Date published: 
11 February 2021
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PAUL KELLY:

… of the COVID-19 epidemic as well as a couple of quick updates on vaccines. So firstly, the numbers for today. So we have had some new cases. We know that there's this ongoing cluster of cases in Melbourne related to the Holiday Inn. There's two extra cases have been announced just in the last short period from Victoria. They are both household contacts of quarantine hotel workers. They were already in quarantine themselves, and so, there is no added risk to the community. I've spoken on several occasions in the last couple of days with my Victorian counterparts, and I'm very confident that they're doing what they need to do in terms of identifying exposure sites and putting that information out to the community, and again, that strong message, if you are in Melbourne right now - anywhere in Australia - but particularly in Melbourne, any symptoms at all, please get tested stop. If you have been to one of those exposure sites - it's all listed on the Department of Health and Human Services website - and you've been asked to get a test, please do so. If you've been asked to go into 14 days quarantine, and that's particularly related to close contacts of the quarantine workers or those that have been working in the hotel, please do so.

So, so far, other than those two household contacts, there are many, many negative tests so far so that's good. We're at day seven now of that incident in- of the use of a nebuliser in a particular room on a particular floor of the Holiday Inn Hotel. All of the cases so far have been related to that floor, either staff that have gone to that floor or other guests in the hotel on that floor. So I'm absolutely confident it was a single event. That hazard has been removed. And so far, now it's about making sure that anyone that might be in the community who is positive is found and isolated. So that's the issue in relation to the epidemic at the moment. So there's now 10 cases in that cluster - the three original overseas people who have come from overseas, a family, then the other guests as well as the staff, plus these two new household contacts.

In terms of the- sorry if you are on the phone, can you just go on mute for the moment, please? Thank you. So just in terms of the vaccine rollouts, we're absolutely on track for everything that we are looking for there. In terms of the Pfizer vaccine, we've heard overnight that the EU has listed Australia as one of the countries that it will not be blocking export from the EU of the Pfizer vaccine. That's something we already knew but that's now confirmed. So, that means that there's no blockage from that point of view in terms of the vaccine arriving. We are definitely on track for the first vaccines in Australia of the already TGA-approved Pfizer vaccine before the end of February.

In terms of AstraZeneca, two announcements overnight. One is that they're looking to increase the capacity for making AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe. So, that has two effects. One is we're obviously looking to increase capacity for the world. But second of all, it shows that people are confident that AstraZeneca is a good vaccine, it's safe, it's effective, and having that high quality production will be very welcomed. The other element in relation to AstraZeneca was their release overnight of the interim recommendations for the use of that vaccine, the one developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca by the World Health Organization. So I just wanted to point out a couple of things there. Firstly, they are a very respected expert group. We have Australian experts who are part of that group and have been part of the discussions in relation to that vaccine and others. So, first of all, it's effective. Second of all, it's safe. And third of all, they- it should be used and can be used around the world. That's the World Health Organization's view. A couple of key elements there. It has been noted that some European countries have limited the use of AstraZeneca in older people. The World Health Organization has very clearly recommended that persons aged 18 years and above, it is recommended for them to use. So no restriction in terms of age. They also reiterated that it was safe and that allergic reactions are very rare. And finally, they do note the issue with variants of concern and whether the vaccine is effective. They are very strong in their statement that the vaccine should be used even in the presence of those variants. But that of course, a coordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of the impacts of those variants on vaccine effectiveness is recommended and a global coordinated look at that would be important. But carry on is essentially what AstraZene- what the World Health Organization has said about the AstraZeneca vaccine. A real tick of approval. Of course in Australia, we are eagerly awaiting the TGA's view on that and my understanding is that they're very close to making that decision and very shortly will be having that TGA approval, along with the usual guidance for the use of the vaccine in the Australian context.

So I'll go to one question each. I'm a bit limited for time today.

JOURNALIST QUESTION:

Thanks, Professor Kelly. When quarantine workers are vaccinated here, do you think it will plug some of the leaks in our hotel quarantine program and will that then give more confidence to bring even more Australians home?

PAUL KELLY:

So, that's a very good point. Certainly, vaccines are a part of and a very important tool that we have for controlling this epidemic, not only in Australia but around the world. So that World Health Organization tick for AstraZeneca is really important because it's not just here but outside of our borders that the vaccine will be helpful in that regard. So if we can minimise or decrease the number of people coming back into Australia with the virus - and vaccine will help with that - that will help, firstly. Vaccinating our quarantine workers, which we are doing, is an absolute priority. As soon as we can start the Pfizer vaccine rollout, they will absolutely be at the front of the queue. That will also help. But we've been asked, the AHPPC that I chair, that group have been asked by National Cabinet to look at a range of things in relation to quarantine. And just to be clear, it's been reported as a review of some sort. It's not a review; we're just looking again at what is already a very good system, learning from whatever we've got, including the latest outbreak in Victoria, in the Holiday Inn, I should say. Learning from that and having continuous quality improvements exercises - that's what we're doing. I led a discussion of the chief health officers today for two hours focused exactly on the topic. As an example, from next week, we will be having- every week, we'll be having at least one meeting of the AHPPC where I will be starting with the question: what have we learned from quarantine this week? And we'll be sharing those learnings and making sure that ties into that continuous quality improvement. So vaccine, yes, very important but there's other things we're also looking at.

JOURNALIST QUESTION:

Just on the WHO investigation in China, are you satisfied with or surprised by any of the answers found in Wuhan? And will the information they've gathered influence how Australia progresses with its management of coronavirus?

PAUL KELLY:

It's great that the WHO, together with their Chinese colleagues, have been to Wuhan. They've done a very extensive review, as I understand it. I haven't seen, and no one has seen yet, because they're still working on the full report and recommendations. But the interim results are interesting and we'll look at those, of course. But look, we are very focused on what's in front of us today and into the future. And so the vaccine rollout and the other public health responses that we have to get Australia open again during 2021 is what we're absolutely looking at. They'll help, but that is not the main game at the moment.

I'll just go to the phone now. Tamsin from the Herald Sun.

JOURNALIST QUESTION:

Thanks professor. It's emerged today that a man was able to get into Victoria's hotel quarantine system. He visited a friend and dropped off a game to him. He said he didn't sign in, wasn't told to isolate, and didn't take a test, so there's basically no way to trace him. How concerned are you that these things like this still happen at this point in the pandemic? And how important is it to be getting hotel quarantine right?

PAUL KELLY:

Very important to get hotel quarantine right. I would say we have it mostly right. We've had well over 200,000 people come through our quarantine system now. And whilst we've had over 3000 positive cases, we've only had a very small number of incursions from hotel quarantine into the community. There's been more recently. We know about the new strain of the virus and other matters, so that's why we're going through that continuous quality improvement exercise through the AHPPC to improve that. What you have described there is not ideal. Of course, we want quarantine to be exactly that, it's to separate people from the wider community to minimise the chances of the virus spreading. So, yes, that's not an ideal situation, and I am sure that- was it in Victoria, you said?

JOURNALIST QUESTION:

Yes, that was in Victoria. One of the quarantine hotels at the airport.

PAUL KELLY:

So I'm sure the Victorian authorities are looking into that, but I'll follow that up after the press conference. Thanks for raising it.

Richard, from The Australian.

JOURNALIST QUESTION:

Thank you, Professor. Following on from Tamsin's question, would you agree with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, saying that his state has higher standards of hotel quarantine than other states.

PAUL KELLY:

They have a high standard of hotel quarantine. I'm not going to get into interstate rivalries. But as I've said, the AHPPC is looking at all of the quarantine arrangements, right from people before they leave the country of origin through the whole system and after they leave hotel quarantine to see what, if anything, we can improve. All of the states have some interesting ideas in relation to that and we'll be working through that today and tomorrow. There's another meeting tomorrow. And we'll continue to see what we can do to improve. And I'll leave state premiers to talk through those suggestions.

David from the ABC?

JOURNALIST QUESTION:

Hi, Professor. We're still seeing inconsistency when it comes to border closures, and we've seen that most recently between Victoria and South Australia over the last day or two. Do you think it is time for the states to come together and agree on a national definition of a hot spot which would determine when borders are open and when they are closed? And is the current situation having health implications, as well as implications for people who work and holidays, and the rest?

PAUL KELLY:

So there's a number of pieces to that one question. But let's start with the hot spots. Or, firstly, border closures. So, I think it is- I would turn that on its head to say that Tasmania, Queensland, New South Wales, ACT, have not closed their border. The NT has essentially said something similar to the other states to say that if Victorian authorities are saying that you should be quarantining for 14 days if you've come from Victoria and you're in that category, you should do the same in the NT. So South Australia made the decision they felt they needed to make on their own particular circumstances with their shared border with Victoria. WA had already had a closed border with Victoria. So that's that. Yeah, look, it would be ideal to have an agreement on that, but I think we are not very far away from that agreement when you look at the response in terms of border closures. In terms of proportionate responses, again, I think Victoria hasn't closed down the whole of Melbourne. It hasn't actually closed down anything. It's been looking at testing, tracing, and isolation, getting to the bottom of the issues in hotel quarantine. They've been very proportionate. So we need to learn about the virus, we need to learn about the new variants and so forth, and that may change things over time. But at the moment, I think for the majority of Australia, it's actually working pretty well. In terms of what that does, border closures and so forth, in relation to upsetting people's economic or social lives, yes that is an issue. That's why at National Cabinet last week, the Prime Minister, the Premiers and Chief Ministers agreed to set up a specific group led by Phil Gaetjens, the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to look exactly at that. What can we learn about the vaccine rollout and the economic and social effects of the virus in Australia in 2021 in this new year, with these new issues, particularly about- in the context of the vaccine rollout. So we're looking at all of that and there'll be more announcements about that as decisions are made. We will be coming back to National Cabinet with information around that on the health, economic, and social issues.

Clare's last on The Daily Telegraph.

JOURNALIST QUESTION:

Thanks, Professor. Just with regards to the idea of trialling a vaccine certificate, do you think it's possible, or would you support restrictions potentially being used based on the commitment to use that certificate to grant access? So, for example, we have QR codes now. If businesses were putting on policies to check if people had a vaccine certificate, would that potentially open them up to allow more people in, for example, or have more higher risk, closer contact activity?

PAUL KELLY:

Look, it's certainly been something that's been discussed widely, and let's see how that progresses, that discussion. But for the moment, I think it is very important to realise this: the initial phases of the vaccine rollout will be aimed at those priority groups, the ones at most risk of exposure, and that's particularly those working at the borders, but also our frontline healthcare workers. And then the second group of those that are at highest risk of getting severe disease, and that's our elderly, particularly those older Australians that are in residential aged care, and disability care, and their carers. So that's our first priority. As the vaccine goes into the more general community, then these sort of things could play out. But it's certainly something that has been discussed and we'll be working through that as the vaccine comes to Australia first and get started in a very short period. Thanks very much.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID18715, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-medical-officer-professor-paul-kellys-press-conference-on-11-february-2021)

View contact