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

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Well contact tracing is emerging as one of the big hurdles facing authorities in Victoria and New South Wales.

ALLISON LANGDON:

There've now been more than 900 cases of coronavirus in Victoria with no identified source. Health officials in New South Wales are concerned about three mystery cases from a cluster in Sydney's south-west. For the latest, we are joined by acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly from Canberra. A very good morning to you, Professor.

PAUL KELLY:

Morning.

ALLISON LANGDON:

When the Victorian numbers are so high, is New South Wales overreacting to three mystery cases?

PAUL KELLY:

Look, real shout out to the contact tracers in New South Wales. They are doing an extraordinary job of working through this web of transmission in this virus. It's so infectious and so quickly becomes infectious when people get sick. So they are chasing down all of the others. So the fact that there is only three so far and in fact, they're onto that case again this morning is a remarkable effort.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

I'm fascinated by the contact tracers. I think the job must be incredibly difficult and when you're talking about so many cases where they don't know origins, it makes it obviously very difficult. We're facing, are we not, a very tough couple of weeks?

PAUL KELLY:

Yeah, we are. Certainly, in Melbourne very difficult situation with so many cases. When you think about where we were just three weeks ago, I'd say about 30 per cent of the cases we've had since the beginning of this epidemic have been diagnosed during that time and most of those in Melbourne.

And so that lockdown is starting to show an affect though. We looked at some data yesterday at the Australian Health Protection Committee [sic] about mobility around Melbourne; that's decreased very rapidly and also taking that strong message about physical distancing. That's going to make a big difference in the coming weeks. And it's something should also be happening in parts of Sydney this weekend.

Please, please, take those messages very carefully about limiting the number of people you're gathering with as well as keeping physical distance and washing your hands.

ALLISON LANGDON:

So how soon do you think we'll start to see the numbers drop or decline in Melbourne? Because we heard from the Chief Health Officer there yesterday, that things could get worse.

PAUL KELLY:

So there is a- there's- it's something we need to know about this virus. There's some biological component to the virus which we can't change and one of those is how long it takes from one generation of cases to infect others and so on. And so there's about a two week lag between anything we do today, will take two weeks, at least, to be able to show a difference on a population level.

 So we're just into our second week now of those lockdowns in Melbourne. Of course, we need to wait a little longer to see how effective that is. And I'm confident it will be effective, but I also agree with Brett Sutton that we will see more cases before it starts to decline.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

There are some perplexing things to us people on the outside of this who don't have expertise medically that you do. For example, why it's taken so long for masks to be mandatory in aged care homes?

PAUL KELLY:

So certainly, with aged care homes are major concern. We know who are the most vulnerable to the more serious cases of this virus. And that is the elderly, in particular and those who have chronic diseases as well, are particularly vulnerable.

So when you think about who's in aged care facilities, residents, they are old, they tend to have other illnesses. And so we need to take that seriously.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Yeah.

PAUL KELLY:

Masks have been used in outbreaks. We've just expanded that over the last few days and we've added seven million masks to the Victorian aged care facilities from the National Medical Stockpile to assist that effort.

ALLISON LANGDON:

And we're certainly hoping that's enough to get on top of the outbreaks in the 39 aged care facilities which now have COVID. I want to ask you too, the lengths that New South Wales is going to detect outbreaks. We're hearing this morning that they're checking the sewerage. I mean it is a dirty job but someone's got to do it, hey?

PAUL KELLY:

Yeah. I don't think the contact tracers are actually checking the sewerage themselves. But certainly, that's one of the things we've looked at in terms of expanding and assisting us with this effort and it's showing promise. It's still a little experimental at the moment. But we have used sewerage before looking at illicit drug use and so forth, for example. So we're used to that as a concept and that will play into our surveillance efforts.

But at the moment, it's really those disease detectives going- doing that very detailed time consuming efforts to really chase down everyone that might have been exposed and getting them to stay at home.

ALLISON LANGDON:

So I mean, in all seriousness, the sewerage checks they're doing, is that to see if perhaps there is traces of COVID in say suburbs where it hasn't yet been detected?

PAUL KELLY:

Yeah, that's where it could well be very helpful into the future. As things spread, that's one way of checking. Of course, if it's- if there's nothing detected, that's a very good sign. If it's detected in a place where you wouldn't otherwise have expected to find it, then the other resources of testing, tracing and isolation come in behind that. So it's a marker; it's not the only one but it's something for the future that we're really looking to include in our efforts.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Yeah. And Allison will be giving us a special preview of her story that she's following in regards to that very thing over the weekend. We look forward to seeing that next week. Thank you for your time.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Professor, thank you. And of course, we will keep a close eye on those numbers which will be released a little later in the morning.

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