Acting Chief Medical Officer press conference about COVID-19 on 4 July 2020

Read the transcript of Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly's press conference about COVID-19 on 4 July 2020.

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I think everyone is aware now that it’s mostly the situation in Melbourne is occupying our mind at the moment in relation to the response to the pandemic here in Australia.

So firstly just to update the total cases and other numbers for Australia. In the– we now have 8,362 cases, that represents 113 new cases in the last 24 hours confirmed, but it also includes 189 historic cases. So these are not current cases but are cases that have previously not been counted in the total.

Most of those are related to the Ruby Princess crew members who were diagnosed and isolated, firstly on the boat and then proved no problem to the wider community in Australia. But they've now been included in the Australian total on the basis that it needs to be reported to the World Health Organization in that global figure.

So, in terms of new cases, 113. Almost all of those, as has just been reported by Premier Andrews in Victoria, they are cases from Melbourne.

There were 5 cases also from New South Wales in that new figure. They are all overseas acquired and in hotel quarantine. The total deaths remain unchanged: 104 since the start of the pandemic here. Almost all of the cases have recovered, but that rising number of active cases in Victoria is the major concern at the moment.

In terms of hospitalisations, there are only 29 people hospitalised in Australia at the moment with COVID-19, the majority again in Victoria, 25. In intensive care, there are only 4 people in intensive care throughout Australia, 3 of those are in Victoria.

The number of tests continues to rise, over 2.6 million tests in Australia. Over 50,000 tests in Australia in the last 24 hours. And again that very large and impressive figure in terms of testing in Victoria – over 25,000 in the last 24 hours.

The issues obviously front of mind at the moment is that expanding number of cases in Victoria. I would certainly say and agree with our colleagues there that we shouldn't take a single day as an issue in terms of raising cases. But this is a– has been a trend now for the last week or more and certainly the number of cases rising in– particularly in north and north western part of Melbourne is a great concern. And just to reiterate that we– whilst it's in, a problem in Melbourne it is really, the whole of Australia is here to assist in relation to the response to that outbreak as it's emerging in Melbourne.

This is really important that we see this as a combined effort to assist our Victorian colleagues in whatever way that we can, and that has already happened and continues to happen in terms of clinical resources, of laboratory resources, and public health resources both on the ground and in terms of contact tracing,for example, assistance from New South Wales, in particular in the last few days, to assist with that contact tracing effort.

The way that this will come under control is very clear, we know how to do that. It is being led by the data and we are taking those 3 main ways that we can approach this problem to control it. That testing, trace, and isolate piece is absolutely crucial, fundamental public health response, and that is happening right now on the ground in Melbourne with those assistance, as I've mentioned.

The physical distancing measures that have been introduced in those locked down suburbs is also an important component, as is movement restriction from places where we know there is more transmission so that that is not spread further geographically.

So, 2 points on that. I think the fact that the Premier has now announced just in the last few minutes that they are expanding those lockdown postcodes to 2 more postcodes in Melbourne, led by what is happening in terms of the number of cases that have been identified. That is a totally appropriate response and we certainly support that.

Second of all – and this could be seen as a major escalation in what, and what is being done – is for the first time in Australia an actual complete lockdown of those public housing tower blocks in north Melbourne.

I know those tower blocks very well. My son used to live within eyesight of those tower blocks. So, that will be a very difficult but important step. We know from previous pandemics – the SARS pandemic in 2003–04 – that it was a tower block which was part of the major spread of that SARS coronavirus, was from a tower block in Hong Kong.

So, taking this step is, it is a big one for the Victorian authorities. We've heard just now about how difficult that will be and how important it is that the supports are there for the people living in those tower blocks, and that will be an effort which is definitely worth doing in terms of controlling the spread of the virus throughout Melbourne.

So, we stand ready to assist. On that basis I spoke to Minister Hunt just an hour or so ago, and he and I agreed that I should call an emergency AHPPC teleconference. We'll be meeting again at 6. We'll have only one topic on that agenda and that will be to discuss the Victorian situation, to hear from our colleagues there, but most importantly to reiterate that we stand ready to support our Victorian colleagues in whatever is necessary to assist them in this control.

So, I'm happy to take questions now.


Jade at ABC. Can I just ask, has there been any further requests for assistance? Is there anything that you're particularly referring to there when the AHPPC meets later today?


Well, we'll certainly be looking to discuss with our Victorian colleagues about what assistance would be most readily used. We have a number of people on the ground in Melbourne, senior public health officials from several states and one of the territories. They're there at the moment.

As I said, New South Wales Health in particular has been very obliged– obliging and helpful in the contact tracing effort over the last few days, and they stand ready to assist there. So we're ready to do whatever could be of assistance.

We have been meeting every day in AHPPC, and talking at length about the Victorian issues and giving them– sharing from our experience and giving them our suggestions. But any other practical support that might, be might be valuable in the public health effort will be within our remit today. And of course there has been other. other supports that have been given from the Commonwealth Government in relation to ADF personnel as well as others assisting particularly with our community outreach piece, and the door knocking that's happening in the hot spot areas.


How difficult is this going to be for those residents in those public housing towers? And are you confident that enough is being done, or enough plans have been put in place to support them?


Well, I'll hear more about that when we meet at 6pm, but my understanding is that they have thought through this in great detail, not only about the– keeping people in place, but how to support them.

As I said, it is a new phase, in a way, for the pandemic here in Australia. This is the first of the total lockdowns that we've seen in many other parts of the world – in some parts of Europe, and early on in China, particularly in Wuhan, you'll remember those– that approach. New York City, many other places have done this.

So, we of course learn from those experiences, what to do. The support to people who will now be in their homes for this period is really important. Here in Australia we have experience in that. This is very similar to the lockdowns we've done in aged care facilities, for example, and indeed in our quarantine hotels in terms of making sure that people have the supports that they need.


What about the further 2 suburbs, or postcodes which are going down in Melbourne?


So again, once this started, this approach to the expanding number of cases in Melbourne, it was very clear that that was led by the epidemiology of the infection. So we knew where those cases were, and their contacts and so forth. And so decisions about the first lockdowns were made on that basis. And at that time the Premier, and also the health authorities in Victoria, made it very clear that this may not be the end of the story. And so, now that they've seen an increase in the case numbers in those other postcodes they've been added to those hot spot areas, and that's an appropriate response.


And how concerned are you about the numbers that we've seen in Victoria in the past 24 hours?


So, I am concerned – not really only the last 24 hours, but the last several days of those large numbers. A lot of testing being done, and so finding the cases is really important. And so I certainly, absolutely join my Victorian colleagues in encouraging anyone who is feeling unwell with COVID-like symptoms right now to get tested. And if you are approached by someone in Victoria please also take the advantage of having those– that test done. This is the way that we will get on top of this virus – that testing, tracing, and isolation is the absolute key to that.


Do you think there should be consideration of mandatory testing?


Look that is a consideration. I know that in certain circumstances the Chief Health Officer in  Victoria, and indeed in any of the states and territories, has that power to make things mandatory, but realistically I know that most people will take that advantage. And over 25,000 people have taken that opportunity to have a test in Victoria in the last 24 hours, so that's a huge increase in testing, and that's the way we'll find out what's happening.


New South Wales is limiting the number of incoming international arrivals, Victoria isn't accepting international arrivals, and Queensland is charging them for accommodation. Could this discourage Australians from returning home when Australia is much safer than many other countries.


Well, certainly our focus needs to be on that domestic situation in Victoria right now, and so realistically that's the most important part of our response. In terms of Australians returning from overseas destinations, I had discussions with other officials in the Australian Government about that exact matter yesterday and again this morning, so it's something that we're monitoring closely. But the most important issue really is northern and western Melbourne at the moment.

And I'm going to have to go now to that emergency meeting to discuss that matter. Thanks very much.


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