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

LISA MILLAR:

Well the country's eyes are on Victoria as the state is still struggling to wrestle control over coronavirus outbreaks. The new acting Chief Medical Officer of Australia, Professor Paul Kelly joins us now from Canberra. Thanks so much for joining us.

And this is the first time we had you on the program with this new title. So congratulations and the first thing you're dealing with, of course, is what's going on in Victoria. Do localised shutdowns like this work?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

This has absolutely been part of our plan. If we did have an outbreak exactly as we're seeing now in certain parts of Melbourne, that we would do a localised shutdown and we've had some experience with this in relation to north-west Tasmania. Very different situation in a large urban area like Melbourne, but those principles are the ones we're following. And similar to health authorities all around the world, I saw today that Leicester, a large city in the middle part of England, is doing exactly the same thing. And so it's been in our plan all along. We'd hoped we wouldn't have do it, but here we are and a very proportionate and appropriate response being made by the Victorian authorities as announced yesterday.

LISA MILLAR:

What can people expect if they're in those areas in regards to what's ahead for them health-wise, testing, border controls?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, we've got 3 main weapons in relation to this virus. It's a very infectious virus. We need to use those weapons as appropriately when they're needed, and so those are the test, trace and isolate response. That's happening — has been happening for some time, well over 100,000 tests and mostly in those hot spot areas in Melbourne since last week.

So lots of testing happening, lots of contact tracing, there's 1,300 people in Victoria right now doing contact tracing, as well as other states and territories assisting with this response. And the isolation component, which is now an enforced stay-at-home order for those areas. So those things are happening. The social isolation elements, the lockdown and the disruption to retail and so forth, unfortunate but important in those areas.

And the third thing is really what's happening in terms of enforcement is a border around those particular suburbs. Now, as you mentioned in the news just now, that's not a hard border, but it's certainly going to be enforced, and that's something that's very welcomed and necessary at this time.

LISA MILLAR:

How much of a factor of asymptomatic cases being with these clusters?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, there has been some asymptomatic cases detected. Once you do have these mass testing and even door-to-door testing, which is happening at the moment in those hotspot suburbs, you will pick up people that are either in their early stages of illness or are, indeed, asymptomatic. And so those numbers that we're seeing— very good news is that very few people are sick enough to go to hospital. There are only very few cases in hospital and only one in ICU right around Australia right now. So these are mainly mild cases. But the crucial point there is that mild cases are infectious. Asymptomatic cases can be infectious and it's that spread through the community that we're trying to respond to now and to stamp out before it gets further.

LISA MILLAR:

Did it shock you that so many people are refusing tests?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, I believe Premier Andrews mentioned over 900 people have refused tests. I think let's look at the positive. There's been over 100,000 people who have accepted a test and I think it talks to — and Victorians are absolutely aware of this — that Victorian authorities, that explanations in multiple languages and getting people on the ground that can work with communities is absolutely crucial to this effort.

And they've reached out to us and the Commonwealth Government to assist in that area. There'll be 500 people from our Commonwealth staff in Victoria will be put on the ground, talking through with people. They're very experienced in community engagement. And I think that's a crucial thing. And there is enforcement powers, they're is available if required. So that's a decision for the Victorian authorities.

LISA MILLAR:

Paul Kelly, I know you get asked this almost every day, but we know a lot more about this disease now than we did just a matter of months ago. All the talk about masks, do you— have you changed your mind about whether Victorians or people in those hotspot areas, priority areas, should be wearing them?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

I haven't changed my mind and we have very clear national guidance in relation to masks. And I think we— we've been very clear that masks are not the 100 per cent answer that some people want to make them, but they can, in certain circumstances, be part of the solution. And one of those circumstances is a large community-based outbreak. And so in certain circumstances in those hotspots areas in Melbourne, it may be useful as part of the response to rethink mask use. And I know that the Victorian Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, who I speak to at least daily, is working through that with his staff right now and we'll back him in with that because that has always been part of our response, that in certain circumstances, mask use may be part of the solution.

LISA MILLAR:

So that's what we might see today — a suggestion that people in those priority areas actually pop them on?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, I'll leave that to Brett and his staff to work through and he'll be, I'm sure, making announcements in relation to that at an appropriate time.

LISA MILLAR:

Sounds like that's the way we're heading, though, from your comments.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

It's always been part of our plan and so let's see how that progresses. As specific advice to those particular places, that's a matter for Brett, as I say.

LISA MILLAR:

All right. Paul Kelly, really appreciate you spending time on the program. No doubt, we will talk again. Thanks.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

You're welcome. Thank you.

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