Date published: 
29 November 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Let's go to the Chief Medical Officer now, Paul Kelly, for the latest. Paul, thanks for your time this morning. So after another night of study, do we know much more about Omicron?

PAUL KELLY:                         

Morning, Pete. And, yes, it's back to 24/7 of study, listening, and talking, and reading, and so, yeah, another late night and early morning for my team. Do we know much more? Look, what have we learned overnight? The three things that we're really- we and World Health Organisation and international colleagues, are very keen to know about this new virus is is it more severe? Is it transmissible, and if so, how infectious is it compared with other versions of the SARS CoV-2 virus? And what is the potential, or indeed, the- any proof that it might interfere with vaccines or treatments? Now, unfortunately, we don't have any further information on any of those three things. In terms of severity, in fact, the information we're getting from an increasing number of countries that are finding arrivals from southern Africa with this infection is that it seems to be quite mild. Now, is that- does that play out across the spectrum of the population, that's still to be determined because these are mostly young travellers are getting it at the moment. But the information from South Africa is mixed. They are seeing more hospitalisations but they are also seeing very much more mild illness. So that's still to be determined. In terms of transmissibility, it definitely does transmit between people. It's probably been transmitting in southern Africa for some weeks, possibly months. That's new information that's come in the last 24 hours on the basis of the evolutionary biology of the genome of this particular virus. The other element is about vaccines. We do not have any evidence at the moment, either in the laboratory, in clinical studies, or at a population-wide basis, that there is a problem with the vaccines. As far as we know, the vaccines work, but we still are awaiting further information on that. So the main thing that's come overnight, really, is that there has been cases, including the two cases diagnosed in Sydney coming from South Africa, and who were fully vaccinated and are asymptomatic. So, you know…

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

[Interrupts] And that number…?

PAUL KELLY:                         

…the most mild of illnesses.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Sorry, Paul, just quickly. That number still at two as far as you know?

PAUL KELLY:                         

Still at two. I understand that there are more investigations going on overnight from others that came from southern Africa on flights overnight.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Okay.

PAUL KELLY:                         

One of the amazing things that we have now in Australia is that ability to very quickly go from that PCR test to the genomic analysis within, you know, 12 or less hours as it was yesterday. So we can get very rapid results and that will be really helpful to chart this. But it's already here in Australia and that's important to understand. We're not going to keep this virus completely out of Australia. And by slowing it down, that introduction is the important component.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Okay. Speaking of slowing down, what defensive options are you considering at the moment?

PAUL KELLY:                         

So, look, we gave rapid advice, you know, myself and Professor Brendan Murphy, and on Saturday morning that advice was listened to, as it always has been, and the actions were taken on the weekend to, particularly in relation to those nine southern African countries. That's very much in line with the US, UK, Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and most other countries. Some countries have gone further. Israel, for example, has put a ban on arrivals. That's- I spoke to the Israeli Minister of Health yesterday, a close colleague there, and they've got their own reasons. Their sovereign government of Israel will make those decisions. But we're very much in line with the current settings of the rest of the world. But we're, as I said at the start, we're watching very closely, very actively engaged with our international partners, both diplomatically and in the scientific and medical community, and pull that information through.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

[Interrupts] What's the next step then, Paul?

PAUL KELLY:                         

So the next step is, we'll continue to discuss those best parameters are at the border, and also in relation to testing for people that have arrived from overseas and more broadly. So that genomic analysis really focusing on people that have come from southern Africa who test positive, or their close contacts if that was the case. I will point out at this stage that the only two cases we have, have come from overseas, but we will remain highly vigilant about that and any spread that might happen in the community. For now, we've got…

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

[Interrupts] Is closing the international border at all on your mind?

PAUL KELLY:                         

So, look, we will continue to talk to the Government about all options based on risk balance. All decisions have a pro and con to them and so we need to take that into account. So I've spoken to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health this morning, also over the weekend each day, and so we'll continue to have that close liaison and they do listen to the medical advice.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

[Interrupts] But that is an option?

PAUL KELLY:                         

So, you know, the border is one of our mitigation measures that we've used throughout this pandemic and getting that right balance is very important. But I'm not going to speculate on what Government decisions may or may not be.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

[Interrupts] Sure. Sure. I mean, but the fact is, the difference this time is that our vaccination levels are so high, so that gives us a pretty big line of defence there, against something that, as you said, a lot of experts overseas are warning is actually quite mild.

PAUL KELLY:                         

Yeah. That's right. So I think those are the things [audio skip] done is bought some time over the weekend with what we've set up in terms of the border controls. And that's what- that's the position of many other countries that are similar to us. We've got one of the highest rates of vaccination in the world now, and our booster program has started and rapidly increasing. And my message to anyone out there who's due for a booster, go and get it. If you have not yet been vaccinated, please do so. We do not want to miss this chance to absolutely be top of the world in terms of vaccination coverage. And so please, if you're due for a first vaccine, make that booking. If you're due for your second vaccine, make that booking. If you're dur for a booster, make that booking.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Would you bring boosters forward? Just quickly, I know you're in demand, sorry, Paul.

PAUL KELLY:                         

Yeah, yeah. I'll have to go in a moment. But, look, the advice we have from ATAGI is the six months at the moment. They have flagged that they're looking at any new information and evidence in the coming month. That would be one of the things they'll clearly be looking at in relation to this brand new development which, you know, only came to light on Thursday. So it's early days.

PETER STEFANOVIC:           

Sure. Okay. Paul Kelly, I know you're in demand this morning so I appreciate you sticking around for us. Thank you, we'll talk to you soon.

PAUL KELLY:                         

You're welcome, Peter.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID31509, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-professor-paul-kellys-interview-on-sky-news-live-first-edition-on-29-november-2021)

View contact