Date published: 
12 August 2020
Media event date: 
11 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PAUL KELLY:

Good afternoon everyone, Paul Kelly, Acting Chief Medical Officer to give the update for today in relation to COVID-19. So firstly to talk about the situation both globally and in Australia. So, another unfortunate milestone overnight, where we have now gone to over 20 million cases in the world, extraordinary number of cases in a very big pandemic. And over 734,000 people have lost their lives to this difficult virus. Here in Australia, we're better off than many other places, but we continue to see more cases, and now 21,713 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and 353 new cases in the last 24 hours. But only in two states - Victoria and New South Wales both reported cases overnight. In New South Wales there were 22 cases, four of those from overseas and in quarantine and 16 locally-acquired cases, all contacts of confirmed cases that we know about as well as two others - one an interstate traveller from Victoria and another who is still under investigation. In Victoria, we've seen a stabilisation of cases over the last few days, which is what we would expect in relation to the new restrictions and the Stage 4 lockdown that has occurred in Melbourne. So, 331 cases today, and many of those still under investigation but many also- all of them, indeed, locally acquired. We've seen more deaths, unfortunately, in Australia, which makes the total now of 331 deaths. So, 19 new deaths in the last 24 hours, and my condolences go to each and every one of the families that have been affected by those deaths. Many of the cases have recovered. We still have active cases now - over 8,000 - mostly in Victoria but also in other states, and hospitalised, 673 hospitalised people, 51 of those in intensive care. Testing remains very buoyant, over 60,000 tests yesterday making a total of approaching 5 million tests since the beginning.

So that's the situation in Australia. There's been a lot of media reports over the last 24 hours about aged care, and I just want to address a couple of issues there before I go to questions. Firstly, I've seen reports in the media in relation to not having plans for aged care here in Australia. That is not correct. We have been planning for our aged population as a vulnerable group since the beginning of our planning in relation to COVID-19. The first reports out of China in January, which led to the formulation of the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus, which is here, and was launched by the Prime Minister in early February, makes very specific mention of those vulnerable groups and specific mention that there would need to be specific plans in relation to aged care. So there's quite detailed information there about that particular vulnerable group. On 13 March - so well before our- we launched into our first wave and the first aged care outbreaks that we saw in New South Wales - the Communicable Disease Network of Australia, the CDNA, which is a subcommittee of the AHPPC, did develop specific guidelines for residential aged care, quite detailed guidelines about what needs to happen both to prepare, to prevent and to respond to outbreaks in aged care facilities. And so that has been used in the beginning and has been updated twice since then, the latest one on 14 July. Further to that, there has been a plan specifically from our Infection Control Expert Group dealing with infection prevention and control of residential care facilities, another plan. We've had a whole plethora of other documents, which I won't go into, but certainly there has been a lot of planning in relation to aged care, and that is just from the AHPPC. There have been other training, PPE, and all sorts of other things, and particularly and importantly very strong communication with the sector throughout. And other colleagues will talk through that in coming days.

The second thing I've seen reported in the media is in relation to Australia and death rates in aged care facilities. Now, it's a terrible tragedy to lose a loved one, wherever that may be, and including in aged care facilities. So, when I'm talking about numbers here, of course, these represent real people both here and internationally. And I just want to point out a couple of the- of our countries that are very similar to Australia because aged care outbreaks have occurred wherever there has been significant community transmission, as we're seeing at the moment in Melbourne. But, for example, in the US, where they've had over 5 million cases now, there've been over 50,000 deaths in relation to aged care. In the UK, 16,000 deaths. In Australia there are 220. So I think people can make their own comparison and their own decisions there about whether we are the worst in the world when you see those sort of figures. So, I'll leave it there and I'll ask for questions.

QUESTION:

Just in terms of the worst in the world, though, I think what people are referring to is the proportion of the deaths, right? It's almost 70 per cent of deaths are in aged care. Doesn't that have some kind of weight to it and some kind of meaning? Or is that negligible in your point of view? It's just about the raw figures and the raw numbers?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, I'd say firstly, as I said before, no death is negligible. And, absolutely, condolences to people that have lost a loved one. This is certainly much more than numbers for many people. I would turn that around and say we've had so few deaths, our death rate within the total 21,000 cases we've had now is extremely low, and so in fact there've been very few cases outside of aged care. When you look at the age of people that have died, the average is well over 80, and many people into their 90s, so it's a tragedy to lose a loved one, but really, there have been very few deaths in comparison to most other countries.

QUESTION:

Minister Colbeck said, though, that there have been mistakes made in aged care. What are those mistakes? We're hearing about, the system could have worked better, there have been mistakes made. Is there any clarity on what that is?

PAUL KELLY:

So, there is an Aged Care Royal Commission. I'm not going to- and they're specifically examining that issue at the moment, and so I'm not going to- I will respect their views and their ability to investigate those things. What I will say, though, is that we have had, now, some large outbreaks, firstly in New South Wales, with Newmarch and Dorothy Henderson Lodge. There was also aged care outbreaks in North-Western Tasmania and now outbreaks, several of them, in Melbourne. What do we know about those outbreaks? All of those have occurred in the context of community transmission, and we know that the virus comes into the aged care facility, it's incredibly infectious and difficult to control, and we learn from each of those outbreaks, and we introduce those measures to avoid those issues the next time it comes around. And that's happening in real time now in Victoria. We've set up- for the first time during this outbreak we've set up a response centre which has brought together all of the people that are dealing with this issue in aged care in Victoria into several rooms, actually, so they're social distanced, but into the same centre so that they can deal with that in a much more efficient way. That's one of the learnings we've learnt from previous ones, and we'll continue to learn. Yes.

QUESTION:

Professor Kelly, there's a situation on the New South Wales-Victorian border at the moment, where there's 100 Canberrans who aren't allowed to transit through anymore. The New South Wales Premier says that they pose an unacceptable risk to regional communities in New South Wales. Is there a risk of people transiting through, and can that be managed? And if there is that risk, why then have MPs been allowed to drive to Canberra?

PAUL KELLY:

So, borders, domestic borders, are an issue for the various states that are involved with that border.

QUESTION:

[Talks over] … health advice, though, what risk is there to communities if you let those people come through?

PAUL KELLY:

Yeah, so, I've spoken before about the virus not moving but people moving, and so if people are infected with the virus, they could be a risk to others as they pass through. But look, that's a matter I know that's been dealt with between the ACT Government and the New South Wales Government, and I'm sure there'll be a resolution soon.

QUESTION:

WA hasn't had any community transition since April and no new cases in a week. Isn't it proof that these kind of border measures work?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, WA have been extremely lucky through this process, and they've also benefited from the international border closure, and they- yes, their border has no doubt been somewhat protective.

QUESTION:

The Government's in talks with manufacturers to ensure any vaccine can be adequately distributed. Are you any more optimistic that we will see a vaccine? What's the best case scenario when will that be in perhaps a more realistic timeline as well?

PAUL KELLY:

So, I'm very optimistic about the- about vaccine development. There are a large number of companies that are involved. Academics are involved. Governments are involved. Multilateral philanthropy and so forth are involved, and Australia is involved.

We have our own, several, in fact, vaccine trials underway here in Australia. The Oxford vaccine that you've mentioned before would be in my top six, perhaps, of vaccines that are most developed and most hopeful, so it's not the only one, and none of them are ready right now to be rolled out in large numbers to protect us. There is certainly more science to be done in terms of making sure that they are safe and that they are effective, but the early trials, including from the Oxford vaccine, are very hopeful.

QUESTION:

Would you be willing to put any time frame on when you believe we may see a vaccine?

PAUL KELLY:

I don't have a crystal ball on that one, but certainly, these types of developments usually take years; it's not going to be years. And so, we're six months into the development of these vaccines, and some of them are already in stage 3 trials. So that's getting quite close to having those answers about whether they are safe and effective. Then there's the matter of manufacture and distribution, and that will depend on which of the vaccines does win that race, if you like, because some of them are quite involved in terms of manufacturing them in bulk, and we need millions of doses here in Australia and many millions of doses for the world.

QUESTION:

Is there risk in fast-tracking these trials that it could lead to adverse consequences by speeding up this process faster than we otherwise would?

PAUL KELLY:

So, we have our regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, as well as- and they're very linked into other similar regulators around the world, particularly in the US and the UK and in Europe. And their role is to exactly guard against that. So, it will be a balance. These things are going very fast, and we want them to go fast. This is the way we'll be able to return to some sort of normality in the world and here in Australia. So… but those issues, particularly of safety, are absolutely crucial, and we have a very good regulatory system to deal with that.

On the phone, Anna.

QUESTION:

Thanks Professor. We've just had comments from Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, saying authorities are talking with Qantas to help train some of their staff to assist in the aged care sector. What sort of roles would they be filling in? And why are you confident that staff that aren't trained in health should be used in aged care centres?

PAUL KELLY:

I'm sorry, the question is outside the terms of reference of the press conference we're giving today. I will have to get back to you with a response on that. Thank you, thank you very much and thank you, thank you to our interpreters. Thank you very much.

QUESTION:

Thanks Professor. We've just had comments from Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck, saying authorities are talking with Qantas to help train some of their staff [indistinct]… aged care sector. What sort of roles would they be filling in? And why are you confident that staff that aren't trained in [indistinct] health should be used in aged care centres?

PAUL KELLY:

So, a question about using different staff for aged care. This has been a real challenge because of the large number of aged care facilities that have been affected, and therefore staff have been affected and other staff have been in contact with people that have been affected. There is a real challenge in staffing aged care facilities in Victoria, and we found that previously in other outbreaks and similarly throughout the world. So, we're needing to be, and quite appropriately, be innovative to see what other workers could be trained and become available. And when you think about Qantas, there's a lot of staff that are not currently flying but have great skills in care for people, and anyone who's been sick or have had sick children on a Qantas flight will know that caring attitude that they have. So they have skills. They have skills in first aid. They have skills in caring for people. They have skills in communication and various other things that are needed for aged care facilities. And so, that is one, not the only one, but one of the areas we're looking to search our workforce now for Victorian aged care.

Stella on the phone.

QUESTION:

Thank you Professor. You mentioned the grim milestone of 20 million cases across the globe. Say this goes on for another 12 months and there's still no vaccine, how many cases globally could we see in that time frame and deaths as well? And should Australia really be focusing more on preparation for production, or on actually potentially putting more funding into finding a successful vaccine right here in Australia?

PAUL KELLY:

So, again, that's a crystal ball question about how many cases we might see. I'm very hopeful about a vaccine, and I really do hope that we will see one within a shorter period of time than usual. Again, I can't exactly predict when that might be, but I think we won't be talking about that a year or two from now; it will be earlier than that. And certainly we know how this virus spreads, and we've talked about the concept of herd immunity here before. We are a long way away from herd immunity in any country in the world, including in some of the countries that have been so badly affected, much more badly affected than here in Australia. So, a survey recently, in the last week or so, in Italy, for example, found it was only about 2.5 per cent of people in Italy have been affected. And I'm sure people will remember the scenes from hospitals in northern Italy in particular from earlier in the year. So we're a long way from that, so there will be many more cases throughout the world.

And the second part of your question, sorry?

QUESTION:

Sorry, and that was: should we really be focusing more now on the preparation for production, as Minister Andrews talked about this morning, or should we be focusing more on potentially maybe putting more funding into finding a vaccine right here instead of, I suppose, thinking or assuming it will come from elsewhere?

PAUL KELLY:

So, the Australian Government has a plan for vaccines. We talked about it after- well, we talked about it at National Cabinet last Friday, and the Prime Minister and I spoke about it at the press conference on Friday. So, there is substantial funds that we've put in in various ways through research and development here in Australia but also through our links with international consortia. We are right now in consultation and discussion with various potential vaccines here in Australia as well as overseas, the companies that are involved with those vaccines, and there will be funding implications to that. We continue to look at what would be our vaccine strategy in terms of rolling that vaccine out and being ready for that. So, there is plenty of funding and other resources being devoted to that particular issue.

Josh?

QUESTION:

Yeah thank you, Professor. I wanted to ask about the current thinking on large-scale public events, particularly around things like big music festivals in the summer with lots of people, multiple stages, people moving around, that sort of thing. From what we know now, and again, it's maybe one of those crystal ball questions of yours, but from what we know now, are those kind of events going to be able to occur anywhere in Australia, maybe even states like WA or SA, which seem to have the virus fully eliminated? Or are they still going to struggle? And is the Health Department working with these kind of events, these kind of industry bodies, to give them any guidance or advice on planning those events in coming months or over the next year or so?

PAUL KELLY:

Yeah. So, on music events, firstly an apology particularly to the younger members of our community, and I would include my children in that, who find these events so attractive and such fun, and I did, and still do actually, like live music. It's something that we did look at very closely in the Australian health protection committee some weeks ago, when- before the situation as has developed in Victoria has taken more of our attention. So we did start looking at the particular issues in relation to music events, and when you think about it, they are relatively high risk. Large numbers of people, often multi-day events, lots of close contact, dancing and singing and so forth, all of these things are higher risk than some other mass gatherings. And so, they have a particular component to them, and at the moment, I must admit, it's not front of mind. In terms of what Western Australia or even the NT, for example, may decide to do, of course they can do their own developments within those states, which have had less cases and continue to have less cases. But they're wary. They've seen what's happened in Victoria, which virtually eliminated the virus just as recently as six or seven weeks ago, and how rapidly that can develop. And so it's a cautious approach at the moment, and in terms of specific advice or planning, it's not happening right now.

Any other questions?

QUESTION:

One more, yeah. Is there a risk by funnelling regional travellers to areas where we have hotspots like Melbourne and Sydney? Could we be in fact creating more clusters there?

PAUL KELLY:

Is this in relation to the ACT residents again? Yeah. So, look, that's a matter for the states that are involved with those borders, as I've said, but I think as a general principle, not a good idea to get people to go to places of high risk when they don't need to do so. So I'm really hopeful that that will be worked through in coming days and have a resolution which avoids that.

QUESTION:

Just a really quick follow-up to Josh's question about those big events, if WA sort of said, look, we're going to start working with industry, especially for that summer period when we're having big events, and looking at this, is that something you would be very apprehensive of, or given WA hasn't had new transmissions since April, still has a hard border in place, probably will until that time, you think would be sensible, would be okay to start looking at those kinds of things?

PAUL KELLY:

Well that's really a decision for WA. I think you've hit the nail on the head there. If they are going to keep their border closed, then they can do things like that. If they open their border up, then they'll be opening up for the other risk that we're all facing. But even with a closed border, as we've seen in Victoria - the international border was essentially closed - we've seen what's happened in a very quick time. And so, it comes back to that heard immunity question. There have been so few cases in WA, therefore there would be very, very few people that would be immune, and so, the opportunity for the virus to spread rapidly in WA or anywhere else in the world - New Zealand would be in a similar situation - is very possible. And so, we are all in this together. None of us are out of it even with our closed borders.

So thank you very much.

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