Chief Medical Officer’s press conference about COVID-19 on 10 May 2020
Read the transcript of the press conference given by Professor Brendan Murphy, Chief Medical Officer, about coronavirus (COVID-19).
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY:
So, we have 6941 cases, no increase in deaths, there has been a 14 case increase over the last 24 hours. And you can see from the standard epidemiology slide there how things have been tracking pretty steadily over the last few weeks. We have had a little blip that was largely related to two outbreaks - the Cedar Meats outbreak in Victoria and the Newmarch aged care outbreak in New South Wales. Fortunately, both are coming under good control and our case numbers have now dropped back to below 20 each day. And obviously, if you think back how we were in the middle of March when we had a very high case numbers.
Now, I might just move on to another slide. I won't say next slide please, because I say that I'm with the Prime Minister. So, what I wanted to talk about to their nation today is personal responsibility, and I'll come to that in a minute. But this just shows the age range of those people who have been getting the virus and who transmit it in the community. It's adults like me, like everyone in this room at the moment - it's those mobile, fit adults, the people from 20 to 70 in the main, well, some in their 70s as well - very few children as we know. That is the age group that is transmitting this virus, that is the group that we have to make sure we control the virus in.
And I have another slide just to show you the very stark difference when you come to look at the deaths. And we know that one of the major reasons that we have been so forward leaning in trying to control this virus is because we know it does cause quite serious illness in a large number of older people, and unfortunately we have lost 97 lives in Australia. And you can see on the death slide here, just how the deaths are focused in the older age group, noting also that men do seem to have more serious disease than women and a higher rate of death.
We actually only have 14 people on ventilators at the moment which is fantastic, but one of the things that I want to really emphasise is that we have to protect these vulnerable people in our community - the people who are elderly, and those who have chronic conditions. So it is those of us who are mobile, active adults who aren't in that vulnerable group who have to do what we have to do to protect the older people and those with chronic conditions. People have said to me, why don't you just protect really carefully all those with chronic conditions and the elderly; make sure they are well cocooned away from everyone else in society? As we have seen already, that's just not possible, if you've got widespread community transmission. This virus is incredibly infectious. You have seen what can happen when it gets into and spreads around in aged care facility - it can cause terrible, terrible problems.
So we can't allow significant community transmission if we want to protect our elderly. So that's why we have to do what we have been doing, and what we will have to continue to do. And that brings me to the topic of personal responsibility. Regulation goes so far. The states, after the Three-Step Plan was outlined by the Prime Minister and me the other day, are all taking their steps to progressively, cautiously relax their measures over the next weeks. That's what we planned and that is what will happen, and we have already seen some states that have taken some steps and we've seen some people starting to get out and do more of those things that they have been unable to do over the last several weeks.
We have also seen pictures of people crowded in shopping malls, in other circumstances where they have not been observing the social distancing norms that are part of our new way of behaving. So regulation can achieve things, but every individual has to do more than regulation by behaving in a way that is respectful of social distancing norms, respectful of the hand hygiene practices that we now have. And then, if everyone can do that, that will enable us as a nation to progressively and cautiously relax the regulations. But if people don't do it, we could get widespread community transmission again - that second wave that we've talked about, but none of us want to get, and none of us intend to get. But it is as much about the rules and regulations as it is about personal responsibility and I really want to emphasise that point.
So if you're going to a shopping centre to buy something, go and buy something but don't hang around the shopping centre for half-an-hour mingling for no purpose - go home. If you are arriving at a shopping centre and you find a crowd at an escalator not wanting to practice social distancing or crowding together, don't go in - leave - come back later. If you see someone not practising social distancing or behaving irresponsibly, tell them. If a lift opens and you find it's full of people, don't get in. All of these things are really important and the more each individual Australian takes it upon themselves to behave in this new normal way, the more courageous governments are going to be about relaxing regulations over our careful Three-Step process.
So that is my message for today - it's up to us, every one of us to be practising these new norms and have personal responsibility. Thanks.
Professor Murphy, today in Victoria there was a group of protesters at the Victorian Parliament who were protesting and not only were they breaking social distancing rules, there was also a large gathering. And they were also pushing that information that potentially 5G was causing the spread of coronavirus, which is one of the conspiracy theories that has popped up over the course of this pandemic. What would be your message to those protesters and people who are believing things they read on the Internet, rather than from you, yourself?
There is, unfortunately, a lot of very silly misinformation out there. There is absolutely no evidence about 5G doing anything in the coronavirus space. I have unfortunately received a lot of communication from these conspiracy theorists myself. It is complete nonsense - 5G has got nothing at all to do with coronavirus. Similarly, I understand people have the right to protest but they should not be breaching those social distancing rules and if they are, they should be held to account.
Professor Murphy, the Three-Steps to relax restrictions in Australia announced on Friday for cafes and businesses included a number limit on customers rather than a per square metre allowance. What was the reasoning for that decision, given obviously a lot larger restaurants will be able to socially distance with larger customer numbers?
And we would expect what you are talking about to happen over the further stages. The reason for the 10 limit is that there is an absolute safety in small numbers. We are treading into new territory at the moment, we don't really know what is going to happen. And if we are restricting sizes of groups in all settings to 10, that reduces the risk. You're absolutely right that you can practice good social distancing. We expect in Step 2, and certainly in Step 3, that will become the norm and we are certainly happy to work with the restaurant and other industries. But in Step 1 most of the health experts we have worked with feel strongly that we should keep total group size small. You could still potentially infect 20 or 30 people even in a social distance restaurant. If you have only got 10 people in a group, that's a smaller group to contact trace and follow.
You've talked about personal responsibility, obviously that's the preferred, I guess, protection. But if someone does turn up to work, enter a business, go to a hairdresser with flulike symptoms, would you expect that employer or that business owner to be able to turn that person away?
Absolutely, and that's their responsibility, and we will protect them and defend them. Everyone has to practice staying at home when you're unwell. All of us over our lives have been on occasions wanting to soldier on with a cold and a flu, flulike illness - we cannot do that anymore. And if one of your colleagues, or an employee, or a client turns up you have every right to say, go away, I am not going to let you in, I am not going to treat you, I am not going to - unless you're a doctor of course, then you have got to be different. You've got to- we've got to change that mentality - it is so important. Yeah.
Professor, can you outline from a public health perspective why it would be important to investigate further the origins of the coronavirus and how it began?
Obviously we want to understand how this virus became so readily transmitted from human to human. We've seen lots of what we call zoonotic viruses in the past. Zoonotic viruses are those that have come from an animal species. We've seen avian flu, we've seen SARS, we've seen MERS, but almost none of them developed this capacity to spread rapidly from human-to-human like coronavirus and that's why it's become a widespread pandemic. So we want to understand what animal did it come from? Was there intermediate- what is likely to have been an intermediate host, from the bat, to another animal, into humans? How it mutated so that it spread across humans? And obviously everybody wants to know what are things that each and every country could have done better to stop this widespread pandemic.
And to follow up in terms of your ability to share information with the Chinese medical authorities, how freely has that been able to happen? And can you give an assessment of how much you've been able to gather?
We have had a lot of information that's come out of China. In fact, pretty much all of the original scientific publications on this virus, most of the original data came from China. So the Chinese medical and scientific community has been readily sharing information and collaborating scientifically over the last few months. Now, so- and I think they will continue to do so - they are reporting to the WHO, as are we. And the WHO is now, as we know, going to do this scientific investigation and I hope it becomes a scientific and health based investigation, looking at lessons to be learned.
Professor, today the UK has indicated they're looking at implementing a 14-day quarantine for international arrivals - it's obviously months after Australia did the same thing. Are Australian medical officials getting a lot of contact from overseas colleagues asking about how we did what we've done to be so successful? And how do we rate in terms of South Korea, Singapore - other successful countries?
I think we are in a very small group of countries that have very successfully suppressed this virus, and we are very privileged to be in that. It is in no- I am in no doubt at all that our border measures, our early border measures were critical. We used to get close to 200,000 people coming a day through our airports. We moved very early on borders with countries at risk, and then more generally. And the quarantine, initially home quarantine, when we had large numbers and when we had small enough numbers, hotel quarantine. I know some people haven't liked being quarantined, but that has been one of the most important things that has saved lives.
So, our early testing, our border control, and then more recently the physical distancing measures have all played a big part. But if we hadn't done what we did with borders, we could have been in a situation like the UK.
Professor Murphy, people are going to head back to work at some point over the next few months if hopefully everything goes to plan. People are going to start getting back on public transport, there has been an uptick in public transport use in the ACT for example over the past week. What would be your advice for people using public transport? And obviously we've all been on a train at peak hour, there's not a lot of social distancing going on there. What can people do? And do governments need to be putting on more services to make sure that's enough?
So, we are doing a lot of work. Both the Commonwealth and state governments are working with public transport authorities across the nation over the next week. There is, I think, a very big meeting around this tomorrow. There are a number of things.
One is, already public transport authorities have introduced very enhanced cleaning, we need to have hand sanitiser available. But one of the most important things is to reduce the density, as you said - social distancing, it's not possible when you're crowded. So, we are very keen - as well as asking those who are working well from home to continue working from home for the time being - but we are also keen for employers and employees to look at staggered start and finish times. I think we have to think about a very different way of people maybe starting at work - some starting at seven, some starting right through till 10 o'clock and people finishing at different times. We've have to think differently about that.
So there's a lot of planning going on. In the meantime, the messages go back to work, but if it works for you and your employer, well, continue to work from home.
Okay. Thank you, everybody. Unless there is one more? Yes.
I did have one more actually. Today, New South Wales announced that of all of the options in stage one, one they wouldn't pursue was travel within the state. What is the AHPPC's advice on the safety of that given the low rate of cases everywhere now? And is there a particular risk in New South Wales to do with regional travel?
BRENDAN MURPHY: I
think New South- I haven't obviously discussed this specifically with New South Wales, but I suspect that they're more concerned about people from Sydney, where we know there is really low level community transmission, going to a rural centre and taking the virus with them. And I think once they're more comfortable about the community transmission in Sydney- it's more about they'd get- not spreading the virus out of Sydney, I would think..
Can I clarify also one point… Just in terms of the mental health concerns and the modelling about deaths by suicide due to economic and social restrictions potentially outstripping the virus itself. Are- is enough being done by governments to address this? And what more needs to happen now?
Sure. So, National Cabinet has had a very significant discussion about this last week. They are getting a detailed plan coming back to National Cabinet, I think, by this Friday. Commonwealth Department of Health is ramping up our mental health response. Christine Morgan has already presented to the National Cabinet and she's presenting a plan back. So everyone is worried about this as an issue. Hopefully, if we can safely, gently ease restrictions and get people back to some progressive normality, that will help. But there are significant concerns about mental health and there is a lot being done.
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