Date published: 
14 March 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I'm just going to give a daily update and provide some more information about the decisions made yesterday, and other things that might be of interest. So as you know, the continued growth in cases of coronavirus around the world, there is 140,000 or so cases in the world. And in Australia we do have further growth, 197 cases as of 6:30 this morning, but we expect to find more cases during the course of each day.

I want to explain why we moved to institute social distancing measures, the most important of which is the recommendation that non-essential organised gatherings of greater than 500 do not proceed. Social distancing is a very important measure to delay the growth in the spread of coronavirus. We have early evidence of community transmission, mostly in New South Wales but a little bit in other states. We have moved quite early to institute social distancing measures. Earlier than some might have suggested because the international evidence is suggesting that if you move before community transmission is well-established, you can get much better benefits. So we have made the decision quite early. Early enough so that we can give people a few days’ notice to starting on Monday, so we can have an orderly transition. But I want to say that this is a pre-emptive move to get ahead of the curve. Social distancing can be difficult for the community, we understand that, and we understand that the community is with us on the need to try and slow the spread of this virus in our community. And we do know that larger gatherings, larger groups are well known internationally to be one of the quickest ways to spread the virus if there is community transmission.

I do also want to address the issue that lots of people have been asking about the cabinet and their contact with Minister Dutton, who as you well know has a reported positive testing for coronavirus yesterday. I in fact joined the Cabinet on Tuesday when Minister Dutton was there.

And I can assure you that Minister Dutton developed his symptoms yesterday morning, a long time after the Tuesday cabinet meeting. Our case definition across the board is that you are only a close contact if you have been in a close contact, if you have been a close contact within 24 hours of someone becoming symptomatic or after they have become symptomatic. No member of cabinet was in contact with Minister Dutton within 24 hours of him becoming symptomatic, nor was I in fact in contact with him. So the Prime Minister was very, very clear to me that the cabinet and all the public officials follow the exact same public rule- public health rules as everybody else in the Australian community. If there had been a requirement for quarantine, he was insistent that Government and cabinet follow those rules, so we just follow the normal public health advice, no-one had been in contact with the minister in that period. I think I will stop and take questions there, thank you.

QUESTION: 

Just to clarify, if you are in contact with someone who is coronavirus positive before their symptoms show, should you self-isolate or go into quarantine?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Only if you have been in contact with them in the 24-hour period before they develop symptoms. That has always been our public health advice. So if you have been in contact with them two or three days before they are symptomatic, they are very, very, very unlikely to be infectious so we don't believe you need to quarantine.

QUESTION: 

Sorry, is that your advice, I don't remember hearing that?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

That has always been in the published advice. When we say contact, we're always referring to what the public health definition of a contact is, and that has always been published on our website. Every public health unit in the country has it. It has always been a case definition of a contact with someone, in contact with someone up to 24 hours before they are symptomatic. We talk about contact loosely in the media but that is always what we mean.

QUESTION: 

Is there even the slightest possibility that anyone of the cabinet [indistinct] Peter Dutton?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

It is extremely unlikely. He would have to be very unusually infectious three days before he became symptomatically. We have not seen anybody like that in Australia, you can't rule out anything but in our public health rules we are pretty clear that we think it is very unlikely.

QUESTION: 

We saw an almost full house at the NRL match last, the NBL grand final though, empty stadium. Why this disagreement, just a few hours after the PM addressed it yesterday?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well the - as I said we are moving pre-emptively. Perhaps a little earlier than some people would have said was necessary given that the community transmission is very, very low at the moment. So we have given people morning, and organisations can take their own decisions, but we are recommending now that from Monday, to give people a bit of notice and to get ahead of the curve, that large events over 500 don't go ahead.

QUESTION: 

What about - what is your advice to pregnant women, should they self-isolate even if they haven't been in touch with anyone with coronavirus?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well, I don't think you can self-isolate for the whole of the pregnancy. Anyone who is pregnant, as a matter of principle, obviously pays close attention to their health and they will try and not, avoid contact with someone who has any infection. Influenza is probably more dangerous for a pregnant woman than coronavirus. The evidence we have seen with coronavirus so far, and that is limited evidence from China, is those pregnant women who have contracted have had a mild disease and it has no significant impact on the foetus or severe illness in them. But every pregnant woman takes it carefully.

QUESTION: 

Were you comfortable seeing an almost full house at the league game last night up in North Queensland?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

In North Queensland there is not any evidence of community transmission there. As I said we're getting ahead of the curve, so I don't think risk associated with that significant. We are starting these measures perhaps a little bit before some have said they are needed. We in Australia want to flatten that curve and keep us under really tight control. We do not want to see rapid increases like we have seen in some parts of the world. That is why we are moving early.

QUESTION: 

This pre-emptive strike will even out that curve, and how long do you think, do you estimate, before we see a reduction in those cases?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Look, it is very hard to predict. We have modelling that says an infection could take some months to go right through the community with a flattened curve. But it depends how it develops. It might develop in focal parts of the country where we might be able to control it, if it develops in a number of parts it could last for quite a number of weeks. At the moment we are just focusing on -containing and flattening it, and we will be reviewing, we review our public health measures every day. We are meeting daily as the Health Protection Principle Committee. One of the great development we have now is we have this national cabinet that the Prime Minister and the premier have pulled together and I was privileged to meet with them yesterday. And they are now going to meet every week and they are going to pull together a national response. And they will be guided, as governments have been until now, by the daily expert health advice.

QUESTION: 

Are distancing measures likely to extend to schools?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

At this stage we don't think school closures are on the horizon. They are certainly something that could be considered if there are community outbreaks. The interesting aspect about schools at the moment is that children don't seem to get; either much in the way of infection or if they do, they get very mild infections. So at this stage we don't feel that school closures are warranted. I would like to just make one other point. I think we referred yesterday in a press conference to the fact that there had been quite a run on the testing and we had some temporary shortages in testing materials. I do want to emphasise that we are still - we are still saying, because community transmission is so low at the moment that we are focusing our testing on returned travellers or contacts of people who are symptomatic. We don't want people with an ordinary mild cold in Australia to go and get tested. We need to preserve the testing for those who need it.

QUESTION: 

If person to person transmission spikes here, do we have enough capability to [indistinct]

BRENDAN MURPHY:

We are working very hard now to make sure we have enough testing equipment for that eventuality. We are doing a lot of work to procure and expand our testing capability.

QUESTION: 

And do you think hospitals are well equipped?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Hospitals are doing a lot of planning and they have made a lot of contingency plans. Every hospital around the country. Again that was an issue that was discussed amongst the premiers and the Prime Minister yesterday. One of the most important areas of preparation is to make sure we have sufficient critical care capacity, if we get a number of people who have severe disease. And there is a lot of planning in that space, but there is also planning to make sure people who do hospital, and I do reiterate that if you did have a large outbreak in this country, probably 80% of people would be treated at home because they are so mild. But those who might need hospital, we have got plans to stop elective surgery, expand and open beds, find extra work force, all of those plans are well advanced. I think we have a very well-prepared health system, there is clearly more preparation that is ongoing and we have clearly got to make sure in this worldwide situation that we can maximise the resources available in Australia such as those testing equipment.

QUESTION: 

Just touching back on Peter Dutton, has anyone got into self-isolation?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

No there was no cabinet member who fulfilled the definition of a contact with Minister Dutton.

QUESTION: 

No other testing either?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

There is no point testing unless you are symptomatic. We don't test people who have been a contact unless they develop symptoms.

QUESTION: 

Should Marise Payne isolate when he she gets back from the US?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Sorry?

QUESTION: 

Marise Payne, isolating when she gets back from the US?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Unless she has been in contact with a case she would not be required to isolate. Because she is a returned traveller we would be recommending she practice some social distancing, that she doesn't attend large gatherings herself and that she tries to keep a reasonable distance from people as she goes about her normal life, but she doesn't need to quarantine or fully self-isolate.

QUESTION: 

Do you expect transport networks to be affected in coming days?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Not in coming days, again this mass gathering issue, we are talking about static gatherings where people are together for a period of time. We don't believe that the risk in casual contact- the casual contacts of mass transport is sufficient to do anything at the moment, but again, if situation is developed and we get much more widespread community transmission then there may be measures that are recommended in relation to transport. But at the moment we are focused on the gatherings greater than 500 people, and trying to get the community to understand what social distancing means.

QUESTION: 

When do you think this will peak in Australia?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

It is very hard to predict. If we get a large outbreak and we can flatten the curve, it could go well into the middle of the year before it peaks. But there are some countries, like for example Korea, which seems to have peaked quite early and controlled what was a very localised outbreak. One of the things we know about outbreaks and epidemics is that it's very hard to predict. They're quite focal. Every country is a bit different and they have a different experience. We are modelling a range of scenarios and well-prepared for all of them

QUESTION: 

Is there a cut-off to the threshold of community transmission at which point the schools and transport- is there a magic number there?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

There is no magic number because it might depend on how vocal it is, what part of the city, whether you do measures in one part of the city, so we would look at the circumstances as they arise.

QUESTION: 

The mass gathering ban, does that actually apply to cruise ships?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Cruise ships, the AHPPC will discuss the implications of this this afternoon. That's one of the things we're talking about. My understanding is most of the cruise ship companies are now cancelling or reducing dramatically. I suspect cruise ships, the cruise ship industry will go into some significant abeyance anyway, but we will discuss at this afternoon.

QUESTION: 

This mass gathering thing is it a recommendation or is it an actual ban?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

At this stage the Prime Minister and premiers working make a recommendation, and 99.9 per cent of cases people are responsible, organisations are responsible. You have seen all those organisations such as the AFL already announce that they will have spectator free matches. We expect people as they normally do in this country, to be responsible. If there were circumstances where we thought there was a risk, for someone proceeding with something that we thought that they should stop, we do have powers to intervene, both state and federal powers, but again at the moment the government 's are very keen for people to- for it to be a cooperative partnership with the community.

Thank you.     

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