Department Reference: FOI 2777
Dear Tamer Atik
NOTICE OF DECISION UNDER SECTION 24A
OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 1982
I refer to your request of 22 August 2021 to the Department of Health (department)
seeking access under the Freedom of Information Act 1982
(Cth) (FOI Act) in the
1. Documentation proving isolation of the SARS-COV-2, Delta strain which is
confirmed by means of a purified viral sample being imaged with an electron
2. Documentation where the isolated SARSCOV2 Delta virus sample mentioned in
point (1) is exposed to healthy humans or animals and shown to cause the disease
Information about COVID-19
SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, is real. Multiple scientific studies
across the world demonstrate that highly reputable laboratory medicine experts
have isolated and sequenced the virus that causes COVID-19, demonstrating that the
virus exists, that it exists in variant forms, that it is different from the influenza virus,
and that it causes a disease that has resulted in more than 4.5 million deaths
worldwide in just over 18 months.
While the department is not the custodian of the scientific studies establishing the
existence of SARS-CoV-2, this research has informed the Australian Government’s
response to the pandemic. You can find those scientific studies in the public domain.
The department is a government agency and does not conduct scientific studies or
laboratory testing for the SARS-CoV-2 in a laboratory. Diagnostic assays using
reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) are conducted by testing
laboratories throughout Australia. For more information, please see:
In Australia, scientists at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory at
The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity were the first to isolate
SARS-CoV-2 outside of China, winning the 2020 MJA/MDA National Prize for
Excellence in Medical Research. This critical information was immediately shared
with local and overseas reference laboratories and major North American and
European virus culture collections. These peer-reviewed, evidence-based
publications provide scientific evidence for the existence of this deadly virus.
All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, change over time as part of their natural
evolution. A change may or may not give the virus a biological advantage. Existing
and emerging variants are constantly monitored using genomic surveillance to
detect those that pose or may pose an increased risk to human health.
In Australia, whole genome sequencing (WGS) of the SARS-CoV-2 genome is the
preferred way to determine the variant and mutation patterns of the virus. Some
PCR tests have been designed to detect specific SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. The
performance of these tests is still being established, and they will not identify
variants that they have not been designed for.
Attached to this email is an article published in the Daily Telegraph on
13 August 2021 that may be of interest to you.
I am authorised under subsection 23(1) of the FOI Act to make decisions in relation
to Freedom of Information requests. I am writing to notify you of my decision in
response to your request.
The FOI Act provides a mechanism for individuals to request access to documents
held by relevant entities. It is not a mechanism for asking questions or seeking
information that the entity does not hold in documents.
Appropriate steps have been taken to find documents you have requested including
consultation with relevant departmental officers and searches of departmental file
I am satisfied, on the basis of the consultation undertaken and the searches
conducted, that the department does not hold any documents referred to in your
request. While the department is not the custodian of scientific studies establishing
the existence of SARS-CoV-2 and that of its variants, this research, which is available
in the public domain, has informed the Australian Government’s response to the
As a consequence, relying on section 24A of the FOI Act, I cannot provide access to
the documents you requested.
FOI review rights
If you are dissatisfied with my decision, you may apply for a review.
Under section 54 of the FOI Act, you may apply for internal review of this decision.
In accordance with section 54B of the FOI Act, an application for internal review
must be made in writing within 30 days after the day you are notified of this
decision (or such further period as the department allows). To assist in the internal
review process, please provide reasons you consider the review of my decision is
The internal review will be carried out by another officer of this department within
30 days of receipt of your application.
An application for an internal review should be addressed to:
Mail: FOI Unit (MDP 516)
Department of Health
GPO Box 9848
CANBERRA ACT 2601
Information Commissioner review
Alternatively, under section 54L of the FOI Act, you may apply to the Office of the
Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) for review of my decision by the
Information Commissioner (IC).
In accordance with subsection 54S(1) of the FOI Act, an IC review application in
relation to a decision covered by subsection 54L(2) (access refusal decisions) must be
made in writing within 60 days after the day you are notified of this decision (if you
do not request an internal review).
More information about IC review is available on the OAIC website at:
The OAIC can be contacted by:
Phone: 1300 363 992
If you are dissatisfied with action taken by the department, you may also make a
Complaint to the department
form for lodging a complaint directly to the department is available on the
Complaint to the IC
Information about making a complaint to the IC about action taken by the
department is available on the OAIC website:
Relevant provisions of the FOI Act
The FOI Act, including the provisions referred to in this letter, can be accessed from
the Federal Register of Legislation website:
If you require clarification of any of the matters discussed in this letter you should
contact the department’s Freedom of Information Unit on (02) 6289 1666 or at
Dr Marcelle Noja
Acting Assistant Secretary
Public Health and Surveillance Branch
21 September 2021