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

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Turning now to fears a fifth case of the deadly coronavirus could soon be confirmed in Australia as officials warn the infection will continue to spread.

ALLISON LANGDON:

The authorities are working to contain the virus, including Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy. Thank you so much for joining us this morning professor. Is there anything more you can tell us about this feared fifth case which is in Sydney?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Yes, I can tell you that this is a young woman, a Chinese student who has come from China and like all of the cases in Australia, they have come from China. There’s no evidence that this disease has been spread here. And she is in isolation being treated as positive until the final confirmation. But NSW Health feel that she's likely to be the fifth case in this country. And as I’ve said previously, we’re not surprised, given the traffic from that part of China, the Hubei province to Australia, particularly before the Chinese locked it down last week. We have suspected that there’d be cases and we probably will see more over the coming days.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

So these cases, to do with the plane loads that came back last week when we didn’t know about the virus. Some people were given questionnaires and they were basically let go because of the incubation of this, so it’s not obvious the signs that they have it at first. Are they part of that whole flood of people initially?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well most of the people we’ve identified so far have come back even as early as the last week – the weekend before the one that's just completed, even when the data was just emerging from China that the epidemic was taking off. So they came in and again, as you say, most people are asymptomatic because they incubate a virus like this for seven days or more, up to 14 days and so it's impossible to detect anyone or everyone who’s carrying the virus at the border. That's why we are giving information now and meeting and greeting every flight from China and providing people with information, asking them to declare if they’re unwell to biodiversity officers. But equally importantly, giving them information to take home which tells them what to do should they become unwell after they've arrived in Australia. Now it’s important to mention that the traffic from that part of China which – where the main number of cases are has been stopped. So the risk of people coming to Australia is probably reduced to lower than it was a week or 10 days ago.

ALLISON LANGDON:

So you’re saying there’s no evidence that this virus has passed between people here in Australia. Is that still a risk though?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

That's what we are determined to avoid. Certainly sustained human to human transmission has only been currently described in that Hubei Province of China where the city of Wuhan is. The idea for all countries where they’ve exported cases is to immediately identify people, isolate them, do contact tracing and ensure that there isn't sustained human to human transmission. We’re well prepared for these sort of events. We’ve prepared over many years. Every state health department has strong protocols to do this and we’re confident that if people have come from China, particularly the Hubei province who become unwell, identify themselves, call ahead to their doctor or their emergency department, say that they’ve had that relevant travel history and they can be isolated on arrival and tested. Most will turn out to be negative; it is flu season in China at the moment, but we need to find as soon as possible anyone who develops this disease here.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

There’s some talk about us flying in, like I think the US are doing, with planes to try and get their own people out. Given that you say that the risk is greatly advanced based in those Wuhan provinces and other affected provinces and cities, would that be wise?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Look, I think the Department of Foreign Affairs is actively exploring what options might be available. They’re working with our citizens in Wuhan, they’re working with the Australian Government. We don't yet know; I haven't been advised by Foreign Affairs what's going to be possible. But I think if they – if they are able to get those citizens out, we will provide advice at the time and on the risk profile of those people about how we might assess them on arrival, and manage them. But I think it’s too early to say what advice we would give. It would depend on the risk profile of that population at the time that they came out.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Okay. Well Professor Brendan Murphy, thank you so much for the update this morning.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Pleasure.

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Chief Medical Officer

Professor Brendan Murphy is the Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government and is the principal medical adviser to the Minister and Health.

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