Date published: 
22 June 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Good afternoon everybody, giving a brief Commonwealth update on the coronavirus situation nationally. I think obviously all the attention at the moment is on Victoria. We have had 18 new cases in the country, overnight, two in New South Wales, one overseas traveller, so we don't worry too much about them being detected in hotel quarantine and one under investigation. And 16 new cases in Victoria. Four overseas travellers in hotel quarantine, seven linked to those, or currently linked to those outbreaks that we've been hearing about over the weekend, and five under investigation. So that's a second small drop in the number of cases over the last three days in Victoria. We always expected to see some continuing cases in Victoria, given the peak that occurred towards the end of last week. It's still too early to say how the Victorian outbreaks are going but they are throwing every resource at this, their public health response is extensive, there is substantial testing happening in those hotspot areas, they are tracing very large numbers of contacts—several hundred contacts of cases—and are responding in a way that I have every confidence they are doing everything they can to bring these outbreaks under control.

As I think we have said on many occasions, with our suppression strategy, that is our national strategy, that is to suppress this virus to very, very low levels. We have achieved elimination in some parts of the country for periods of time. But we know that's a very precarious situation, there is always risks of importation of the virus and further cases across Australia. We know that this virus is escalating around the world, over 150,000 new cases around the world each day. So the risk is there for the long term. We have done so well in Australia and our strategy always envisaged that we would get some outbreaks. And this outbreak in Victoria did concern us, there's no question about that. The rate of rise and the fact that it was community transmission, late last week, caused significant concern and that's why AHPPC with the blessing of the Victorian authorities put in that warning about avoiding those Local Government Areas in metropolitan Melbourne where there are currently active cases.

Our testing remains very strong; we have done 2.1 million tests across a population of 26 million which is pretty impressive. But it is absolutely crucial that in every part of the country, even those parts of the country where there are no known active cases, if people get symptoms, develop any of those upper respiratory symptoms we have talked about for so long, that they go to one of the many places where they can get tested and be tested. Fortunately, despite these new cases we have had no more deaths, we are still on the same death number and we still have very low numbers of people in hospital, only two people in intensive care. So the cases, particularly the Victorian cases are largely in fitter, younger people with mild disease but the concern is the potential to spread.

So I will stop there and take questions. Thank you.

QUESTION:

Professor Murphy, how important is hotel quarantine and effective infection control in the hotels going forward as we have more Australians coming backing into the country and…

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Yeah. Hotel quarantine has been one of our most successful public health interventions. There have been tens of thousands of people now who have been through hotel quarantine and we have detected hundreds of people with coronavirus successfully and isolated them in quarantine. It has been a hugely successful endeavour and one that we are committed -for the time being - to continue. So obviously it is important that we learn how to do it well, in fact the AHPCC discussed today that we would do some work in coming days to look at what every jurisdiction has learned, what lessons they've learnt well about how to make it work effectively and with the best protection to all of those involved. So it's a critical resource.

QUESTION:

You said a week ago, hotel quarantine is not perfect. In New Zealand when they had a breach they called in the military.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Yeah.

QUESTION:

Is there a point where we would need to bring in some stronger enforcement?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I think every state and territory is looking at their hotel quarantine. There have been a very small number of breaches considering the vast number of people going through it. But we are reviewing our national strategy in hotel quarantine over coming weeks. In terms of the military, the military has been a resource that the Prime Minister has offered to each state and territory throughout this pandemic. Whenever they need help, the ADF has been there. They set up Howard Springs quarantine in Darwin and ran it extremely well so the ADF have been a great resource. At the moment no state or territory needs their resource but that offer is there.

QUESTION:

In terms of this outbreak, when exactly does an outbreak become what we'd deem a second wave?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

There is no definite definition of that. What I would- if this outbreak escalated and we had several hundred cases, that would be the sort of situation where I would be extremely concerned. But there is no official definition of a second wave, it's a concept where the outbreak is such that we don't think the public health measures can easily control it in the short term. So there is no specific definition.

QUESTION:

So that's not happening right now in Victoria?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

At the moment, I have great confidence in the Victorian response. This obviously was of concern, they are responding very, very effectively and we need to watch things over the next few days to see how it happens, but I think the early signs are that it's not escalating at the moment. We have to make sure it is brought under control.

QUESTION:

Professor Murphy, your colleague Nick Coatsworth said the other day that distancing and other rules would be in place until there is a vaccine or an effective treatment. Can you explain what an effective treatment might look like?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So an effective treatment would be for severe disease. We know that the great majority of people who get coronavirus fortunately have a relatively mild disease. It might knock them around a bit like a flu does but it doesn't threaten their life. So where all the treatment work is being done is looking at severe disease and you saw the reports from the UK on the use of a corticosteroid, Dexamethasone, which had some benefit. Not enough of a benefit to say that it can prevent severe disease but antiviral drugs and other things that can be targeted, so that most people with severe disease can recover from it. If we had that then you would be in a different position about the worry of the spread of the virus because we're not so much worried about the fit, young people who might mildly unwell, except that they are the ones who transmit, and they are the ones who can infect the elderly and the vulnerable and they are the ones who die.

QUESTION:

Could you comment on any concerns you have with regards to the Victorian outbreak, with school holidays coming up, the likelihood of interstate travel, particularly with ski fields and [indistinct].

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So I think that's why yes, there are concerns. School holidays are always a concern for travel from a normal place of residence to another place where you might- if you were infected you might seed the virus. So that's why the recommendation has been made that people in those hotspots in Melbourne, although there are relatively low numbers of cases in each of those hotspots, only a handful, but nevertheless we don't know whether there might be more. So that's why the recommendation is people from those areas don't travel to interstate, to family groups, and don't travel to the regions in Victoria, particularly if they were going together in a large group of people.

QUESTION:

On interstate travel, obviously some state borders are still closed, and the premiers of those states are saying that they want to be very cautious given this spike in Victoria. Is that fair enough to be quite cautious regarding that restriction?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I think their caution at the moment is understandable, I understand the anxiety. As you know we've never recommended at AHPCC interstate borders be closed as part of our suppression strategy, but I do understand their concern about what has happened over the last weekend and I think they'll watch the situation but it's a matter for them.

QUESTION:

Professor in layman's terms if you can. Obviously Victoria went further than the other states in restrictions and yet we're seeing this sort of outbreak hit. Can you explain why that would be the case? Why we are sort of seeing that, if Victoria has gone harder you would think that things like elimination would have been more successful there?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I think there is a lot of luck in this. Both Victoria and New South Wales had by far the largest number of initial cases from return travellers and both New South Wales and Victoria have been our concerns in terms of community transmission. Community transmission has been present in both of those states. New South Wales have, very fortunately, been in a much stronger position in recent weeks. It is not really possible to say why they have managed to bring community transmission under better control than Victoria, there could be a lot of reasons for that. The geography, the demography from where the outbreaks are, but I think the most important thing is that everybody- both states have really good public health responses. New South Wales has had to do responses like Victoria, remember the Bondi beach outbreak, they set up pop-up clinics, they ramped up their response and brought it under control, that is what Victoria is doing now.

QUESTION:

What we're seeing in Victoria, is that reason for other states to slow down their easing of restrictions, whether its borders or those other measures of opening the pubs and clubs? Or should they be holding firm unless there is localised outbreaks in those states?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Unless they have got cases in their state I don't see any reason for them to change their plans.

QUESTION:

Can I just ask on a slightly different tack. Who will be taking over from you as CMO?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Professor Paul Kelly will be acting CMO from the end of this week and then we will run a proper process as we always do in the Commonwealth to make it a definitive appointment.

QUESTION:

Sorry, I have another question about what talking about. So just on the Victorian response to the outbreak. So we've known for a couple of weeks now that there has been breaches of infection procedures in these hotels. Have the Victorian health authorities done anything change what's- have they changed contractors, have they given them extra training?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

My understanding is they are doing a very extensive review of staffing and security provisions in their hotel quarantine but they do that as a routine. And as I said, we as a nation are all going to look at our practices for hotel quarantine and share the best lessons learnt at a meeting later this week.

QUESTION:

Professor Murphy have you had any contact this week or in recent weeks with your international counterparts and can you give us an insight into how Australia is going in comparison with international measures.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I haven't had direct personal contact in the last week, but we all see the epidemiology. This disease continues to escalate. There are new countries that have become hot spots. Brazil is a big concern at the moment, India is becoming a significant concern. The Americas, South and North America are accounting for nearly half the cases in the world. We know that if we have got nearly half a million deaths around the world, that if you assume a death rate of around two per cent, that is, we know that there is significant underreporting of the number of cases. It is likely to be tens of millions of cases that have occurred in the world. This is a serious disease that is with us and it makes our position relatively very strong and still is relatively strong, even though we have an issue to deal with at the moment.

QUESTION:

Has the AHPPC given any updated advice with regards to opening border restrictions?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

AHPPC has never made an advice on border closures, they have been individual decisions of the states and territories based on their own epidemiology and their own health advice. And the decision to reopen the borders will be their too.

QUESTION:

It's been a fortnight since the Black Lives Matter rally. There was obviously another person who attended the rally today with the virus, but probably didn't get it from their attendance and stuff like that. Would you say, given the 14-day incubation period, that if there had been any people getting the disease from attending these rallies, that we would be seeing it now and perhaps these things aren't super spreader of events?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

The super spreader event, you need to have a super spreader there to spread it. The potential is always there. I think you are probably right that we probably were lucky to have not seen major transmission at any of these events. There were two reasons for us strongly recommending against these events. One was the risk of spreading but the other is it does send a very difficult message to the rest of the community who are obeying all of the restrictions and the density rules to see people gathering in large numbers in a situation where you can't track who you have been next to. And there is always the potential that people seeing that sort of gathering may have felt less compliant with the regulations in the other aspects of their life, so we still are very strongly discouraging these sorts of events.

QUESTION:

What is your assessment of how the quest for a vaccine is coming along, and secondly, what is your assessment of how Australia is placed in terms of manufacturing that vaccine?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Sure, so, there are several candidate vaccine molecules in clinical trials at the moment. Probably the first results of any clinical trials would be available in late July. That would be a good time for us to tell whether any of the candidate molecules are looking promising. There are several different types of potential vaccines. We are actively examining manufacturing capacity in Australia. For some of those types of vaccines, we potentially do have good manufacturing capacity. For others, we don't currently have it and we are exploring that. There is a very significant lot of work being done on vaccines at the moment.

QUESTION:

Who's leading the work in term of the manufacturing?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

The Commonwealth Department of Industry and of Health are doing some very careful work looking at the scenario around the country.

QUESTION:

Will the AHPPC ever consider stricter localised lockdowns in those cluster areas. What would the threshold be, what with a number of cases to say, this localised area is now going to have a 2-week quarantine?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So I think the decision about a local lockdown would rest in the local state and territory public health unit. They would obviously seek advice from AHPPC. Again, there is no magic formula or a total number, there's no total number. It is the rate of rise of cases, it's the number of community transmitted is, it's the number of people that don't have an identified contact. So it would be an overall assessment and there is no- and it would be the capacity, physically, to localise the outbreak.

QUESTION:

But we could see those kind of stricter lockdowns?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

That has always been part of our national cabinet endorsed strategy. If you had say, a couple of hundred cases in a small geographical area, that, that area might well be physically locked down. That has always been part of our strategy.

QUESTION:

Just on New South Wales opening up and going back to the pub, the gym, you mentioned people having seen those crowds becoming complacent, are you concerned that New South Wales could see a similar outbreak?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

It's always possible in any state and New South Wales has always been very open that they had until recently, community transmission and they don't know that they don't have it, so we are always telling people that they must practice those personal responsibility things, so if you are going to a pub or a club and even if there are large numbers you must make sure that your contact details are left. You've got to practise those personal distancing, you've got to practise those hygienes. Those concerns will be with us for the duration. I'll do two more questions.

QUESTION:

On international travel Professor, we have seen a number of countries, Japan most recently, Singapore, Taiwan, [indistinct] doing sort of a green lane travel with Australia, where people can travel quarantine free stays when they arrive on their destination. What's the medical advice from that? Is that something that is feasible or is it a bit unrealistic?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

If a country, if we can be confident that a country is in a very good situation with control of the virus like New Zealand and obviously everyone knows that we have been exploring that with New Zealand, then that sort of possibility is there, and we are currently working with New Zealand on what would be the conditions that we would want for that sort of a border reopening to occur.

QUESTION:

Is there any evidence in the fall of estimated death rate as of yet, do we see any evidence of that at all?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

The estimated death rate internationally?

QUESTION:

Internationally and nationally.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So, at the moment, I still think the best estimate is around two per cent is the death rate, and that's why while the international death rate is around five per cent, I think there is substantial under detection of cases around the world. Thank you.

QUESTION:

Is that travel bubble with New Zealand at risk now because of this outbreak?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

The New Zealand authorities would certainly be concerned about that and they would be watching that. They have made no decision to proceed with that, we're working through that with them.

Thank you very much.

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