Date published: 
22 June 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

FRAN KELLY:

Brendan Murphy is Australia's outgoing Chief Medical Officer; in fact, he leaves the post this week to take up the role as Secretary of the Health Department. Brendan Murphy, thank you very much for joining us again on Breakfast.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

Brendan, Victoria's now recorded 116 confirmed cases over the past seven days. The Chief Health Officer there, Brett Sutton, calls it a tipping point. Are we on the brink of a second wave here in Australia?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Look Fran, I think we always expected that there would be more cases and more outbreaks, and particularly as restrictions were eased. The concern about the situation in Victoria has been- was a fairly rapid rise over a few days last week and the fact that these were family spread transmissions to a large part. And there was also a disturbing issue with some people who were tested positive, or identified as contacts, and not maintaining isolation and quarantine. So I think a combination of things led the Victorian authorities to be quite concerned and to really take some steps to break this community chain of transmission in those parts of Melbourne.

So I think - I'm confident Victoria is going to get on top of this, they have a huge army of contact tracers, they're going to ramp up their testing, but it'll take some time. And I think the message really is that this sort of complacency, which is understandable after all these months of restrictions, is dangerous. And as you said before in your intro, this virus is accelerating in the rest of the world. We're in a wonderful position, but we will continue to get more outbreaks and we have to be all careful.

FRAN KELLY:

Yeah. Well just in terms of that, I mean you've said that a fear of a second wave is what keeps you up at night if we see people behaving badly and congregating. Well, we are seeing that - let me read to you what one listeners just written in: I live in Darebin, that's in Melbourne, on Saturday nights they were closely packed masses of people coming out of a small corner restaurant on the High Street, Northcote - one was carrying a bunch of flowers, it was likely a celebration. I mean, that's not an isolated incident. Have we forgotten what we meant to be doing, particularly in family groups which seems to be a major problem in Melbourne?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

It well it's potentially a problem in every state. The reason the problem in Melbourne is because they do have that low lying community transmission still, and a family- a large family group, can be an incubator for that - just one big family dinner party could spread to 30-40 people, you know. If you're - so it's really important that, particularly in those areas like those parts of Melbourne where the transmission is being seen, that everybody's goes back to being rigidly careful about all those regulations and principles.

FRAN KELLY:

Can I ask you what that means, Brendan? Does that mean if we are having a big family dinner wherever we are - Melbourne, or Sydney or Queensland - wherever we are, we still need to be sitting one and a half metres apart? Or standing one and a half metres apart? No hugging or kissing?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well I think for the moment, I mean, clearly it depends on the epidemiology. For the moment we would say while this virus is with us obviously people who live in the same household don't need to be apart - so you go out to a restaurant but you can all sit together, but it's best to sit apart from people that you don't know. And critically it's important that information is available, if you're at a restaurant, about who was there and when they were there so that they can get contacted.

FRAN KELLY:

But what about people coming into your home? What if you're having a big birthday party and 15 family members are coming around?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well I think that's - again, that's in Victoria at the moment in those parts…

FRAN KELLY:

[Talks over] You can't.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

…you can't, or you can have only five people in your home and that's because we've seen those chains of family transmission. In the other parts of the country, where there may not be community transmission, of course you can be a little bit more relaxed. But we've all got to maintain some of those basic principles of good hand hygiene and distancing, and probably yes, it's better to not be hugging grandma who you haven't seen for a few months just on the off chance that you might have the virus.

FRAN KELLY:

Okay. The nation's peak health committee - this is major news this morning - that's the committee you chair, is quote strongly discouraging travel to and from six local council areas in Melbourne which have identified now as corona hotspots. Is that a recommendation that these areas be locked down? What would that look like? What does it mean?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

No. At the moment the recommendation is simply an advisory, a strong advisory, where what we don't want is people to come from those areas to other parts of Victoria, or interstate. So school holidays are coming up, so if you live in one of those areas where there's transmission we don't want you to fly to visit your family in Sydney, or to go to country Victoria and potentially spread the virus. Similarly, we think that if you're coming from interstate and you've got family in one of those areas, we'd prefer you not to come and visit that area and potentially take the virus back. So it's an advisory, we're asking people to respect the public health situation and change their behaviour accordingly.

FRAN KELLY:

What about- does that mean - I mean there's more than a million people in these six council areas - does that mean not going out of area to go to work? Or go to school?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

No, it doesn't mean that. It's more about coming in to visit for gatherings and stuff. We're not - it's not at a stage, there's small numbers at the moment. We're not saying people who are already going to work from those areas shouldn't go to work. But in Victoria there is a rule that if you are working from home you need to continue working from home, but those who are going to work the Victorian authorities recognise that they have to keep going to work. All these measures, none of them are absolute, but they all combine to make a benefit.

FRAN KELLY:

Queensland's already declared all of Melbourne a hot spot meaning any traveller returning home from the city must self-quarantine for 14 days. Is it your recommendation that all states that currently have border closures, keep those borders slammed shut to Victorians? At least until these infections are under control?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I can understand the anxiety in those states. Again, there are small numbers in Victoria. We - the AHPPC has never actually recommended state border closures, they've been decisions that the states have made on their own accord and I can understand their anxiety.

FRAN KELLY:

In terms of AFL- we've got an AFL player now, Essendon's, Connor McKenna, testing positive - one match being postponed indefinitely as a result. Given the nature of team sports, and a contact one like the AFL, is it your view this season can proceed in a safe manner? Especially in Victoria right now?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well I think the AFL has taken some extraordinary precautionary steps with isolating their players, frequent testing. And so I think that - and they went into this knowing that this sort of thing might happen, that if a player tested positive they might have to look at postponing or cancelling games - so I think they've taken a lot of precautions. And we do, for most of the country, we really have almost no community transmission at the moment, so hopefully they can keep going.

FRAN KELLY:

But, are you concerned about the AFL? I mean you're keeping a watchful eye on it?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I don't think they pose a community risk. I think they - the risk is their own internal risk that they may end up with outbreaks in a team and have to cancel players. But they're protecting themselves from the- the community, I don't think, is exposed by the AFL continuing.

FRAN KELLY:

And the community transmissions that are the - that's the worrying thing in these Victorian figures because most of the infections that have come from community transmissions - most of them from those clusters, the family clusters. Are there's some out there that we have no idea still how people contracted the virus? Someone's written in to say what about the protest gatherings where thousands of people gathered? Are they - could they be responsible?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

We don't think the protest gatherings were directly responsible. We don't - while three of the protesters in Victoria did test positive, we don't think they transmitted it or got it at the protests. The concern about the protest that I've said, and others have said, is that it led to people who were doing the right thing about avoiding gatherings feeling a bit like others were breaking the rules so they could too.

So I think the protest set a bad example for others and maybe have contributed to people gathering in larger numbers - we don't know that for sure. But there are some cases in Victoria where at the moment they don't know where they've been contacting the virus, but often when they've investigated further they do find a contact. So at the moment, yes, there definitely are a small number of cases for whom no obvious source of transmission has been found.

FRAN KELLY:

And just to be clear, I know we spoke about this, but a couple people are asking, can we confirm going to school outside the local government area is okay?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Yes. Yes. The things that are continuing- I think it's really the biggest risk is that interstate travel and at regional travel into areas where there is absolutely no virus at the moment.

FRAN KELLY:

You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's quarter to eight. Our guest is Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, outgoing Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy. Brendan Murphy, you were the first one to sort of raise the alarm or the warning here in Australia that we better get prepared for this. You finish up this week as Chief Medical Officer to take on your new role as Secretary of the Health Department. It's been a hell of a five months you've just experienced. Can we talk about lessons learned? If we- if another pandemic struck - God help us - what's the key lessons you've learned from this one?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Yes, it's an interesting question. I think people often ask what would we have done differently. I think we responded incredibly well. I think perhaps when we do look back at the end of this pandemic there are a number of things we'll look at.

We want to make sure that our public health response systems in every state and territory are really well-prepared and trained. Some- they've all responded brilliantly but in some cases we have to surge up pretty quickly. I think we've learnt an awful lot about the huge danger of cruise ships in terms of outbreaks, and I think that's something that's certainly a lesson learnt. And I think we've got- one of the really lovely things we've learned is that the Australian population has largely stuck with us in what's been a pretty horrible few months in terms of what we've done to society.

So I think at the moment I feel, largely, we've been very successful. And I think the other thing that's come out of it is how well the federation has worked - I think we've had great cooperation from the state and territories, and the Commonwealth at the health level, and we've seen that also at the National Cabinet level. So it's a long way to go yet, so it's probably too early to look back with the retrospective scope, as we say in medicine, because we're still not out of this yet until we get a vaccine. But I think we have, we were pretty well prepared, and more importantly we responded very well and early.

FRAN KELLY:

Brendan Murphy, thank you for your leadership through this time and good luck with the new job.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Thank you, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

Brendan Murphy, outgoing Chief Medical Officer, soon to be the Secretary of the Federal Commonwealth Department of Health.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID12610, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-interview-on-abc-radio-national-on-22-june-2020)

View contact