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

LISA MILLAR:

Well back home, the number of cases of coronavirus is still growing, currently nine people have tested positive in Australia. With more, we're joined from Canberra by the Chief Health Officer Brendan Murphy. Thank you very much for joining us. Can you bring us up to speed with this decision by the WHO to turn this into a national- international public emergency?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Good morning again. Yes, the World Health Organization has declared this a public health emergency of international concern. We've been calling for that for some days. It is a recognition of the scale of the outbreak in China, and the fact that there now have been a significant number of exported cases in a number of countries, small numbers and contained, and generally pretty mild in those countries. But the risk of obviously further human to human transmission in other countries has prompted them to take this step. It doesn't mean much for Australia. We are already responding very, very actively to ensure that we detect and contain any cases of this virus that have been exported here from China.

LISA MILLAR:

And Brendan Murphy, what does it mean when we are talking about the Tigerair flight and this concern about who else might have been on board?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well I think there are some concern about that flight because the person who developed infection had been unwell on the flight and we do believe that people are more infectious when they are unwell on the flight. So the Queensland health authorities have been actively tracing all the passengers. They will be particularly keen to detect the patient – the passengers who were sitting next to that person who was unwell, and make sure that they are properly monitored. And because they were close contacts, they may need to have a period of home isolation.

LISA MILLAR:

And we're still looking at coronavirus spreading much more quickly than SARS, aren't we? I mean, what's – how worried are you about the next week or two or even a month away?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well, I think the next few weeks will really determine – the next weeks and month – whether we can contain this outbreak. Clearly, it is not yet contained in China. But they are making Herculean efforts to do so. It's contained very well in all the countries where it's been exported to, including Australia.

I think one of the things we're noting at the moment – the World Health Organization noted overnight that it has a mortality of around 2 per cent on current data, compared to SARS which had 10 per cent. So there are a number of mild cases and the mortality is mainly in elderly people who have other diseases. But it's still too early to make definite predictions about the severity of this condition. But containment remains our international goal, and that's certainly what we are focusing on in Australia.

LISA MILLAR:

And we're just looking at photos, pictures actually, from the Geelong laboratory, the CSIRO, of course. There is a lot of work being done, but how significant is Australia's contribution in trying to find a vaccine?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Yes, Australia's making a substantial contribution. As you know, the Doherty Institute in Melbourne grew the virus very quickly, and having the virus in culture is a really important step to develop, for example, blood tests to determine who might have been infected.

There's a very active group in the University of Queensland who have been involved in new vaccine development from viral – viruses using molecular biology and they're very actively working on that.

And as you say, the Australian animal health laboratories in Geelong play a very important role in animal studies in viruses. So we're playing a very active lead role as we always do in these sort of situations.

LISA MILLAR:

Brendan Murphy, thank you very much for joining us.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Pleasure.

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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.

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