Date published: 
18 November 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PAUL KELLY:

Paul Kelly Acting Chief Medical Officer here, to give an update on the situation. Really it’s all about South Australia today, people would have heard the news from Adelaide this morning, this afternoon, rather, when the Premier and the Chief Public Health Officer as well as their Police Commissioner got up and talked about what their plans were for the coming days. So, we have an outbreak in an area of Adelaide, that has grown overnight to more cases, reported today, so a total of 22 cases in that outbreak.

The good news is at the moment it is all linked to a particular breach of hotel quarantine. Certainly we know this strain of the virus, we have linked that directly to somebody that arrived in South Australia on 2 November. So, we have a time period. Every one of those 22 cases are linked in some way now, either through that genomic testing or epidemiologically, so that's the good news.

Overnight there was further information about one of those cases, having worked in a pizza parlour in a certain part of Adelaide, and so the details are on the South Australian Health website [audio skip], that, and a particular call out to anybody who went to that pizza parlour to isolate and get tested.

But the news today really is that as the South Australian authorities have done with their public health response, they have gone fast, they’ve gone hard, they have gone broad. A lot of testing, record testing over the last couple of days, over 11,000 tests as I understand it from the South Australian authorities have happened, and we have seen people turning up in great numbers to be tested.

They have also decided to go harder as well, with what they are calling a 6-day pause with a range of measures essentially to decrease the movement around Adelaide and around the whole of South Australia, to decrease that opportunity of the virus spreading. As we know, the virus spreads generally with people, and so whilst they are doing that very clear and constant public health response of testing, contact tracing and isolation, they also want to give that the very best chance of working over this short period, so their 6-day pause is coming into effect tonight. And there was some details about that discussed previously. I can go into that in questions, if needed.

In terms of what we’re doing, I'm in constant communication with Professor Nicola Spurrier, speaking several times a day; the AHPCC is meeting daily again, as it did for many months through the earlier parts of the epidemic here in Australia. And we are providing peer support and ability to assist with the detailed analysis of what is going on, and to offer practical support such as contact tracing. We have set up a group here in the Commonwealth in Canberra, some of my staff are now on the phones, literally right now, talking to people and giving them advice. Similar groups have been set up in New South Wales, and in WA, and very seamless approach to that, as per the Alan Finkel review that was given to National Cabinet last week of making sure that we are there to support wherever we can.

I have spoken with the Australian Defence Force today and that is also in chain (*) to increase the footprint that is already in South Australia in terms of assisting where ever that is necessary, including increasing the testing capability and Adelaide. We have also discussed perhaps senior medical help, epidemiologist, logistics and the like. So, we are waiting to hear from South Australia and we will respond, as we always do, as the Commonwealth government but also other states and territories.

So, the other thing announced overnight, the AHPPC gave advice and it has been accepted by the Prime Minister to increase our surveillance at the quarantine hotels. So, from now, all states and territories have agreed that anyone with quarantine facilities, anyone working in those quarantine facilities will be tested at least weekly to make sure that we increase that surveillance in that area. That is our major risk now of reintroduction of COVID-19 into Australia, as we have seen in Adelaide over recent days.

I'd just got off the phone with the Prime Minister who is flying back from Japan, discussed these matters. He’s been in touch a couple of times a day with the Premier of South Australia. I know that Minister Hunt has also been discussing with his counterpart, so we are very closely aligned, we are there to assist where necessary and South Australia has made this decision. They see that as appropriate and we will back them in on that decision for this short pause in terms of economic and social activity within South Australia whilst their absolutely and totally laser like focused on this hard, fast and broad public health response in parallel with those other measures. So, I think that's the news for today, happy to take questions.

QUESTION:

Do you have any details on how people are in the contact tracing teams in the Commonwealth, New South Wales and WA assisting?

PAUL KELLY:

So, there’s 11 in our one. I’m not sure how many are in those other teams but look, the sky is the limit in terms of people that can be put on this task. All of the states and territories, again, from the Chief Scientist Professor Alan Finkel's review, one of his clear recommendations was make sure people exercise and keep up-to-date with their contact tracing efforts, so this is a great opportunity for people to actually do real work in terms of contact tracing. So, we have put that offer again today within the last hour in the AHPPC meeting, that whatever they need, we will assist. If we need to have more contact tracers, we will organise them.

QUESTION:

New South Wales took a completely different approach to this, do you think South Australia's approach is proportionate based on the numbers? We only had two cases there today. Is this too hard, too fast?

PAUL KELLY:

It’s hard and it’s fast. Look, South Australia has made the decision on the basis of the information they have at hand, they know their system, they know their people, that is the decision they have made and we back them in terms of that decision.

QUESTION:

Was there anything else South Australia should have been doing in the lead up to this outbreak so they could be more prepared? Any further QR codes or anything further that they should have been doing?

PAUL KELLY:

So, South Australia has had a great run in terms of the epidemic. They had cases like everywhere had early on in January, February, and into March, but since then, they have done a marvellous job of making sure that there were no community transmission cases. They have continued to have cases in hotel quarantine. They have had some outbreaks like this in the past and they went hard and fast on those too and got them under control very quickly. One at the airport I recall, another one in the Barossa Valley. So, they know what they are doing, they are very well prepared. In terms of the other mechanisms for contact tracing, they are doing very well. They are getting onto the cases they have found so far very quickly, large numbers of people turning up for testing. The testing is being done very quickly in laboratory. They do need to increase their ability to get tested and they are certainly onto that today. And as I said, ADF resources will be thrown in to assist.

QUESTION:

Given how hard that South Australia has acted and how quickly it’s acted, is there any medical reason or has AHPPC provided any advice as to whether other states should be closing the borders in the way they’ve done so quickly?

PAUL KELLY:

Well essentially that’s a moot point now because with these new measures that come into force at midnight, all South Australians will be staying at home, they won't be going across any borders.

QUESTION:

Sorry, just back to that point previously. Was there anything that South Australia could have been doing in the lead up to this to help them with contact tracing, any further measures?

PAUL KELLY:

So you mentioned QR codes that is certainly in the Alan Finkel report that was put before National Cabinet on Friday. There was a suggestion that all states should learn from each other in relation to various measures and so South Australia has taken that on board and indeed premier Marshall last Friday was very complimentary of the report and said that it had been read and will be taken on board.

So look, there's always ways that we can improve this but they’ve got very good contact tracing and you can see how quickly they've got to this, to the numbers that they have found so far. And I would say that actually, there was a young doctor in the hospital in northern Adelaide who was absolutely essential in picking up that first case. The family member that went to that hospital and went to the Emergency Department with something else completely different, no respiratory symptoms, one of the doctors heard that person coughing and did the test and that is how we know that there's something going on in South Australia very early. And they’re getting on top of very early, I am confident they will get on top of it.

QUESTION:

Have you spoken to the WA Chief Health Officer since Sunday, since the closing of the WA border to South Australia? Has he argued the case for the closing of the border from a health perspective or do you understand that that is more a call from the Premier and Health Minister?

PAUL KELLY:

So, I have spoken to Andy Robertson every day since Sunday, we have been meeting daily, and he has given his advice to his Premier on the basis of the West Australian situation. When we meet as AHPPC we talk about Australia and we give advice to the National Cabinet, so no, haven't spoken directly with him about the decision to close the border.

QUESTION:

Has South Australia met the Commonwealth definition of a hot spot yet?

PAUL KELLY:

No, they have not. So the definition of the Commonwealth is, in a metropolitan area like Adelaide is 10 cases per day for three days. We have had 22 cases in three days.

QUESTION:

Will that definition be revised given South Australia's hard lockdown, and it's got less cases than the Commonwealth definition?

PAUL KELLY:

I am confident with my definition but look, there's a lot of testing being done at the moment, we will know more about what is happening in Adelaide in the coming days. The reality is, for public health, one needs to make decisions without all of the information in front of them. It is very easy to make a decision a week after you needed to make it. South Australia have made their decision today on the basis that they don't want to be thinking, in a week, I should have done something else and gone harder and gone faster. They have gone hard, they’ve gone fast, they’ve gone abroad, both in their public health response as well as the other measures that were announced today, and that will give them the best chance of getting on top of the outbreak.

I’ve got someone on the phone. Thought I did... Yes, Anna?

QUESTION:

Thank you. Professor Kelly, can I just ask, in terms of the mention you made earlier about testing of people working at quarantine facilities, why wasn't it already happening on a weekly basis and what was the breadth of different testing regimes across the country?

PAUL KELLY:

So, there has been some testing, of course anyone that is symptomatic is under strict instructions a) not to come to work and b) get tested and c) isolate, as would be the case anywhere, particularly those who may have been in contact with a person with COVID-19. I know that in New South Wales they have been testing, not as frequently as this, and there has been some testing being done in other places but we decided to make that recommendation which has been accepted for that to be a routine thing. And in fact, it was a test of the security guard who was also working in the pizza parlour, even though he was asymptomatic, that led to the latest information.

QUESTION:

And just a follow-up, in terms of the virus and the genomic sequencing that’s being done in Adelaide, what do you know about how quickly this virus can spread? We heard from Stephen Marshall, some descriptions about it being highly infectious, more so than other strains, can you speak to that?

PAUL KELLY:

Yes, not all information is available yet but my understanding is that they are finding cases, secondary cases of COVID-19 within very few days of the previous cases. There is a range of options as to why that might be the case but at the moment we don't have any evidence that the virus has changed in any way to become more infectious or more dangerous. This is the same virus we have been dealing with, in fact, the coronavirus since it started virtually a year ago now, the first cases have now been understood to have happened, it has remained quite stable in relation to those sort of issues, in relation to the virus, how transmittable it is from person to person, how quickly it can cause disease, how serious that disease might be. The good news so far for those cases in Adelaide, there is only the two cases that are in hospital, both elderly residents of Adelaide.

QUESTION:

Could you give us a better idea of what some extra testing supports are on offer, is there pop-up clinics or extra personnel?

PAUL KELLY:

Both pop-up clinics and extra personnel. So, I'm sure people watching this will remember early on in Melbourne there was a substantial increase in the ability to test, including with the Australian Defence Force personnel. They stood up essentially flying teams that went out into rural Victoria as well as urban Melbourne and so we are looking to go along those lines again. So potentially, this is a matter for South Australia to request what they need but potentially more clinics, longer hours, more testers and so forth. Just to increase, to surge that capacity to test.

We have four GP respiratory clinics funded by the Commonwealth in urban Adelaide. There are more also and rural South Australia, and those four have shown a very large increase in patronage over the last few days. They have increased their hours to deal with that and they are also offering, where it is appropriate, asymptomatic testing in those clinics.

QUESTION:

In Brisbane, the State of Origin is being played in a full stadium, 100 capacity, 2000 people in the crowd tonight. Is that COVID safe and if so, should lifting restrictions on capacities and other venues be considered, like churches or other similar sort of gatherings?

PAUL KELLY:

Those are matters for the Queensland Government to decide. Speaking with Doctor Jeanette Young today, she reiterated the fact that they have actually gone very carefully and looked that there are no South Australians coming to tonight's event, and unfortunately they will have to watch it on television like the rest of us.

QUESTION:

Are there any other lessons that are being looked at from the South Australian case that are being considered to be recommended, or [indistinct] new protocols being considered like the quarantine worker testing on a weekly basis, any more protocols like that that are being considered to be recommended to the National Cabinet?

PAUL KELLY:

So really, the hotel quarantine is our main game, if you like at the moment for our risk. When you think about what's happening overseas, over 55 million cases now, enormous numbers in many countries and that is where Australians are coming back from. From the UK, from Europe, from North America and other places and from India. So we expect that some of those people that come back at this time will be infected and indeed can be infectious. So anyone in close contact, even with the very best precautions, can be at risk and so that is why we have really honed in on that particular risk area and given advice in the last 24 hours. Last question.

Anna, anything more from you?

QUESTION:

Professor, just one more on the phone if I may. Just in relation to the size of the lockdown in South Australia, was it the AHPPC’s advice to go with a complete hard lockdown of this nature, including not allowing outdoor exercise outside of people's house boundaries?

PAUL KELLY:

So all of the things that were announced by the South Australian Government today, and that it is their decision as they are able to do within their own jurisdiction. They’re the elected government for South Australians and so they have taken those steps. None of them are outside of the realm of what we talked about earlier this year in terms of the 3-step plan for reopening or indeed, the steps to decreasing activities. And so they are all in that range of measures that were discussed at that time. The AHPPC was not involved with that decision-making today, that was a matter for the South Australian Government which they told us about today as well.

Okay, thanks very much.

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