Acting Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly's interview on ABC Radio Sydney on 18 December 2020

Read the transcript of Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly's interview on ABC Radio Sydney on 18 December 2020 about coronavirus (COVID-19)

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SARAH MACDONALD: As you've been hearing this afternoon, the situation's rapidly changing and the next 24-48 hours are critical. People in that part of Sydney are being asked to stay home as much as they can in the next three days, the beaches have been closed, the flags are down. Long queues this afternoon for testing, and we had a very teary caller who'd been waiting six hours and then the testing line closed earlier on. So we understand it's frustrating, but it's the right thing to do.

Professor Paul Kelly is the acting Chief Medical Officer, and he joins us now on ABC Radio Sydney. Thank you so much for your sa- for your time this afternoon.

PAUL KELLY: You’re welcome Sarah.

SARAH MACDONALD: Bummer, hey? We were doing so well.

PAUL KELLY: Yeah, it's a bit of a disappointment, isn't it? But it's- we've always been saying that this could happen, and look, you know, my hat goes off to everyone in the Northern Beaches that are doing those queues, it's really important. And, sorry that's it taking time. But there has been a huge increase in the number of testing locations, and the hours that they've been there, and also the staff that are doing it. So, it's ramping up and continuing, and people should be patient and get those tests done, it's really important.

SARAH MACDONALD: It is. It's been a bit frustrating, some people get to the front of the line and then they're closed. So, hopefully more that will go for later in the afternoon or opening. We've heard of three so far

PAUL KELLY: Yeah, and I understand, actually, at least some of them are working 24 hours. So that shows the dedication of the staff there.

SARAH MACDONALD: Well, in terms of this, do you feel that we have been too complacent, in our behaviour but also, in terms of our international flight crews coming in for freight and passengers?

PAUL KELLY: So, firstly, on the complacency. I think it's quite a normal human behaviour to be celebrating the fact that we didn't have so many- many cases for so many weeks. But, you know, we have been consistent in saying, it's not over yet. When you look at what's happening overseas, there are still cases, many, many cases, millions of cases a week, in fact. And so we're very fortunate here in Australia and we still haven't got it anywhere near that same issue. But those messages we've been giving all year are important and people need to take them on board. And this is just a demonstration of why that's the case. In terms of air crew, we made a decision early on to make specific arrangements for air crew because we needed them. We need them to be working. We need the planes to be flying. That's what bringing our Australians home as well as much needed freight, particularly in the early days around personal protective equipment and the like. So those arrangements were made. We're certainly re-examining those at the moment, all state and territories and myself, I've been looking at that in AHPPC this week. And so, you know, we'll be having some further discussions with the airlines over the coming days to see what we can do to make those arrangements safer.

SARAH MACDONALD: Well, Gladys Berejiklian did say that from Tuesday they will be taken to two hotels rather than spread out over 26. And it seems that will get a lot stricter. Should that be enough?

PAUL KELLY: Look, I think the New South Wales in particular, the big issue is, is the volume. So my understanding is that they have around 3000 air crew on any particular week coming in and furloughing for their period that they need to do for the safe flying for those international routes. So it's a large number. And as you said, they were dispersed across a number of hotels. And I think it makes sense for them to be brought into a different situation at this stage of the pandemic. We've done so well, and we need to look at whatever we can do to make sure that that continues.

SARAH MACDONALD: How much power do we have, though? Because we're talking to the head of the Pilot's Association and he was saying with Qantas pilots, they're tested when they fly out and- say, for Hong Kong, they quarantine when they come back here. But the arrangements for international crews are different. So how much power do we have to ensure they are regularly tested and then make sure they comply very strictly to the requirements of being locked down while they're here?

PAUL KELLY: So, testing is important. And many of the companies that- the other airlines outside of Qantas that are coming to Australia are doing testing regularly themselves, that's been going on for some time. I know Air New Zealand, for example, has a very strong testing regime weekly. And they have particular arrangements for when they're back in their home port. So those things are there and we need to talk that through with the airline. So my sense of the airlines is they're very happy to do whatever is necessary. And they just want to have certainty about that. And to have the same rules in every state would be helpful. So that's what we're working towards.

SARAH MACDONALD: Right. Okay. The rapid testing kits would be useful here, because it was Australian invented and produced and a texter here has said, you know, it's approved in the US and available there over the counter. What an important thing to have. Could that be used more frequently with international arrivals and crews, perhaps?

PAUL KELLY: Look, there's a range of tests in Australia as distinct from the US. We have a very good system of our standard- gold standard, I would say, PCR testing, which is that- the swabs that people have got used to, and the ones that are being queued for right now in the Northern Beaches. So that's our first line, there are a range of other rapid tests which we're examining the usefulness of that at the moment, that particular test from which was an Aussie invention, so that's great, up in Brisbane. And they have had an emergency use authorisation in the states this week because there is a huge emergency going on there as distinct from here. They haven't actually applied for a registration in Australia yet. We've encouraged them this week to do so. So if they were to go through that process, then, yes, that would be one of the things we could look at as an option.

SARAH MACDONALD: Right. Paul Kelly is with us, acting Chief Medical Officer. Can we just ask you, who should be getting tested? Is it just people who have been at the venues that are listed on the New South Wales website? Or is it everyone on the Northern Beaches? Because we've had a lot of people who are keen to see people for Christmas, just feeling worried and going and getting tested? And this is perhaps increasing the queues.

PAUL KELLY: So I think the very first people that need to be tested are those that were at either the Avalon Bowling Club or the RSL, which is adjacent on the 11th or the 13th of this month. They're our number one aim, but there's- as the contact tracing exercise that's going on with the incredibly good disease detectives that are in New South Wales Health- best in the country, they are finding more venues of interest. And so I won't go through all of those. There's quite a list now on the New South Wales website, and it's being updated every time they find a new one. So anyone that has been to those definitely should be prioritising getting tests. Of course, anyone who's got COVID symptoms anywhere in Sydney, but particularly in the northern suburbs, should be going and getting tested and then follow the advice of the New South Wales Health officials.

SARAH MACDONALD: I wonder if they should have special spots for those people and then different spots for those who just want to get tested or, you know, are concerned, perhaps that would help things. I just want to clarify with you. You said at the start that you're hearing of some staff and sites working 24 hours in the northern beaches. I don't think- the testing sites aren't open 24 hours, are they? Or do you just mean they're working around the clock to test the results?

PAUL KELLY: They're certainly working around the clock to do the testing. There's thousands and thousands of tests have been done already. My understanding was that actually the testing sites, at least at least one or more of those are actually open through the night. That's what I was informed yesterday. But I think that's something you could maybe check with New South Wales Health.

SARAH MACDONALD: Yeah, we'll definitely check on that. We're hearing of some till 10:00 PM. I'll give those addresses in just a moment. Do you think that we will find the missing link between the international arrival and these cases in the Northern Beaches, Paul Kelly?

PAUL KELLY: Well, let's hope so. Again, we've got our best contact tracers, our disease detectives on this on this role. And they have been extraordinary in the past. You remember when the Crossroads Hotel was going on, how well they were able to put all of that together and work out that each of those cases were linked even down as far as Maryland. And through that that family in Moss Vale. It was all- it's old fashioned, what we call shoeleather public health. People getting out there, in the field, asking the right questions and keep asking questions until you find the answer.

SARAH MACDONALD: Alright. Well look, in the meantime, we lifted a lot of restrictions in New South Wales. A friend of one of the positive cases told us yesterday they were dancing at the RSL. There's more people crowded in. Should we be reducing those again and mandating masks?

PAUL KELLY: Look, that's a difficult balancing act, isn't it, Sarah? But, you know, that's what we've been doing from the beginning, trying to work out what we can do to free up society and the economy and have some sort of COVID normal experience. And, you know, we were really hopeful about Christmas, I'm still hopeful about Christmas. But we need to think about all of these things again, particularly in those- in that hotspot area there.

SARAH MACDONALD: The states, though, are saying now they won't allow anyone who's been to the beaches in for Tasmania. There's a red zone, and they'll have to quarantine if they go into Victoria. They won't be permitted to area if they're in the red zone. So the states are starting to shut down. Are they doing the right thing or taking extra precautions?

PAUL KELLY: Well, we tried to get a hotspot definition that all the states would agree to earlier on this year. We were unsuccessful in that. But we do have a Commonwealth hotspot definition, which actually for the first time today, we are enacting that. So-

SARAH MACDONALD: [Interrupts] And that's what the Northern Beaches is? Your first hotspot?

PAUL KELLY: It's our first hotspot, since Victoria, since Greater Melbourne. But that one was a bit- was slightly before the hotspot definition. So, yes. And that doesn't mean a lot. It does actually allow us to bring in extra Commonwealth resources, particularly around protection, protecting our most vulnerable people in residential aged care facilities. So that's all being enacted now. But what I would say about the- all of the states, except WA who have gone to their somewhat larger definition of whole of New South Wales being a hotspot, all of the other states are using a localised definition, which is great to see. I think that's a very balanced thing to do. And I know that they are watching very closely about what happens over the coming days. As you mentioned in your promo, this next couple of days are crucial.

SARAH MACDONALD: They sure are. Alright, well we thank you for time this afternoon.

PAUL KELLY: You're welcome Sarah.

SARAH MACDONALD: All the best. Professor Paul Kelly, acting Chief Medical Officer.


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