Date published: 
19 January 2022
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:            

Now, let’s get back to our COVID coverage and bring in Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly. Thank you so much for your time, good morning to you. So nationally we’ve been told that private hospitals have been warned that they may need to be called in to take care of public patients. There’s a Code Brown in Victoria, unprecedented Code Brown. Are we seeing the health system not only buckling but breaking, or is this all overblown?

PAUL KELLY:                         

Well, good morning, Isk, and good morning to all that are watching. Look, the announcements yesterday were a response to the increasing pressure on our hospitals. There’s no secret there that there is pressure on our hospital system. It’s what we planned for, our surge capacity and so forth, that we did towards the end of last year, and much earlier than that. The private hospital guarantee has been in place exactly for this sort of event since 2020. So that provides another 57,000 nurses, many bed places for- to support our aged care facilities as well as public hospitals, so that's something that the Commonwealth has put in place. In terms of the Code Brown in Victoria, that Code Brown- it sounds scary, but it’s actually something that is in place for all hospitals, many hospitals around the world- all hospitals around the world have something similar. But here in Australia, a Code Brown just means there is an external threat which may lead to a surge in hospital admissions. And we know what that external threat is, it’s something that we’ve been talking about for a long time. It's COVID-19. And so that's an appropriate response in the current situation, and by calling a Code Brown, it makes it is very clear to the hospital sector in Victoria exactly what is needed and those things were outlined by the Premier yesterday.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:            

[Talks over] It is unprecedented, though, I mean, to say- there are codes that exist, but this has been activated and it’s going to last for four to six weeks. That's unprecedented, and it’s at state-wide level. Also, the Nurses Union in Victoria is calling for military support, Federal support. Do we need more Federal support for the healthcare system enacted?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So, the codes are there to be used, and it’s being used as it is now. When I was the ACT Chief Health Officer, I called a Code Brown here in relation to a particular incident that happened. It was a large salmonella outbreak. That was a much shorter period, but it actually did exactly what was needed to make sure that we had all of the resources that were available and focusing on that particular issue at the time. So it’s an appropriate response. In terms of the ADF, the ADF have been fantastic. You know, when you think back right to the bushfires and all of the things they did there when asked, and in many places and in many aspects of the COVID response right through since 2020, they have been available when asked. As far as I know, they have not been asked at this time, but they stand ready, I'm sure, and those discussions will happen. Minister Hunt is meeting with his counterparts tonight, meeting weekly at the moment with the Health Ministers. I’ll be there. I'm sure that’ll be a topic of conversation at that time.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:            

How confident are we that the infection rate – the new cases – Is plateauing, considering we've had such a problem with testing and rapid antigen testing, and recording that data is still a bit iffy. How confident are we that it’s actually plateauing?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So in terms of cases, I'm sure we are in fact underestimating the number of cases in the community. I don't know about you, Isk, but I know many people now that have mostly mild infection. My sister and her whole family have been infected and affected the last couple of weeks. One of my nieces - and a shout-out to you, Bella – she’s currently sick with COVID in Sydney. So there’s a lot of illness out there, and some of that has been proven by testing, but not all. So it is a challenge to have exact numbers of cases. But we do know about the hospital system. We do know about intensive care. We do know about ventilation within intensive care, and we have all the plans available ready to cope with that, and at the moment we are coping.

Certainly looking, as I do every day, at the hospital sector, it's green right across the board. These are levels of coping that have been agreed with the states and territories in our common operating picture through the National Cabinet, and so in terms of hospitalisations right across the country, that's still green, in a green-orange-red traffic light system. In terms of intensive care, there is pressure, so several states are showing amber and are taking action appropriately for that, and Victoria has been in that higher level of red for the last couple of weeks. But even there, that means that they’re at 33 per cent of their capacity. So there is plenty of capacity. There is a challenge, with nursing staff in particular, and other staff that have been affected by the virus, like the rest of the community has, in terms of furloughing more actual cases, and that's why we've brought into place in the last couple of weeks, specific guidance to healthcare for healthcare situations in terms of furlough, the same in aged care, and in wider essential industries.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:            

I don't want to gloss over it, though, very sadly 77 deaths recorded yesterday. Are we just going to see continued increase, a spike of deaths, and do we have the vaccination data on the deaths as well? Were they all fully vaccinated, not vaccinated at all? Do we have that information?

PAUL KELLY:                        

So, yes, there are deaths, we know that. It’s a very much lower percentage of the cases that we've seen. It’s well under one per cent death rate in Omicron which is much lower than previous waves. But the numbers are there, and these are real people and, as I said, my condolences go out to the families who’ve lost loved ones through this pandemic, including and up to yesterday. But that is the reality. We have seen and we will continue to see deaths, mostly in older people, mostly in people with other chronic diseases. We know it's very important for people who are in that category who’ve become sick to reach out and get help. Help is available 24 hours a day through the healthdirect line and the website, but also through your normal medical practitioners. Very important to get that early advice if you are over the age of 70, if you have chronic diseases, because you may benefit- you will benefit from treatment, and there will be more treatments available soon. The TGA is finalising their look at the- a couple of the oral treatments that are available in other parts the world, and so there will be announcements about that in the coming days or weeks in relation to oral medications. But there are medications available, intravenous medications that are being used in the thousands right across the states that have cases right now, and that's important to get that treatment early if you are in those high-risk groups.

But I just want to stress that for most people, this is a mild illness. And the other thing, of course, that people should be doing to protect themselves is vaccination. There is no doubt that three doses of vaccine, including that booster dose, for those who are eligible, are very protective against severe disease. And two doses are also effective against severe disease, so get those vaccinations done now.

ISKHANDAR RAZAK:            

Paul Kelly, thank you so much for your time.

PAUL KELLY:                        

You're welcome.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID33695, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-professor-paul-kellys-interview-on-abc-news-breakfast-on-19-january-2022)

View contact