Acting Chief Medical Officer press conference about COVID-19 on 22 August 2020

Read the transcript of Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, about the status of COVID-19.

Date published:
Media type:
General public


Update on the coronavirus issues here. So we've had 200 new cases overnight. Again a very good result from Victoria; 182 cases, sadly 13 deaths and 10 of those associated with aged care in Victoria. And so as I do every time, I send my condolences and best wishes to the families and friends of those who have passed away in this terrible pandemic. But very good news from Victoria really a decrease also in hospitalizations and in intensive care and those on ventilators.

I think we need to be very clear that we will have an increase in deaths over time. The numbers of deaths will lag behind the numbers - the decreasing numbers in cases. So 13 deaths overnight, again sad news from Victoria. In New South Wales, again good news, we have under 10 cases again in New South Wales, nine cases overnight. Almost all of those linked with known outbreaks. In Queensland today less good news. That case that was announced yesterday related to our detention facility in Brisbane has now with the testing around that case, very rapid response, as is usual in Queensland to the public health issues, have shown that there are more cases related to that outbreak. Either in centre staff or their families. And so that has led to a range of restrictions overnight from the public health response and that's the Australian situation.

A couple of things I just wanted to talk about before I move to that - we have some journalists on the phone who want to ask questions. I think I just want to really reiterate about our strategy that we have for COVID-19; our suppression strategy. It relies on four elements and we really need all four elements to be working where they proportionate to do so. And so those four elements are our strong external border strategy and we've had that from the beginning in terms of limiting the number of people coming into Australia and potentially therefore bringing the virus in from overseas. And we've seen that hope that restriction on people arriving and the strict 14 days quarantine in hotels be a very successful component of our strategy and that's continuing. The second important part of our strategy is, the testing tracing and isolation component. That key public health response. It absolutely has to be there, continue to be there even if we haven't seen cases for a long time in a particular jurisdiction.

We have the range of personal measures that we've talked about. Again from the beginning of the of the pandemic here in Australia, cough etiquette, wash your hands, keep your physical distance when you can and when you can't keep physical distance wearing of a mask. All of those things remain important even in places where we haven't seen cases for a long time. And the fourth part of our response is about movement and mixing restrictions. That includes domestic borders where that that is necessary. It includes the sort of approaches we've seen in Melbourne in their stage four lockdown over the last almost three weeks. These things are important. All of them need [indistinct] on occasions and they need to be part of our armoury if you like against this virus going forward.

In this suppression strategy we expect to have outbreaks we can't promise we're not going to get outbreaks. Sometimes those outbreaks will be in high risk settings like aged care. The important thing is recognising and finding those outbreaks quickly, preparing a response in case they happen, and really using that response quickly. That is the key component using all four parts of our strategy to deal with those outbreaks.

The second thing I just want to talk about is there's been a lot of discussion in recent weeks and particularly in the last 24 hours around our response to aged care. This was specifically discussed at National Cabinet yesterday where I was with the first ministers and the prime minister talking about our increasing and really working together on our prevention and preparedness activities with the states and territories with the aged care sector with the Commonwealth and with the regulator the Aged Care Quality Commissioner - quality and safety commissioner. We spoke about that as we do every day with the Prime Minister this morning particularly in relation to the situation in Victoria, which is improving. So yesterday we agreed and all of the states and territory first ministers and the Commonwealth agreed about that strategy going forward, about what are the other things we can be doing together in preparedness and prevention. And what are the ways we could respond to an outbreak hoping that it will never happen as it has in Victoria with multiple outbreaks in multiple aged care settings over the last few weeks. So that that was agreed.

And this morning I spoke with the Queensland chief health officer and we and we enacted those issues that we talked about yesterday. And so there will be liaison officers from the Commonwealth and from the safety quality commissioner in the state Health Emergency Control Centre in Brisbane as a precaution. We don't have any outbreaks in in aged care right now but with that cluster of cases, we believe that there is a need to really think and work closely together to prevent that happening and to respond if it does happen. The Chief Health Officer in Queensland herself made a public health direction last night which did talk about restrictions in aged care, about visitations, about mask use, about people, about workers working across facilities. And so the Commonwealth has agreed to back that in. We will look to provide masks where that is needed and we will also look to really increase and improve that that those visits to reinforce infection control another part of our component of our response that was discussed yesterday at National cabinet. We will be doing that in Brisbane with our Queensland colleagues over the coming days and weeks.

So I'll leave that there and I'll call for the questions from the journalists. Who's first? Dana (*) you're first.


Thanks Professor, just on hotel quarantine, there is a bit of a push to get the numbers back up to allow more people to come back to Australia. We've got 18,000 citizens stranded overseas having their flights cancelled for things like that. What the AHPPC advised on basically doing that. Can it be done, do we need to hae the right level of oversight from police or ADF or whatever, and noting that another security guard has tested positive in New South Wales, it's just been announced.


Thanks for the question Dana. So in terms of arrivals from overseas we're still seeing about 4000 people coming into Australia every week. About half of those are coming to Sydney and then other places as well. The rate limiting step, if you like, there are the caps that have been put on arrivals by states and territories. This very much relates to their capacity in the hotels and their capacity in terms of rooms but also in terms of the supports that are needed to ensure that hotel quarantine is safe and effective. And that the supports that are given to people in hotel quarantine including physical supports but also mental health support. So it's not an easy thing to spend 14 days in a hotel room provided. So that's the main rate limiting step it's being discussed at National Cabinet every time that National Cabinet meets every two weeks. It was discussed yesterday it was decided to keep those caps at the same amount again for the next two weeks. On the other hand, we know there are Australians that are wanting to come home from overseas some of them are in difficult situations. They are known to two Department of Foreign Affairs and they are receiving consular assistance where that is necessary. So there are people that have expressed their need or want to come back to Australia and that's been being taken into account. But with I understand that's around 15,000 people are known to have Department of Foreign Affairs at the moment, so that they have that opportunity to come back and they should try to do that when they can. It's very important though just to remember those four pillars of our strategy of keeping Australia safe that that external border control, the safe and effective quarantine in hotels, has been a key component of our response. It's a key and it remains a key component.

Next question from Jonathan.


Professor Kelly thank you very much for your time on this Saturday. Just a couple of [indistinct] of the last two days. One if we can to save everybody he time. Just in relation to the New South Wales outbreaks today. We've had one from a hotel security guard - a hotel quarantine security guard. And of the nine I think six are mystery cases, you know those cases where we don't know where the source came from. On the security guard aspect is it concerning that there appears to be more problems within quarantine programs and secondly on the mystery cases, how much of a concern is that in New South Wales?


So thanks for the question Jonathan. So firstly on the security guard it really reinforces what I've just said about the importance of keeping that quarantine component as part of our external border controls as safe and effective as possible. Mistakes happen. Wearing personal protective equipment is not something that security guards are necessarily used to or potentially good at. It's very easy to make a slip up in relation to two personal protective equipment even for a well-trained health care worker. And we've seen health care worker outbreaks and aged care worker outbreaks and so over time and these things need to be taken into account. It's the reason why we have. Jane Halton the ex-secretary of the Department of Health here as well as other departments in the Commonwealth Government, a very experienced person in these regards, doing an independent review of hotel quarantine around Australia. She's already been to Sydney and to Perth and Brisbane at least, possibly other places now. We are getting regular reports from Jane. And she's very closely looking at the hotel quarantine arrangements in all of the states that have those in place. So whilst this was unfortunate with that particular security guard, my understanding from New South Wales is there has been no further people that have been infected through that process. In terms of mystery cases as of yesterday, and this is again a good story, the numbers of mystery cases because I've mainly been in Melbourne and mainly related to the community outbreak are decreasing. And so as of yesterday there were 744 mystery cases in Australia and almost all of those were in Victoria a small number in other states. Of course any mystery case is a concern because that actually demonstrates that there are unknown or incomplete chains of transmission in the community. But the fact that they've remained very low in New South Wales and when they're reported on a daily basis they often become non mystery cases in the days after that as our disease detectives do their work and really plot those chains of transmission. And so there's been very few. The fact that it's not zero is a concern but the fact that it's remained very small number of mystery cases in New South Wales, it's good news.

One more question I think from Matt.


Hi Professor Kelly I have a double-barrelled one a slightly divergent topic, the last one is like what Jonathan did there. haven't come to find out. First of all, the situation in Queensland, how concerned are you that we're seeing this cluster appear [indistinct] and what you think it means for the response in that state.

And secondly we're seeing federal politicians leaving - not leaving sorry arriving in Canberra in the next day or so as parliament recommences. Can you summarise what you're advice has been about the situation for parliament returning next week?


Thanks Matt. So firstly on Queensland yes it is concerning. It's really - all of those cases the first case at least in the 77-year-old woman who was a career in the detention centre, the Youth Detention Centre in Brisbane, where that came from is a mystery. After that the ones that have been diagnosed and reported today are related to that case. So they're not a mystery. But where that's come from is probably the most concerning part, there is that link with the staff all working together, so that's probably helpful. But those staff do have other jobs, some of them, they do live and therefore are out in the community in different parts of South Queensland and so that is concerning. But I'd say that I'm very confident of our colleagues in Queensland the chief health officer and her staff they have got onto this very quickly. They are using all of those pillars that I talked about before to look at this outbreak. They're testing widely, they've tested already all of the inmates of that of that facility. They're are testing family and other potential contacts. They're tracing those contacts, they are putting the information out there so that people know about where some of these cases have been during their infectious period. That's happened very rapidly and they've taken the steps that they need to take in terms of decreasing mixing and movement, specific advice to aged care disability care and detention centres. So I think they are they are getting on top of it and we're giving all support we need to give particularly in relation to aged care as I mentioned.

In terms of the Australian Parliament House. We see that as a potentially high risk setting too. Why is that? It's because people - a large number of people congregating inside in a normal sitting week, people coming from all over Australia and then going back to all over Australia after the sitting weeks have completed. And so we've been working very closely with our colleagues in the ACT public health system and the Chief Health Officer there Kerryn Coleman as well as with the presiding officers of Parliament House themselves to make sure we can make Parliament House as safe as possible. We've for some time had a limitation on the number of people that can visit. We've had for parliamentarians coming from Victoria. There is a limitation on that so some are not coming this week and we'll be attending virtually. Those that are coming and their staff will have completed a two-week quarantine either today or tomorrow and have had a test before, a negative test before they can come to the Parliament House. There are a range of other measures in relation to those pillars again so that the personal messages have been reinforced. Mixing is being kept to a minimum where people are mixing that will be strongly encouraged to wear masks. And so through all of these things I believe we've have made the Parliament House as safe as it can be. And so that parliament can sit and Australian democracy can work. In terms of people going back to their home states several states will be requiring people coming back from the ACT whether their parliamentarians or not to go into two weeks of quarantine and that's a decision for those states and territories.

Is there any other final question?

No thanks very much.


Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.