Date published: 
2 July 2020
Media event date: 
1 July 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Good afternoon, Paul Kelly Acting Chief Medical Officer here to give the COVID-19 update here in Australia. So first of all, the numbers. We continue to have new cases particularly in Victoria. So our current total is now 7,920. Which means there were 87 new cases confirmed yesterday. Of those, there was 14 in New South Wales, all overseas acquired, all in quarantine, and then 73 new cases in Victoria, almost all of those associated with the hot spots in the north of Melbourne. We have had no new deaths, 104, therefore, remains the total. And most people have recovered.

So despite that increase over the last week or so in Melbourne, we have less than 400 cases currently active in Australia, 18 in hospital. And 3 in intensive care. So we are continuing to look a lot better when you consider the global situation of over 10 million cases continuing to rapidly rise in most countries. A lot of testing is being done, particularly in Victoria. We now have reached a milestone of 2.5 million tests since the beginning with almost 50,000 new tests yesterday alone.

So, I'd like to address specifically the issues in Victoria. That's those hot spots in the northern and north-western corridor of Melbourne and other post codes. I won't go into the details; our Victorian colleagues have been talking about that a lot in the last 24 hours. But I just do want to absolutely stress that whilst this is an issue in Victoria at the moment, this is very much a national response.

We are continuing, and personally I'm continuing to speak with my colleague Brett Sutton there in Victoria every day. I think, 3 or 4 times yesterday, actually. And we are very much impressed with the way they have come up with an innovative and proportionate solution, we hope, but certainly an approach to looking at this- these outbreaks in Melbourne.

And I'd really like to stress that as Premier Andrews did yesterday in his news conference, that this is being led by science. There is science in the laboratory, there is science in the epidemiology, and this is the way that Australia has always looked at this problem, from the beginning, and it continues to be the way that we are addressing this problem right now.

And so this lockdown in those areas of Melbourne is an approach similar to what we did in north-western Tasmania on the basis of where the cases are, how they are being transmitted, and the risk that poses to the wider community, not only in Melbourne, not only in Victoria, but for the whole of the country.

And so, this is a very important moment for the pandemic here in Australia and the Victorian authorities in my view are doing exactly what is required and continuing that very close door to door surveillance and door-to-door testing, as well as the other measures that were announced yesterday to get on top of this problem at the source. And so that is a really crucial element of our response right now. And we'll be looking very closely as to how that works out in the coming days and weeks.

 So, I will leave it there. I'm sure there's plenty of questions.

QUESTION: 

I understand that you just said that the response that you have done in Victoria has been informed by what you learned in Tasmania. What did you learn from Tasmania and what has changed in the way you've responded to outbreaks since then?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, Tasmania, thinking back some weeks now, even months, there was an issue that arose in Burnie, initially, and then the whole of the north-western part of Tasmania was seen to be at risk of a widespread community outbreak. So, a relatively rural or small town situation, quite different to a large urban area like Melbourne.

But what did we learn from that? We learnt that going hard and going quickly was important. And we looked at the 3 main weapons that we have, really, to fight this virus, in the absence of a vaccine, in the absence of universally effective treatment. And what are they? That's the test, trace, and isolate component, which is being done, was done in north-western Tasmania, continues now to be done in Victoria.

Lots of testing, 20,000 tests there yesterday, door-to-door testing, lots of mobile, pop-up testing, et cetera. Over 1,000 staff working within Victoria doing the tracing, supported by other states. And then from midnight tonight, that enforced stay-at-home order for everyone, but particularly in those affected suburbs. But particularly for those that have tested positive and their contacts. So that's the first weapon.

The second weapon is that social isolation piece, the lockdowns, so-called, which will come into effect in those parts of Melbourne that was what was done also in north-western Tasmania.

And the third one is borders. So, as happened in north-western Tasmania, a decision was made as to where the main problem was, and to really concentrate the resources on those areas, to look at what needs to be done in retail, in those areas. To look at limiting movement outside of those areas, all of these things were done in north-west Tasmania, are being now rolled out in Melbourne. And in fact, this is the way that it has been played in many other countries in relation to these local responses to local outbreaks.

QUESTION:

In regards to how other states are responding, do you think states should be reopening their borders to all Australians, rather than excluding people from these lockdown areas, or do you think that method is actually a good idea?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So from the national perspective, my view remains that domestic borders are not the way to control this virus. But I would also say I absolutely respect the state health departments who are giving their advice to their premiers in relation to their own states. And so that's a matter for them to decide. I can understand why they have made that decision but really that's for those states that have made those decisions to defend.

QUESTION: 

[Indistinct] there obviously but view is that states should reopen their borders to all Australians and not excluding those? Just to confirm the answer to my question.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yeah, so my view has been that borders on a jurisdictional basis is not the way that we would like to see this happen. And certainly that's the national government's view.

QUESTION:

AHPPC has been reviewing the hotel quarantine protocols, what has come out of that protocol? What did you [indistinct] the outbreaks in Victoria? What is going to change moving forward?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So yes, announced yesterday by our colleagues in Victoria around the other science that's been used to guide this response. It appears at the moment, and it's still not completely clear, because not everyone has had this genomic analysis of the laboratory specimens, but it appears at the moment that there's a very strong link with an issue with the quarantine in the hotels.

So these quarantine hotels are the way we're currently welcoming home our Australians from overseas, our Australian colleagues from overseas. But also looking to protect the rest of Australia from those that have a higher rate of the disease, or at higher risk, I should say.

Now, there's been a failure of that quarantine, clearly, in Victoria. We absolutely need to learn the lessons of that. It does demonstrate how infectious this virus is and how easily it can spread when infection control is not adequate. That appears to be the issue. But this will be a judicial inquiry, that was announced yesterday by Premier Andrews and I really look forward to hearing what the results of that inquiry is.

QUESTION: 

You said this morning that forcing people to take tests was a last resort and that you would be redoubling efforts to engage with community members. But that takes a lot of time. Are you confident there's enough time to do that engagement, given that cases continue to surge?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, I think we have to be proportionate in everything we do. And I'd like to put a positive on the spin here. Not the spin, on the results. So, Premier Andrews again yesterday mentioned there had been around 900 people had refused the offer of testing when they've been going door to door in these suburbs; 11,100 have said yes, so I think that's a very important and crucial point. Most people, once it's been explained, agree. Talking to my colleague Brett Sutton today, he gave some specific examples of why people are refused. It was to do with children and so forth.

There are ways of enforcing. All the chief health officers in all of the states and territories have those powers if they need to use them, but it needs to be proportionate. So, door-to-door testing when people have no symptoms, you have to think about whether it's really important to test everybody. We certainly need to test widely. If people have symptoms and they were a suspect, that would be a completely different way of addressing this, and so that's where it could be that enforcement component.

QUESTION: 

[Indistinct] Victorian spike in cases, an outbreak, but in previous outbreaks, [indistinct] 1 workplace or an abattoir [indistinct]. Now we're seeing clusters from schools, many workplaces from— in many areas. Is it now time to call this a second wave, and if not, when?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yeah. So the second wave is an interesting concept. I think this is still localised in a particular area. So we can call it an outbreak, we could call it a cluster, we could call it a group of clusters. It's a bit academic really. The reality is that we have had an increase in cases but they are almost all in a variable defined geographic area. Most of the cases are continuing to be based on family clusters. And as I just mentioned, most of them have this link, this single link back to quarantine failure in a particular couple of hotels in central Melbourne. So, that leads me to think that this is not a widespread issue at the moment and the reason why we're taking it so seriously now is to prevent that happening.

A second wave, my view of a second wave would be much more widespread and a much larger number. But we're taking this action or the Victorians are taking this action very appropriately to prevent that.

QUESTION: 

Can I just ask about the lockdowns, is it obviously something that the Victorians are pursuing that view, support and so on. How does that logic about cordoning off people and making sure those people don't interact with others, not transfer to state border closures? It's a similar principle, right? Trying to make sure there's no interaction with different people across different states. Why is that something that doesn't… Doesn't it work? On a national level, hadn't been advocated for?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, it's a very good point. I think we all agree and I certainly agree that limitation of movement outside of places where there is definite or suspected community transmission is a very reasonable way of going forward. It's 1 of those 3 things, as I mentioned, that we can use to fight this virus. It's just the scale, really. And so my view is what we've done in north-western Tasmania, very successfully — Tasmania hasn't had a single case for many weeks now — has been now applied to Melbourne and that is an appropriate response.

QUESTION: 

So it's about the scale and the fact that it's a smaller scale, it makes it appropriate, but state border closures are just too large scale to be what you deem as appropriate?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

That's my view. And the risk of— the downside of closures of borders in terms of economics and movement of people and all of those things, it's a risk-benefit approach.

QUESTION:

What discussions has AHPPC had over the past couple of days about masks and what's your advice on that?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, our advice on masks remain the same. We actually asked, on the basis of this changed information and the epidemiology in Melbourne, we asked our expert panel on masks to look again, specifically, to see whether there was a change we needed to consider.

They've reconfirmed what they've said before and I would reconfirm what I've said and the Australian Health Protection Committee guidance has said for some time, that in general terms, masks are not needed in most circumstances, for most people, most of the time. There are some times when masks can be part of a solution, and 1 of those would be where there is a large increase in community transmission and social distancing cannot be guaranteed. Also, if people are sick, and they need to leave home for some reason, then wearing a mask would be useful. So that hasn't changed.

Victorian authorities, I know, are looking very closely at whether they need specific advice to people living in those hotspot areas. And that would be totally consistent with the national approach. Hotspot area, increased risk of transmission, masks could be part of the solution in that setting.

QUESTION: 

So simply put, should people in hotspot areas be wearing masks, yes or no?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, it's an option. And the Victorian authorities will come through with some guidance on that in the coming days. But the reality is, we have the guidance on how to use masks properly — using masks as part of a solution in terms of protection in an area where there is community transmission and you can't do all of the other things that you could normally do in terms of socially distancing. So on a train, for example, going through those areas, that would be a particular example that might be considered. But as I say, there'll be more information on that in coming days.

QUESTION: 

Just to pick up on the testing refusal of tests, you mentioned that some parents had expressed concern about their children being tested, for example. Has offering saliva tests as well as the nasal swabs seen people more inclined to take tests, to your knowledge?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Look, I don't have specific knowledge of that. But the saliva test is not quite as sensitive as the normal swab test, but it's acceptable. And I understand it is being used as part of that strategy door to door and that's clearly easier for particular patient groups, children, for example.

I'll just take a question from Dana, who's online. Dana, you have a question?

QUESTION: 

Yes, thanks Professor. I just, someone else asked the question I was intending to ask, so could I just ask you about, are you concerned about people in those hotspot suburbs leaving and moving to other areas. Brett Sutton has said that people who leave before midnight tonight won't be fined. Is there— are you concerned about a potential sort of rush to get out before the lockdown begins?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Look, I'm a great believer in sense and people will understand the issues of doing that. There's a legal component to this. The actual orders won't come into effect that will allow police to stop people, for example, until midnight tonight. And so, there's no legal basis to stop people moving at the moment. But I know that the majority of people are taking seriously this issue. And I know that compliance of people, who have been told that they are infected or at risk because they're contacts, has been very strong in those areas.

And so, I will trust the Australians to make that sensible choice. After midnight, of course, it has been announced, that the stay-at-home orders will be enforced. I believe the Premier said something like a booze bus that we all know about, will be mobile around and in those suburbs and people will be stopped and looking for cause for why they have left home if they do. So, that's a component. But let's trust people to make the right decision as the first element. And you have another one, Dana?

QUESTION: 

Yeah. Just that figure that you gave earlier, I think it was 11,000 people who agreed to a test in those 2 suburbs. Does that mean that the refusal rate is around about 10 per cent?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yeah. I'd say that— I think, yeah, that's how I came up with that figure. So let's say 10 per cent. That was figures that were discussed today, they will obviously change over time. And I know that there are a lot of effort going into — appropriate effort — going into people, explaining and having the— in the right languages and in the right way, what these tests are about. And how they'll be done and the reasons, et cetera. And I'm sure that that figure will improve as time goes by.

QUESTION: 

Can I just follow up on that, Professor? What were some of the other reasons you were told as to why people were refusing tests?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So the main 1 was around kids. But then there was some misunderstanding about what the test was about and why it was being taken. And so explaining about the COVID-19 element and why it's important is a really key component.

This is a very multicultural area of Melbourne. Many different ethnic groups and language groups and so not only the translation, but also, the cultural sensitivity is a really important component and Victorians realise that. We've been doing a lot of work in that area at the national level and all states, in fact, have been very attuned to that from the beginning. You remember issues within the Chinese community early on. And so this is an even more complex situation.

QUESTION: 

Sorry, just one more follow-up. You said you translated your campaign into several languages. But a lot of community leaders have expressed concern that there's a lack of grassroots campaign going on, saying it's not enough just to simply dub or translate a campaign, but there needs to be efforts with community leaders on the ground. Are you aware of that? Do you agree with that? Do you think more work needs to be done with— in terms of grassroots efforts on the ground?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, absolutely aware of it and I understand the issues, and we'll redouble our efforts in relation to that. In terms of on the ground effort, there is a lot of that and perso— [audio error] is the campaign, but there's the person to person close discussion which is also a key element of that. And the Victorian Government asked on Monday night for assistance from the Commonwealth for 500 community engagement workers and we supplied those. They're in the field.

QUESTION: 

Of the cases that have come out of Victoria over the past week, do you have an indication if any of those cases were linked to the protest? Whether they were [indistinct] the protest, or whether people who went to the protest tested positive? And do you know how people— you're finding out whether people were at the protest, whether they're asked if they, after they were— after they test positive, when they're being tested, what's the— is there a protocol around that?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, there is no evidence that there was— has been any spread from the Black Lives Matter protest. That doesn't preclude the important message: this is not a time to be having mass protests, particularly in Melbourne. The risk of— the fact that we haven't found any more cases from those protests doesn't prove that the protests are safe. And just to be clear, it's not just protests, it's any mass gathering. And so there are very clear and strong restrictions on mass gatherings that are part of this process that's being worked through for those hotspots.

QUESTION: 

Again, looking at the national perspective, [indistinct]… were saying that the spike in Victoria, that there is a risk that it gets in the way of how we recover from COVID, you know, going forward. Do you agree with that? That it puts at risk the national response to this pandemic?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Sure. Any outbreak of this size is a backwards step. We've have seen what's happened on the local situation and we've seen how that's played out by other state governments in relation to border openings. So, yes, clearly it has affected. I must say, though, that we've said from the beginning, that that is part of our current strategy, the suppression strategy is that we need to keep looking and we will find outbreaks from time to time. The crucial part is that they don't spread. And so this one is bigger than we would have hoped it would have happened. But there it is and we are now very aware of how many people there are, that are affected, and we are redoubling our efforts to find any further cases and to minimise that spread. And so that's our focus right now.

QUESTION: 

Epidemiologists have been observing [indistinct]… critical about that suppression not elimination strategy, saying if we were aiming for zero cases from the beginning, a lot of this might have played out differently in Victoria and other. What's your response to that criticism?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Look, we looked at a range of ways that we might respond to this. We settled on the suppression strategy. That's what we've been following all along and you know, that's the way we are. And we have this outbreak, we're going to get on top of it. And elimination of a virus like this, so infectious, and infectious not only when people are sick, but when they're asymptomatic, in my view, is a fool's errand. We have chosen this, this is what we're doing and we're responding in the way we need to, to this outbreak. And we'll continue to do so.

Thanks very much.

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