Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd's press conference on 31 January 2021

Read the transcript of Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd's press conference on 31 January 2021 about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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The Australian Health Protection Principal Community, the AHPPC, and the Commonwealth continue to closely monitor the situation in New Zealand. The Commonwealth and the AHPPC have been receiving daily briefings on the situation. Based on updated information from New Zealand today, as acting Chief Medical Officer, I have recommended that the Commonwealth not extend the pause in safe travel zone flights from New Zealand beyond 2pm today. The Commonwealth has accepted this advice, and this means that green zone flights from New Zealand will recommence this afternoon.

The AHPPC, at its meeting this morning, noted that there have been no further confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the community in New Zealand since the initial three cases were infected with the variant of concern, the B1351 variant, known as the South African variant. As you know, these three cases all originated from transmission within hotel quarantine at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. The AHPPC has also noted that all close contacts of these three New Zealand cases have returned negative test results, and there have been no further cases found to date in the casual contacts, in the previous residents of the hotel, or in the staff of the hotel. Green zone flights from New Zealand into Australia are now judged to be sufficiently low risk, given New Zealand's strong public health response to COVID-19.

Given there is still a small risk of further associated cases being detected in New Zealand, and with an abundance of caution, I've recommended to the Australian Government that pre and post flight screening be implemented for all safe travel zone flights from New Zealand for the next 10 days, as well as being screened for possible symptoms of COVID-19, this screening will check the travellers have not been identified as close contacts of the infected cases or have not visited any of the contact tracing areas of interest in New Zealand. And if they have, that they have been tested and they've received negative test results and clearance as required by the New Zealand authorities.

Currently, to be eligible to fly on a safe green travel zone flight to Australia from New Zealand, passengers must have been in New Zealand for the previous 14 days. I've also recommended to the Australian Government that time spent in hotel quarantine does not form part of the required 14 days in New Zealand. This means that people arriving in New Zealand and spending time in hotel quarantine must have been released from hotel quarantine for at least 14 days before they are eligible to take a green safe zone flight to Australia. The AHPPC will continue to monitor the situation in New Zealand very closely, and we will receive daily reports from the New Zealand health authorities on the results of the continuing contact tracing related to this outbreak. I want to thank all the people in New Zealand and in Australia who've been working together to ensure that we keep the people of both of our countries safe from COVID-19, and I apologise to everyone who has had their travel plans disrupted during this pause in the green safe zone travel from New Zealand.

Finally, today is 14 days since the last case of community transmission of COVID-19 reported in Australia. It is two weeks since we had a case of COVID-19 in our community. This is the longest period of no cases of community transmission of COVID-19 since February 16-29 last year. However, the tragedy of the pandemic continues, with over 520,000 new cases reported yesterday from around the world, an additional 13,803 deaths from COVID-19 occurring around the world. In Australia, we are fortunate, but we cannot afford to become complacent. Even as vaccination against COVID-19 commences in Australia next month, we all still need to do all we can to keep ourselves, our families, and each other COVID-safe. I'm happy to take any questions. I have on the phone Tamsin.


Thanks, Professor. Just on the changes that you've made in relation to flights coming from New Zealand, given that you've changed it to now people have to have been in the community after their hotel quarantine for a further 14 days, does that mean you're not confident in the New Zealand quarantine system? Why have you introduced that measure specifically? Do you think it's not picking up all cases?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Thanks, Tamsin. The measure has been introduced as an abundance of caution. We are confident in the work that the New Zealand authorities have been carrying out. They have carried out extensive contact tracing, both of the close contacts, of casual contacts, and also other people who were in the hotel and staff who were working in the affected hotel throughout this epidemic. There's still a small number of test results still to come through, but all the close contacts have returned negative results, which gives us a high degree of confidence and has allowed us to make this recommendation to the Australian Government to reopen the safe green zone flights. And the Australian Government has accepted that recommendation.

Do I have Claire?


Thanks, Professor. With regards to the EU export control issue, Australia is now only expecting 1.2 million doses of AstraZeneca from Europe at the beginning of March. Given we're expecting our own domestic supplier to roll out at the end of that month, how much would it delay potentially our plan to vaccinate everyone by October if we did not get those doses from Europe on time? It seems that it wouldn't make a huge impact given how quickly soon after that the domestic supply is due to start.

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Yes, I think I think you're correct there, Claire. We- as you say, we will have coming online during March, as long as we receive TGA approval, many, many doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the CSL facility here in Australia. And at the moment, the plan to vaccinate everyone in Australia who wishes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 - and I hope that everybody steps up and gets vaccinated when it comes to be your turn in the priority listing. We expect that to still be completed by the end of October this year. Clearly, though, everything is contingent on the TGA approval. And with those initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccine coming in from overseas, this, of course, is contingent on the international events and, of course, the shipping of those vaccines into the country.

Do I have Anthony on the phone?


Thanks, Professor. Can I just ask you about the progress of establishing a genuine two-way travel bubble with New Zealand? Has this suspension kind of put back talks in any way, or are we still looking to achieve that as planned in the same timeframe?

MICHAEL KIDD:                   

Yes. So my understanding, the discussions between Australia and New Zealand on the travel arrangements being two-way obviously don't occur within the health department. They occur in other parts of government. But my understanding is that those discussions are still underway, and we'll get a result on that when we get one.

Are there any final questions? That's great. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thanks for your time today.


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