said he didn’t know when he acquired it – but he said the UK was crowded with people preparing for Christmas and going shopping.
“You wouldn’t think there’s a pandemic on in areas of the UK,” Joyce said.
While in isolation he said he planned to watch cricket, do some paperwork and read a book. He indicated it had not changed his ideas on the need to move on from the pandemic.
“I’m still of the same view – you know, we can’t just shut the whole place down,” Joyce said.
“The world’s got to move on. It’s not economically possible for any nation to go into permanent shutdown – you’ll go broke.”
Joyce added that it was “terribly important” to “work out how we keep people out of hospitals” and also that people get vaccinated – and then work out the best way to “get our lives back to as normal as we can”.
“I hope that in the future, rather than being isolated, this is like the flu, if you get it you go home and you manage it yourself. With the diligence of people, like you get a flu shot every year, get a Covid vaccine every year.
“I mean that’s my dream – where the reality is I don’t know, but that is my dream.”
Asked whether it had changed his perspective at all, Joyce replied: “Not yet – I’m not dying here … I’m feeling like I have a slight to mild flu, so no, it hasn’t really changed my perspective. Maybe if you call me in a few days and hear me gasping for air I’ll have a different interview for you.”
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, who has been in text message contact with Joyce, said the deputy prime minister had had two tests in the UK that came back negative, before the third test in the US came back positive.
Morrison said the government was “following all the usual protocols that you would follow in these circumstances”, and he took the opportunity to urge Australians to keep their vaccination up to date.
“He tells me he’s feeling alright, apart from the mild illness, and he has been vaccinated,” Morrison told reporters in Geelong on Thursday.
“What we do know already is that the vaccinations do have an impact on the seriousness of the disease and that’s why it’s so important to get vaccinated. It’s another important reminder why the booster is also so important and I encourage everybody to get their boosters.”
The deputy leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, wished Joyce “all the best for his recovery”.
“He’s isolating in the US until it’s safe for him to come home and we wish him all the best for his recovery,” Littleproud said.
I’ve been in touch with Barnaby this morning, he let me know he tested positive for COVID-19.
He’s isolating in the US until it’s safe for him to come home and we wish him all the best for his recovery.
— David Littleproud MP (@D_LittleproudMP) December 8, 2021
Joyce had been in London earlier this week. On Monday he met with Grant Shapps, the UK’s transport secretary, to discuss transport issues and the Aukus security partnership. He also met with Raab, the justice secretary, and Brandis, Australia’s top diplomat in London.
Great to meet Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, @barnaby_joyce today. We discussed the strength of the UK 🇬🇧 / Australia 🇦🇺 relationship, the value of our AUKUS alliance and how levelling up our transport systems will deliver jobs and prosperity across our countries🚘🚂🚢 pic.twitter.com/YhaPtEDgyr
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 6, 2021
Joyce is not the first Australian cabinet minister to test positive to Covid.
Peter Dutton, then home affairs minister, confirmed in March last year he had tested positive for coronavirus and was admitted to hospital in Queensland, shortly after returning to Australia after meetings with senior Trump administration officials.