Chief Medical Officer press conference about COVID-19 on 17 July 2020
Read the transcript of Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly's press conference about COVID-19 on 17 July 2020.
We have had more cases overnight. We're now over 11,000 cases in Australia, 438 newly cases in the last 24 hours. They are mainly in Victoria, 428. Eight in New South Wales, and two cases in WA. In WA, these are cases in quarantine from overseas travel. There are disturbingly three more deaths recorded overnight, all in people over the age of 70, but that makes 116 Australians that have died of this illness so far and really brings to mind that this is not just numbers, these are real people with families and friends my condolences go to those family and friends.
There are still now over 2500 active cases in Australia. These are cases that have been diagnosed in the last few weeks. Again, an increase in hospitalisation, 126 cases now in hospital. Of those, 32 are in intensive care. The tests – a lot of testing happening all around Australia but particularly in New South Wales and Victoria. We now have over 3,350,000 tests done since the beginning, and over 60,000 yesterday, that if not a record, must be close to a record in terms of tests.
So, we continue to have community transmission, particularly in Victoria, and particularly in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire. So, a message to our friends in Victoria, there are a lot of restrictions and other things going on in terms of contact tracing and isolation of cases, and also, the restrictions in terms of the lockdowns in those areas. My message is to be patient. It does take time because of the biology of the virus, before these types of restrictions, and the isolation of cases and contacts will demonstrate that we are starting to get on top of the situation in Victoria.
These are large numbers today, that is disturbing, but we do have good indications, that those mobility restrictions, the movement restrictions around Melbourne, in particular, are working and people are taking notice. We know that people are taking notice of the physical distancing rules, and we hope that everyone is remembering about hygiene, both in the way you cough and sneeze but also frequently washing your hands. These things are absolutely crucial for us getting on top of the virus, and it does take a couple of weeks before we'll be able to see those signs. And so I remain hopeful about the situation in Victoria, but please, take note of everything that is being asked of you from the Victorian Government.
The second message really is to our colleagues in New South Wales, especially in south-western Sydney. The New South Wales Government has and continues to do amazing work in terms of the contact tracing, case finding and testing. This is vital as I said for the situation in Victoria. And in New South Wales, for the most part, those people are being found quickly, and it is one outbreak related to that Crossroads Hotel in south-western Sydney.
So, there are a number of restrictions that are being announced today. Some of those are already coming into play over this weekend, others will come into play next weekend. The fact that those restrictions will come into place in those areas of south-west Sydney next weekend is not an excuse to have a huge party this weekend. This is a very dangerous time. The virus is circulating in Victoria, we've seen what has happened in Melbourne, we do not want to see that happening in other parts of Australia, and in this case particularly in south-western Sydney. So please, remember those simple rules. Do not mix with too many people. Decrease your close physical relationship with other people. So, physical distancing is important. Make sure you're washing your hands and taking cough etiquette.
They are simple messages but they are absolutely crucial right now to get on top of the situation here in south-west Sydney. If you are sick, please stay at home unless you are going to, and we would really encourage you to come forward for a test. For those places that have been announced by New South Wales Health as places of concern, if you have been at those places, please come forward and have a test. The test is free, it is safe, and it's readily available. So, they are the main messages for the day. This is a situation with a highly infectious disease, which can cause serious illness, particularly in elderly people but not only in elderly people, and sometimes that illness can last for months. And sometimes as we have sadly seen, can lead to very serious illness requiring intensive care treatment in hospital and even death.
So, with that, I'll pass – we have three people on the phone to ask questions. Jade from the ABC, we'll ask your question first?
Thank you. Can I ask, has the AHPCC provided any advice to the Victorian Government on what could or should be on the table if a further stage of restrictions are imposed?
So, we have very clear advice from the AHPCC about the stages that can be taken in terms of so-called lockdown restrictions. So, the Victorian Government will be taking those decisions based on that general advice. It is their decision they need to make. We are certainly in close contact with our Victorian colleagues, we continue to discuss every day at the Australia Health Protection Committee [sic] and outside of that meeting with our colleagues in Victoria. We continue to offer all assistance, both on the ground in terms of the Australian Defence Force and other Commonwealth personnel that are in Victoria, assisting, as well as virtual contact traces here in Canberra, in the national incident room, in Queensland, through Queensland Health and many other – pretty much all of the other jurisdictions have put their hand up to assist.
So, we are continuing to assist in those contact tracing and case finding efforts. Many laboratories in other jurisdictions are also assisting with the testing effort. In terms of what happens with regard to lockdowns and so forth, of course that is a decision for the Victorian Government.
Dana, you have a question for the Sydney Morning Herald?
Yeah, thanks Professor Kelly. I just wanted to check the total aged care centres that have infections now, and also is there any update on the recommendations for mask use in hospitals in any of the states, or other workplaces?
So, I don't have the figure for the aged care facilities at the moment, only to say that this is mainly an issue – well, it is an issue in Melbourne and other parts of Victoria. There are small outbreaks in many aged care facilities. There are a small number of facilities with larger outbreaks. From the Commonwealth Government, together with the Victorian Government, and the aged care facilities in the sector itself, we are all working very closely together to look at that situation. We know in aged care facilities these can be very difficult – this can be a very difficult infection to control because it is so infectious, because a large number of people that are the most vulnerable in our community are living close together.
And so, we've learnt a lot in the last few months about how to handle these types of outbreaks, and we are working through those right now with a range of measures. So, one of them you mentioned specifically is the use of masks, so the Victorian Government and backed up by the Australian Health Protection Committee[sic] have said that mask use should be compulsory in areas, firstly in Melbourne and now right throughout Victoria from yesterday. We've supplied seven million masks from the national medical stockpile in the last few days to support that effort, and so that's aged care facilities. Healthcare workers throughout Melbourne in particular, we do need to redouble our efforts to keep them safe, and mask use has definitely been advised in all hospitals throughout Victoria and indeed in primary care.
Steven from The Australian?
Hi Professor, thanks for taking my call. The Northern Territory CMO has said that the current COVID-19 is different epidemiologically to the first wave, and both New South Wales and Victoria health authorities have spoken of a Melbourne man who went to Casula from where the virus was spread as being very contagious compared to others who had the virus. There's also been commentary overseas about virus mutating in February, and becoming if not more lethal, then more easily transmissible. So, my question is: is this virus mutating? Is it different to the first wave? Is it more transmissible or more dangerous?
So, a range of questions there, I think. But related to the virus, has it been changing, yes. We are able now to be able to look at the entire genome of the virus and we've been doing that really since January and there have been some minor changes and we are able to for example use that information to assist in our contact tracing effort to see whether particular cases are linked from our epidemiological investigations, so that's the contact tracers asking where people have been and doing that disease detective work.
It can be backed up by the laboratory measuring the actual molecular structure of a particular virus. So the virus has changed molecularly but very small changes since it was first discovered in Wuhan in late December. We can therefore say that of the very few cases so far that have had that genomic analysis in Sydney it does appear that they are linked with the same strain that is circulating in Melbourne. So that backs up that disease detective work. Is it more infectious or causing more serious illness? In general terms, viruses, as they become transmissible between humans, it does tend to become more easily transmitted rather than more serious over time. Is it particularly a change in the virus? That is too early to tell.
What we do know about what has happened in south-west Sydney because we have very detailed epidemiological information about that is that there are people – many people are being infected by a single person within the Crossroads Pub. And so, we've seen very quickly several generations of transmission and this has been described by my colleague Dr Kerry Chant in her press conferences. And so a very short period of being exposed to the virus and becoming infectious themselves leading to further infections and leading to further infections. So, four generations like that already since the end of June. So, this explains what we've been saying from the beginning, this is a very infectious virus. It is the reason why we want people to limit their contact with others, mixing with others and all of those procedures that you're familiar with locking down society and mixing in this way through society. That is the reason why we have those because it's effective.
Jade do you have another comment, question?
Yesterday Michael Kidd said that the Prime Minister had asked the AHPPC for advice on truck drivers crossing state borders and whether they should be prevented from attending crowded venues if they've been to Victoria. Has that advice been provided and what is that advice?
Well, certainly we need our freight to continue. We need our truck drivers to continue across our state borders. That's a very important issue and there is a whole body of work that the National Cabinet is looking at in relation to firstly, making that possible but secondly, making it as safe as possible as people cross borders. So those conversations are continuing and we will be discussing that in detail over the coming days.
There was a question here in the room.
You did mention pubs earlier. I just wondered if you had an opinion on whether pubs should be opening. Sounds like alcohol in this situation is a fairly dangerous combination?
Well, the issue with alcohol is it does decrease our inhibitions and so may also decrease our ability to follow instructions. And so, it is an issue. Pubs in particular, that is one of the issues. But I think the biggest issue in pubs is that some of them are very large, large numbers of people come and go from pubs, so that mixing within the pub, and then the mobility of people once they have visited the pub, has been absolutely demonstrated by this Crossroads Hotel situation. We have had people come forward in Queensland who have been at the pub to be tested – all negative, luckily. We have had a truck driver in South Australia – negative, luckily. We know that people have come back and forth from Melbourne, many different parts of Sydney, and beyond Sydney to the north and to the south. So, this demonstrates why large groups of people coming together can quickly make this amplification of the virus throughout society.
Dana, did you have a follow-up?
Yes, could I ask you what your take is on the reproduction rate in Victoria at the moment?
I will be talking about that tomorrow. We do have some information on that, but it is a bit premature. Suffice to say that it is looking very positive compared with what it was about three weeks ago.
One in the room?
My question was, in regards Remdesivir, has there been any updates on the Australian supply and the potential of this [indistinct]?
Yes, so Remdesivir has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for use in Australia. We were ahead of the game there compared with many other countries. We do have a supply; it is being used. It is not a silver bullet, if you like, in terms of the treatment. It does assist in a very small group of people, particularly those in intensive care. So, it is being used in Victoria right now, and we do have supplies.
Steven, another question from you? Might be the last one.
No, I have no question.
One more question in the room?
What do you think about – Sicktoria, as they call it these days, but Victoria at the moment. Is it easing off? What's your opinion on what's happening?
So, Victoria continuing to have a relatively large number of cases each day, again today, more than the last few days, but not rapidly increasing, I would say. That is a positive sign. We may not be at the peak yet for Victoria, that's certainly – my colleague Brett Sutton said that today in his press conference, and I don't have a silver ball about that. What I did say before was it does take at least two weeks for anything we do today to try and change that transmission. It will be two weeks until we find whether that has worked or not, and so we are still within that two-week period of this particular situation in Melbourne. And so, we will just have to wait and see. For those of you in Victoria, please take note of what the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the Chief Health Officer and the Premier are saying. This is a really crucial time to take those messages on-board. Listen to the experts, do what is necessary and we can get through this.
Thank you very much.