Date published: 
23 June 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PAUL KELLY:                        

Good afternoon, everyone. Paul Kelly here in Canberra. And I'm joined by Lieutenant General Frewen and Commodore Young. The main- I'll start with the main point of the press conference and then I'll hand over to the Lieutenant General Frewen for some updates around the vaccination program.

So I'm here mostly to just say that I've decided to declare a hot spot in New South Wales. It is in the Sydney area in the same seven LGAs that have been discussed by the New South Wales Government today as being their areas of most concern in relation to the COVID outbreak in Sydney. So as the Chief Medical Officer, I have declared those same seven LGAs, that is Waverley, City of Sydney, Woollahra, Bayside, Canada Bay, Inner West and Randwick as a COVID-19 hotspot for an initial period of seven days, starting from today through to 30 June. So New South Wales has announced the occurrence of over 30 cases in Metropolitan Sydney, including cases that have visited Wollongong and one case that flew to New Zealand. Whole genome sequencing has confirmed that these cases are related, those that they have the result on, with the new Delta variant of concern.

So this Delta variant is believed to lead to a higher transmissibility of the virus and results in the need for more stringent public health measures, as have been announced in New South Wales today by the New South Wales Government. Due to the increased risk posed by the Delta variant and cases having been in the community whilst infectious, the Commonwealth hotspot definition can come into play. And so we have offered the New South Wales Government support and assistance in relation to that. So just to remind everyone that declaring a hotspot, this is the nationally agreed hotspot definition from the Commonwealth. It triggers certain events. It is particularly related to extra support for keeping our most vulnerable Australians safe in aged care facilities. And so despite the fact that we have already vaccinated throughout that area into the aged care facilities, and my colleagues they mention that shortly. We will also provide personal protective equipment from the National Medical Stockpile. We have triggered the Single Site Workforce Supplement, and also we have provided further support into the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre in New South Wales from Commonwealth officials to assist with that coordination of response to the aged care sector, as we have done most recently and very successfully in Victoria. We have offered assistance with contact tracing, if required, but that is not currently being taken up. We have provided asymptomatic testing via the general practise respiratory clinics throughout the Greater Sydney area. There will be, if needed, a reprioritisation of vaccine supplies. And I'll leave that to General Frewen to discuss.

It also, of course, if this was to lead to an actual lockdown in Sydney, and that was to last for a week, it could then trigger the Temporary Covid Disaster Payment eligibility. But that- just to remind everyone that that would only kick in after a week. And at the moment, this is only for one week. So that is the main thing I wanted to talk about today. We are concerned about the situation in Sydney, as has been also made clear from the New South Wales Health authorities. And we will do every day, as we've done right throughout the last few weeks, meet with the AHPPC to give our support to New South Wales.

So I'll hand over to the Lieutenant-General Frewen, and then we'll take questions.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Good afternoon, everybody. Just following on from Professor Kelly in relation to the situation in New South Wales, the vaccination rollout continues. And I want to assure people that in terms of protecting our most vulnerable citizens that all but nine of the 883 residential aged care facilities in New South Wales have already received their first and second dose visits. And that we will be- and that there are no facilities in the seven affected areas that have not all received their second dose visits already. There are 94 facilities across the states that are yet to have their second dose visits, and we will be bringing forward those visits over the next five days. And we will also be activating some roving vaccination teams that will get around the facilities inside the seven affected areas just to make sure that we pick up on any of the residents there who are yet to have their second doses. Additionally, we will be delivering the previously approved additional 50,000 doses of Pfizer to Sydney by this Friday.

On a separate matter. I also wanted to advise you that today I have released publicly, on the Department of Health website, the planning data around projected vaccination allocations to the states and territories out to the end of the year. What these figures provide is each of the jurisdictions, the likely minimum amount of doses of each of the available vaccines, and the likely upper range of likely supply that we will receive. This is giving the states all of the best information we can to help them plan to get all of the vaccinations that we can provide to their citizens as quickly as possible. The- pardon me, I'm happy to take questions on any of that or Professor Kelly.

QUESTION:                          

If I could start, Professor Kelly, just in terms of the declaration. I assume that also means that if people are required to isolate, they don't have sick pay or they're a casual, that that now means they can access the Commonwealth supported sick pay for that 14 days?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So that's the temporary COVID disaster payment. So that was what I mentioned. That only kicks in after seven days.

QUESTION:                          

Sorry, not that. But actually the previously last year announced…

PAUL KELLY:                        

Oh, the pandemic leave? Yes. Well, I believe that that's the case, but that will be a matter for others to decide. But the hotspot definition is specifically related to the disaster payment, which only kicks in after seven days.

QUESTION:                          

Just how concerned you about this outbreak? Four mystery cases today, two yesterday. This is the Delta variant that we haven't had an outbreak of this scale. How worried are you?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So it was, of course, the Delta variant that has been circulating in Victoria over the last few weeks, at least part of that- that one of those outbreaks in the last few weeks has been the Delta variant. Look, I am worried. There is, has up to now, been a very strong linkage between the cases, but that has changed over the last 24 hours. We have had these, the first, really, of our super spreader events. I think the party that took place in Southwest Sydney on Saturday night, where there are now already within two days of that party, 10 cases out of the 30 or so people that were at that event. Now, New South Wales are fantastic with their contact tracing. There's no doubt that they are the best in Australia in that relation, and my colleague Kerry Chant who I speak to at least twice a day, runs an excellent outfit there. But this is- they are really chasing these unlinked cases now, and that's going to make it more difficult. I think the school, the plane and the party are three different complex settings. So that has changed over the last 24 hours.

QUESTION:                          

Lieutenant General, can I ask you about the Horizons document?

JOHN FREWEN:                  

Sure.

QUESTION:                          

It says that basically from October you don't really expect any AstraZeneca to be used across the country. Can you explain why that is, and do you think that anybody will be ordering any AstraZeneca from October onwards?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Yeah, sure. No, the assumptions that are in the ranges there are that for all of those people and cohorts that AstraZeneca is preferred. We think they will have received their AstraZeneca before the fourth quarter. For any people who still do require AstraZeneca, we will have allocations available into the fourth quarter and we fully expected that there'll be adequate supply of AstraZeneca well into the fourth quarter.

QUESTION:                          

And does this horizons document, I guess, give an outline for when you might be starting vaccinations for people aged 30 and over or 20 and over, and that sort of thing?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

No, no, this is a document purely around the available supply and the planning parameters that allow the states to plan within those ranges. And this is in line with the commitment I made in my first appearance to now in a new phase of the campaign, providing as much transparency as we can around all of the data to allow people to plan as well as they can.

QUESTION:                          

But just on that document, the back of the envelope scribblings, it looks like from - for example, in New South Wales - from about the end of July across the two vaccine types, they'll be getting about 900,000 doses a week. Gladys Berejiklian has a sort of standard of 10 million vaccinations, is where she'd feel more comfortable to be able to better manage outbreaks. And perhaps I can get Professor Kelly on this as well. Is that something that you're hop- that's 10 weeks from the end of July. That's quite soon. Do you expect that we may actually be able to reach that threshold on target as per the horizons document?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Look, we are- I am still in the process of reviewing the current programme. I think there are- as the amounts of the drugs increase through quarter three- planning horizon two, and into planning horizon three as indicated on the document, we are going to make sure that we have the capacities necessary to deliver those drugs at the rates that we will need to. And that's going to require a partnership between the states and the Federal government to make sure that we have got the appropriate nodes to do that.

QUESTION:                          

What do you make of that ten million threshold, Professor Kelly, in terms of it just putting everyone at ease when we do have outbreaks like this?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So I'd have to leave it to Premier Berejiklian to defend that number. But I think- I mean, what it refers to is getting to some sort of higher level of percentage of the population covered with two vaccines. And I think that's what she's referring to. AHPPC and our Communicable Diseases Network of Australia, which is the technical group subcommittee of AHPPC, are doing a body of work around that now. About what vaccination means in terms of our ability to live more normal lives into the future. Obviously, that's challenging to think that way when we're in the middle of another outbreak. But that's certainly what we're doing, we had a meeting about that today, that's work that we have been tasked with by the National Cabinet. So that relates to the future. And so we'll keep working towards that. I think as Lieutenant General has said, we're committed to rolling out the vaccine when supply is available. And that will assist us to do that.

QUESTION:                          

Does the transmissibility of a variant and make our hotel quarantine system more precarious? Do we need facilities now more than ever?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So we've talked a lot about quarantine systems over the years. We developed the quarantine arrangements back in March of last year. And that was a decision by National Cabinet to go down the path we've had, which is hotel quarantine. It has been enormously successful right throughout that. Now, there have been breaches, they've been well documented. I've been very open with them about what they are, what they mean. The variants of concern that are more transmissible do add a degree of complexity there. But it still remains a very safe system and it is part of our rings of containment or protection of the community. At the moment we have had over some time around a one per cent or less positivity rate in our hotel quarantine. So that's another ring of containment we've done with that testing before people arrive. And we're looking to continue that. Yes, it is an extra complexity, but it is working and continuing to work very well. In the meantime, we're actively exploring, as is known with the Victorian government, their proposal for a dedicated quarantine facility. And so that's something that will be an additive but not a replacement for hotel quarantine.

QUESTION:                          

Do you think stepping up the processes in hotel quarantine, making sure PPE and all that kind of stuff is done to a fine T, is more sustainable and more important- I guess, pertinent then setting up a dedicated quarantine facility?

PAUL KELLY:                        

I think both are on the table. We are meeting every week in AHPPC, one of the meetings we have is about the continuous quality improvement of our quarantine system. I was reading a document today, which is which is an update of our guidelines for hotel quarantine, which will be going out to members shortly on the back of our revised guidelines around personal protective equipment last week and more broadly, infection prevention and control. I think it's an important component of our hotel quarantine system and indeed, wherever the virus is, that it's not just the virus, it's not just the environment that the virus lives, but it's human behaviours as well. And that includes infection prevention, control and personal protective equipment, but also the way that quarantine is run. And so those things are as important as the actual environment or the place it's done.

QUESTION:                          

Professor Kelly- and perhaps it's a question for the Lieutenant General. Gladys Berejiklian said today she'd like to see more doctor's clinics added to the rollout very quickly. Is it possible, is it feasible, is it something that could happen soon?

PAUL KELLY:                        

I'll hand that over to the General.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

We're in the process of adding more GPs at the moment. There are, I've mentioned before, across the nation 500 additional GPs coming online with Pfizer from the week starting 5 July, another 500 coming on from the week starting 12 July, and then another 300 from the week starting 19 July. So we are bringing those on as fast as we can at the moment. There is obviously a process that has to be gone through in terms of accrediting facilities and ensuring storage and that sort of stuff. But we are fast tracking that at the moment.

QUESTION:                          

So are they brand new GP facilities, or are they GP facilities giving out AstraZeneca and now they're going to give out Pfizer as well.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

This is a conversion of GPs to Pfizer.

ERIC YOUNG:                       

There are additional [Indistinct] GPs as well. So this week we had an additional 452 General Practises come on board for AstraZeneca. So what the General just talked about then was the conversion of GPs that are currently administering AstraZeneca to administering Pfizer. So we're doing both. We're bringing more GPs on from scratch. And we're also then going through a process of converting the GPs from AstraZeneca to Pfizer.

QUESTION:                          

Professor Kelly, how does the origin of this outbreak in Sydney perhaps differ from the Northern Beaches, which was quite an insulated community, whereas this has spread into the CBD and beyond quite quickly? Is that one of the concerns of the AHPPC at the moment?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So every outbreak is different, and I think what you've mentioned there, Clare, is an important one. It's the place where the outbreak starts and where it spreads to and how it spreads. So, the advantage of the Northern Beaches was, firstly, it was not a variant of concern, and secondly, it is quite an insular peninsula, if I could say that. Most people who live on the Northern Beaches tend to stay on the Northern Beaches, whereas the eastern suburbs of Sydney, when we look- the actual epicentre of this is Bondi Junction, which has a train line and it has a lot of through traffic. And so I think that explains what's happened. And particularly, the Westfield Shopping Centre seems to be where a lot of people go and interact. And we know that that mobility and where people travel with the virus, particularly if they are in their infectious period, that is how outbreaks start. So, it is a different outbreak.

We do have Stephanie on the phone. We should go to you, Steph.

QUESTION:                          

Thanks, Professor Kelly. Just specifically with Sydney, now that you've declared those seven LGAs a hotspot, are you sending more vaccines, or what's the threshold to start sending more vaccines there? And to General Frewen, if I may, when are you hopeful that all aged care centres would have been offered both doses of the vaccine?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

So on the aged care facilities, I mentioned there is only nine of the 883 currently that haven't had second doses and we will have that opportunity to them within the next five days. In terms of vaccines, I've mentioned the additional vaccines that we are moving to Sydney by Friday, and then we stand ready to manage any additional requests from there.

QUESTION:                          

Have enough aged care staff been vaccinated? It was quite low. The first numbers reported to the portal were less than a third.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

Yeah, I might get Eric to speak to the…

ERIC YOUNG:                       

So as of today, we've had 85,000 residential aged care workers have been received at least one dose of the vaccine.

QUESTION:                          

Are you happy with that number? Should it be higher?

ERIC YOUNG:                       

We always hope to get those numbers higher, particularly in situations like this. And we continue to offer those vaccines both to those first- those residents in the residential aged care facilities that have received the first dose and also those workers that are yet to receive the first dose.

QUESTION:                          

Professor Kelly, the advice for New South- or Sydney residents is- it's not a lockdown. It's just limiting their movements, their gatherings, and wearing masks. Are you confident that there will be sufficient compliance with those directives, given they are more complicated for the public to kind of understand rather than a blanket lockdown, that this could be enough to stem what we're seeing is a concerning outbreak?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So, of course, the public health response to the outbreak is primarily in the states. And so, as I've said before, I have full faith and confidence in Dr Chant and her team. They are really very expert at this and very good particularly at communicating what needs to happen and why. And so, I have lots of family in Sydney, and so I know that they are affected, and so… My heart goes out to everyone in Sydney who particularly may have their school holiday plans disrupted by this.

But as the New South Wales Health and the Premier said today, very important that everyone takes on board those- that advice. It's not done lightly. It's done for a real reason. And this is the opportunity we have to control this virus. New South Wales has always had a different approach to some other states in relation to this, but they've been universally successful up to now, and I have full faith that they will be again.

QUESTION:                          

Accepting that the AstraZeneca jab is safe and effective, of course, Australia is going to get Moderna doses from September 2021. Is it- are you hoping that the AstraZeneca jab can just be ridden out into the sunset from a perspective of hesitancy, you know, having people less concerned?

ERIC YOUNG:                       

I think there's- and I'll just cover some of the numbers, I guess, that the Minister has previously covered. So we've got a million doses of Moderna coming in September at this stage plans with another 9 million or so Moderna by the end of the year. We've got more Pfizer coming between now and end of the year and we're going to continue producing AstraZeneca. There remains a place for AstraZeneca for those of which that remains preferred. And they continue production of that vaccine. We'll continue to [indistinct] additional options. We're not only helping ourselves, we're helping our partners in the region as well.

QUESTION:                          

Professor Kelly, we don't have any kind of guidelines from the Government yet as to when we'll get vaccines for younger cohorts. But you know, given this outbreak and given the vaccination rate currently, do you have a timeline for when you hope that there'll be more people vaccinated that we might not see another outbreak maybe, say, for the next school holidays in September.

PAUL KELLY:                        

So that's a matter for the vaccine rollout, so I'll pass over to the Lieutenant-General. Thank you.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

So I mentioned the other day that vaccination is a really important strand of our strategy in helping the nation exist while COVID is a threat. Testing, tracing, isolation, social distancing, masking is absolutely important, but in the longer term, it's vaccination that really helps, not only protect our most vulnerable, but protect all of us in a world where we expect COVID to exist for many years to come. Yet the vaccination does not stop the spread of COVID. The vaccination absolutely mitigates the most extreme effects in individuals. So the vaccination helps protect the most vulnerable, helps protect all of us from the most adverse effects.

QUESTION:                          

Lieutenant-General, just lastly, the horizons document, do those figures include the first and second doses grouped together, or is that what's just going to be first and the second is(*)?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

No, no. That's- that is the full allocations that we're anticipating. And that- and the forecasts that are in there will be revised regularly as we get variations in both supply, and we may get variations in medical advice around the guidelines for the particular vaccines. But that, at the moment, is the best forecast that we can provide out to the end of the year.

QUESTION:                          

So could that change potentially if the TGA decides that we can vaccinate children aged 12 to 15 with Pfizer?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

It won't change the range of allocations that are shown in that document right now. That is a produc- sorry. That is a dis- an allocation and distribution forecast that is in there at the moment.

QUESTION:                          

Earlier this week, from memory, you mentioned data, granular data on, you know, how the vaccine rollout has been progressing and writing to the state and territory governments about that. What was the progress on that? When can we perhaps see it?

JOHN FREWEN:                   

So first cab off the rank, I've released this data today. Certainly in the weeks ahead, I intend to start progressively getting into that other data. So I'm just in that process now of confirming the data sets and engaging with the states and territories and getting agreement on what we can release. But I absolutely intend to release all of the relevant data I can around both availability of drugs and then progress on the rollout of the vaccination, as I said the other day, both by first dose, second dose, and by various cohorts.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:   

Last question.

JOHN FREWEN:                   

All good? Thank you very much. Cheers.

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