Date published: 
29 January 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

SABRA LANE:

There are still five confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia. The Chief Medical Officer is Professor Brendan Murphy and I interviewed him earlier.

Brendan Murphy, good morning. The Federal Government has updated its travel advice for all of China, telling people now to reconsider their need for travel. How significant is that?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well, that recommendation was made by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade last night because of the continuing increasing numbers of cases of this virus in other provinces of China. So whilst we have now 4500 cases in China, a significant proportion are now spread in provinces other than the Hubei province, which remains the epicentre. But there are quite significant numbers in some other provinces and we feel it's prudent for people to seriously reconsider any travel to China at the moment.

SABRA LANE:

And what's the latest on the plans to evacuate Australians from Wuhan, given that the World Health Organisation chief has also said that evacuating people might help spread the virus?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Yes, I think the Department of Foreign Affairs is actively looking at options. Advice that we have provided would ensure that any such evacuation- we would make sure that there was no risk to the Australian community in doing so. But we're providing advice and looking at the options and I think the Foreign Minister will be- is making regular updates on that.

SABRA LANE:

Australian scientists have been able to copy the virus. How significant is that and what could it lead to?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well, not only copy. They've actually grown the virus in the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, which is a very significant development because having grown a live virus, that provides all sorts of controls for tests. It enables work to be done pretty quickly on developing a serological test, an antibody test in the blood and it's a very significant development and it's very, very positive.

SABRA LANE:

The World Health Organization says that China's agreed for a team of international experts into China to help. Will Australia be part of that?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

We have offered to the World Health Organization any help that they would like. That's actually a matter for WHO, but Australian experts have offered. WHO haven't provided any advice to us yet.

SABRA LANE:

And there are reports of human-to-human transmission outside of China. How worrying is that?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

That is a concern. I mean, they are isolated cases so that the thing that we are determined to avoid internationally and nationally is what we call sustained human-to-human transmission where you go from one person to another. These are isolated cases in Japan and Germany. But they are obviously of some concern and we're having that reviewed today by our peak communicable diseases advice panel to have a look at those cases in Germany and Japan.

SABRA LANE:

And China's also updated its figures on deaths and infections and the infection rate has absolutely skyrocketed to something like 60 per cent overnight. Do you know why that's happened?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

We don't- what we don't know is whether the very significant increases in reported cases, to what extent that's catching up with data and to what extent that represents new cases. So we certainly believe that there has been over the last 10 days a lot of retrospective catch-up data from what was happening. We now know this virus first appeared in December and there are likely to have been some significant under-reporting towards the first half of January. So we do know that this is- and we've always suspected for the last week or so that the numbers of cases were much higher than early reports, given the fact that so many cases had been exported. So this is the sort of level we had already expected to see but we don't know whether- to the extent to which the outbreak, particularly in Hubei, is being brought under control. But it- there's clearly not evidence that it is under control in China at the moment and that is- that's a concern for the international community definitely. But as I've said many times, in Australia our major goal is to detect early cases that we know will be here - the five we have identified - and to isolate them. And to ensure that we don't get any sustained human-to-human transmission in this country.

SABRA LANE:

Now locally in Australia, some schools and states are asking children who have been to China in the past fortnight to stay away. How comfortable are you with that advice?

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well the peak body of public health experts that I convene has provided advice that we think - this is as of last night, but we're always updating our advice - but the advice we provided to governments was that the important thing around school exclusion was mainly for children who were symptomatic, who had- who are unwell or who had been in contact, close contact, with someone with a proven disease. But we understand that, you know, given the uncertainty, some state governments have taken additional measures. But the health authorities, as of yesterday, weren't recommending that. But we, again, looking at new data every day. We will be looking at our advice and updating that to government on almost a daily basis.

SABRA LANE:

Brendan Murphy, thank you for your time this morning.

PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:       

Pleasure.

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