Date published: 
23 February 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

… the COVID-19 novel coronavirus situation. So, the best news today is that the second group from Wuhan have all left Darwin. None of them proved positive over their 14-day quarantine and they're all on their way home now, which is fantastic news for them and fantastic news for their families. As you've probably heard, there's been a seventh case from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, people who came to Darwin, who has now tested positive. That person is in the process of being medevaced to Queensland. All seven, I'm advised, are in good health and stable at the moment. We always expected to have some more cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. The risk, as I've said on many occasions before, was significantly higher than the Wuhan returnees because of the evidence of maintained transmission in the last few days when they were on the ship.

Elsewhere, a bit over 78,000 cases worldwide. Again, the picture is very much the same as it has been with most of the growth in Hubei province and not much growth in other parts of mainland China. We are concerned about the significant growth in numbers in Japan and South Korea, where there has been some evidence of community transmission. As you know, most of the cases in Japan were related to that cruise ship, but they have had a number of other cases as well. We're watching the developments in Japan and South Korea very closely, because they are the biggest areas of concern outside of mainland China at present.

But again, as Minister Hunt said yesterday, in Australia currently we are well contained. Other than the people who have come back from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, all of our original 15 cases came from Hubei province over a fortnight ago. Ten of those 15 have cleared the virus and are well, and the other five are well but just waiting for final tests to clear the virus before they return to the community. So, that's all good news. We are prepared for further eventualities, but at the moment, things are well contained.

So I'll stop there. Thank you.

QUESTION:

What's the plan for those who have come back and now tested positive from the Diamond Princess and they're being moved to their home states? What happens to them once they arrive?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY

They're being taken to whatever facility the state Health Department thinks is appropriate for them. They will be isolated and monitored. None of them will need particularly high-level medical treatment at the moment, but they'll be monitored and tested and isolated until they're well and have cleared the virus.

QUESTION:

So they're taken to hospital, versus in their own homes?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY

Initially to hospital. It's up to the state health departments whether if some of them become extremely well (inaudible) and they can guarantee some secure isolation, that might be possible down the track. But the agreement is they all go to hospital initially.

QUESTION: 

Logistically, what's that like for the hospitals? How do they ensure that they're isolated, that there's all the infection control measures in place, that sort of thing?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

So, every state and territory health department has a plan for isolation of highly infectious diseases. Many of those plans were developed way back in the Ebola epidemic. So they all have designated hospitals with big isolation wards and a number of other hospitals that have negative pressure areas - well-established protocols. It's core business for them to isolate and look after people with infectious diseases.

QUESTION: 

With regards to the Victorians, can you talk us through who they are - whether they're male, female, their ages and whereabouts they're being sent?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY: 

No, I can't. That information would have to come from the Victorian Health Department. We've provided basic information. They would need to check with the privacy of the people before releasing where they were in more details.

QUESTION:

With regards to how they quarantined that cruise ship, did they get it wrong?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Look, I wasn't there. I can't comment on what happened. It was a really complex issue with over 3000 people on the ship. The people who have been on it were pretty confident that they were confined to their cabin. But we do have some evidence that there was transmission in the last few days. Nobody quite understands how or why, and there's a lot of investigation going on there now. But the Japanese have a very good public health system, and I don't know what happened.

QUESTION:

What happens to - I know there's one particular family from Victoria still in hospital in Japan over there. What would be the plan for them to get them home eventually?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

So the plan for them would be to wait until they're medically cleared by the Japanese health authorities, and make sure that they've cleared the virus so that they're not infectious. And then, if that happens to be before the 14-day period which we've put a block on those people coming back, they could seek permission on the basis of Japanese medical advice to come back earlier.

QUESTION:

The World Health Organization have put out a statement saying that the window of containment might be closing. Are you concerned at all about that?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY: 

We've been concerned the whole way along about the spread of this virus in China, in other provinces of China, and now in Japan and Korea. But there's no suggestion at the moment that containment has been lost. But it remains a risk. And we are obviously concerned about those countries where there's growth in numbers and continued transmission. Japan and South Korea are both countries with good health systems and we're hopeful that they will do everything they can to bring about containment.

QUESTION: 

In terms of Australia, obviously 15 cases plus those extras now. The numbers are still quite low, but where is the room to move? What are the things that you potentially would have to put in place if this does step up a notch?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY: 

So the risk for us would be, is if we had sustained community transmission in Australia, and then that would put some pressure on our health system, particularly for those small percentage of people who get severe disease and need intensive care or high-level care in hospitals. And that could put pressure on that. So, whilst we're not expecting that, we are planning for all eventualities at the moment.

QUESTION: 

And what's your advice, then, to the general population in Australia? What should people be doing? There's obviously been huge impact on businesses, tourism, hospitality. What should people do?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY: 

Go about your normal business. There is no community transmission of this virus in Australia. There is no risk to people walking around the streets, walking in the shopping centres. The only risk is being in contact with people who have come from an area where there's high transmission or there's contact. I'm saying to people in Australia: don't wear masks. Go about your normal business.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: 

Last couple.

QUESTION: 

And the advice-

QUESTION: 

Sorry, just from the ABC. We just got here a bit late obviously. One from Canberra. There are at least 150 Australian citizens and permanent residents who are stuck in Wuhan. They are pleading with the Government to put an extra evacuation flight to get them out. Will you consider their request?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY: 

That's a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Government.

QUESTION: 

But they say they've been abandoned by Australia. Why can't the Government arrange another evacuation flight?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY: 

That's really a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Foreign Affairs Minister. That's in their area.

QUESTION:

And the directive for people who are coming back from mainland China - there's been that self-isolation for 14 days, two weeks. Are you confident people are doing that, because there are thousands of people who would be in that position?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

We're very confident, actually. People are very responsible. The risk for those people coming from mainland China is quite low, because there are only a relatively small number of cases in those provinces who have big, big populations, and we haven't seen much exported cases. But we're pretty confident that people are doing the right thing.

QUESTION:

Do you know roughly how many people are sitting in self-isolation across the country?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:   

No, I don't have that in hand at the moment.

QUESTION: 

Just in terms of the vaccine that's being developed, are you aware of any Melbourne researchers involved?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

So, there's a consortium in Australia with the University of Queensland, the Doherty Institute in Melbourne and the Australian Animal Health Laboratories, run by CSIRO in Geelong. So, those three are working very closely together on the vaccine, so there's a big Victorian involvement in it.

QUESTION: 

How far away do you think that could be?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

It's still a long way away. It's still months away. Generally speaking, to get a vaccine from candidate molecule to test would be more than a year. So, we are hopeful that progress will be made, but there's no realistic prospect of a vaccine in the short-term.

Thank you.

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