Date published: 
27 January 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LISA MILLAR:

China's National Health Commission has revealed the virus can be transmitted during the incubation period, before symptoms arrive. So far, four cases of coronavirus have been found on Australian soil but that number is expected to rise. With more, Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy joins us live in the studio. Professor Murphy, thank you very much for coming in. Can we go to that latest change about the incubation period? What does that mean for how Australia needs to be treating this situation?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Thank you. Well, I think we need to understand more what that statement means. It's very unusual for this type of virus to be infectious during incubation. Similar viruses such as SARS and MERS were not. We don't know what that means. Whether it's a short period of the incubation period, we don't really know. So we're convening our expert panels of infectious diseases people today to understand the implications of that. We certainly have taken already a precautionary approach and liking to have a window of caution between when people become symptomatic and when we do contact tracing. But it is an unusual statement and we need to understand it better.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

And if that statement turns out to be true, I don't know, various studies need to be done on it. What are the implications?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

The implications are that one would need to do contact tracing earlier than one is doing it now. For example, at the moment, we are tracing people who have been on a plane with someone if they became symptomatic within 24 hours or – after they arrived. Now, it might mean that we'd have to chase back a little bit earlier. But it would still be very unusual if there was a long period of asymptomatic infectivity. So we really do need to understand it better.

LISA MILLAR:

On a global scale, how bad could this get?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Look, I think it's very hard to tell at the moment. We clearly are concerned about what's happening in China. The – it does seem that the outbreak is not contained. They are doing a lot to do that. They've essentially shut down the province of Hubei and restricting travel in and out of that area. But we know that there have been cases in 29 other provinces of China, small numbers, and we believe they're being actively managed and we also know that more than 40 countries, including Australia, around the world again have small numbers. But we don't know of any proven evidence of human to human transmission outside of the Hubei province, where there's clearly human to human transmission. And our aim in Australia is to make sure that that never happens, that every case that comes here is detected and appropriately isolated and looked after.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Do you expect more cases to emerge here in Australia?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

I think that's very likely. We already have a probable additional case in New South Wales that will be probably confirmed today of a Chinese student at one of the universities who is now being treated as positive until the confirmatory tests come back today and the- New South Wales public health are acting as if that case is positive. And there are lots of others being tested every day.

LISA MILLAR:

But at this stage, the cases in Australia are people who have contracted it and then travelled to Australia...

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

[Talks over] They are all people who have come from China, yes.

LISA MILLAR:

Why hasn't the World Health Organization yet declared this as a public health emergency and do they need to do that?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

My preference would be for them to do so. They were very split on their decision. The reason – the technical reason that they gave is the absence of human to human transmission outside of the original site in Hubei province. I think it's important to note, though, that they have stepped up their response as if it were a public health emergency. They're doing all the things that they would normally do, so I think it really it is a semantic issue. World Health Organization is taking this very seriously.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

People here in Australia are obviously concerned, especially if they travelled from China recently, they could be going to see their local GPs. Are the GPs being offered any further advice from your office to help them deal with these people as best they can?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

I sent a bulletin – a letter out to every GP in the country yesterday and all the emergency physicians and AMA members and I am today sending out a similar message to all pharmacists. So we are really upping our communication, making sure that every health practitioner who might see someone who has come from China in the last few weeks, particularly from the Hubei region, who develops flu-like symptoms is treated as a possible case. They will probably turn out to be negative, but they should be treated that way, isolated and then referred to the nearest emergency department with calling ahead.

LISA MILLAR:

Brendan Murphy, thanks for coming in. Appreciate your time and we'll stay across this story.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Thank you.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID9739, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-on-abc-news-breakfast-about-novel-coronavirus)

View contact

Chief Medical Officer

Professor Brendan Murphy is the Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government and is the principal medical adviser to the Minister and Health.

View contact