Date published: 
3 May 2020
Media event date: 
3 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

BRENDAN MURPHY:

An update on the COVID-19 situation we've 6801 cases on the current numbers, that's an increase of 18 cases in the last 24 hours. So although we're keeping below our 20 cases a day, there are still new cases and there are still small outbreaks detected in Victoria and New South Wales. There's still some evidence of low level community transmission, which is why we have been saying for some time we cannot get complacent. And although we are now seriously looking at what measures could be relaxed, and making recommendations to the National Cabinet over the course of the coming week, as was announced on Friday, we are very cautious about the need to move slowly and to get the testing done.

We've had a huge increase in testing, I think over 630,000 tests done now, Victoria's just done 9000 I think yesterday and that perhaps has been why they've identified a small number of additional cases. So once we have really good strong testing, as we've said on many occasions, that will make us much more confident about relaxing restrictions.

The other very important precondition that we've talked about on many occasions is the app - 4.25 million Australians have now downloaded the app and clearly we need to keep downloads and registrations increasing. We think there are about 16 million adults with smartphones, it's- they're our target population, they're the people we want to get to download the app because they're the people that are likely to be contacts of cases and we want as many of them as possible to download the app.

We are seeing some interesting, a little bit of more movement in the community, the tracking apps that we are following - and I should clarify of course that when I said on Friday at the press conference with the PM that Google tracks you, Google only tracks you when you consent and when you sign up to do that with one of their apps, but that's very useful information for us and we have- we are following - and this have been a bit more movement around the community and that's possibly what you'd expect with some states having relaxed some of those regulations that they put in place.

But clearly, over the next month or so, when we start to get back towards normal, we still have to be incredibly, incredibly careful. This virus is still in our community, it's still with us. We are, as we've said on many, many occasions, in a much better position than just about any other country in the world, but we have to be very careful as we chart the next few months of returning our society to as much normality as we can safely do whilst we, at all times, continue to practice those things that we will do forever - our hand hygiene, and being careful, and obviously practicing good social distancing measures over coming months.

So I'll stop there and take questions. Thank you.

QUESTION

Do you have an update on how many people are in hospital? And how many people in ICU and using ventilators at the moment?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Look, I haven't got that data with me - it's been very progressively falling. The last data I had on ventilated people was around 20 but I can't confirm that as if today, sorry.

QUESTION:

Can I ask on community sport, Professor. So is it a prerequisite that you get to the 40 per cent of 16 million adult phone users, about 6 million before you're able to advise the National Cabinet that that may be able to be- to proceed, that the restrictions be eased there? Or is that not a deal breaker? Is 4.25 million getting around the sort of number you want to see? And secondly, how might that occur? How might community sport come back? What sort of conditions?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Sure. So community sport is in the package of measures that we're preparing advice for National Cabinet on. As you know, on Friday we- National Cabinet approved a set of principles and particularly were impressed with the AIS framework for rebooting sport generally, but they wanted us to provide recommendations around starting community sport in line with those AIS recommendations, but as part of the overall package. Because, as I've said on many occasions, what we start next Monday - which is National Cabinet's sort of current timeframe - has to be a package that's cautious enough to not put at risk the good work we've done now. So community sport is in that mix as are gathering sizes and a number of other things the National Cabinet will consider.

In terms of the app, what we've always said is that the more people that download the app, the more confidence the National Cabinet will have about that one aspect of our preparedness that we're still a little bit anxious about - the capacity to really get on top of contacts as quickly as possible. So there is no magic number. The more we have signed up of those 16 million, the more confidence I'll be able to give National Cabinet that they can make a decision. But the more confidence they have, the more bold they might be.

QUESTION:

Just on the AIS recommendations, those couple of stages are predominantly- appear to be basically you can go to training with a small of people, but not have contact - you can't tackle, you can't even pass the ball to someone.

BRENDAN MURPHY: 

Correct.

QUESTION:

But some of the other recommendations appear to be much more long term, like not being able to use saliva to shine a cricket ball for example. You've spoken often about some of the permanent changes that you foresee in society as a result of this? Are some of those, I guess, less hygienic practices in sport something that could be gone for much longer?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Absolutely, I think that's right. I think in so many parts of our society hygiene practices need to change. And that will have long- even when the coronavirus is gone, that will have influences on influenza, colds, all sorts - gastro, all of those things. We as, you know, a first world, very wealthy country have probably come a bit relaxed about hygiene and I think it's time that we, we focused on those things and have learnt from this measure. So I don't think saliva to shine cricket balls is a good thing at all.

QUESTION:

I'm just following up- sorry, if I may - one of the other things was, for example, in a larger team like AFL was to keep the men's forwards and back team members separated in an ongoing basis. Might that be something the AFL in particular is considering?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Look, you'd have to ask the AFL that, I'm not across the specifics of that.

QUESTION

Professor, in terms of what we're seeing at Newmarch House, is that situation obviously cause for concern, but is it changing any of your thinking? Or are you preparing new advice? Or looking into preparing new advice to Cabinet? Is there a need for intervention from the Federal Government perhaps with some of the unexpected things that we've seen there? Just like to get your thoughts on that situation.

BRENDAN MURPHY: 

So the Commonwealth has been working very closely with New South Wales Health. As always, the public health response is delivered by the local state and territory health authority but the Commonwealth has an overarching responsibility in aged care. We've put significant resources into Newmarch House, we've put extra infection control practitioners in - but it's a partnership. It's a terrible tragedy - we've had two aged care facilities that have had very significant outbreaks, and fortunately we've had a number of others where they've been very quickly controlled.

And it's nobody's fault that once you have really widespread transmission in a facility, as happened at Newmarch, most of those infections occurred you know from that initial infection. There have been some more recent ones in the last few days and that's why there's a serious look at the infection control practices. And I know New South Wales health and their facility managers are looking at whether they might take some additional steps to take some of the people off site. But that's being worked through in partnership as it should be.

In terms of our general advice about residential aged care, it remains the same and it's reflected in that - the voluntary code that the facilities are agreeing with the National Cabinet have agreed, and it's out for consultation at the moment, around making sure that we keep people safe and stop this virus getting in. The critical thing with residential aged care is to stop the virus getting in.

QUESTION:

Professor, there are a lot of confused parents out there at the moment with school aged children. What is the advice, at a committee level, whether or not it's safe for people to send their kids to school?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Correct. So our advice has not changed, our advice is that transmission between children in schools is not well established and in fact there's increasing data that it is uncommon. Particularly now, data from Europe and the New South Wales Health study we think that children are not high transmitters of this virus in the school environment.

We have always said that there is a potential risk for adults in the staff room, adult interactions at school drop off and pick up and interacting with teachers and so we've recommended a range of mitigations to make sure that those risks can be reduced. Nobody at AHPPC has ever been of the view that it is a risk for children, but we know that teachers have been concerned and we have done everything that we think is necessary to mitigate that risk.

So, I do understand that part of the confusion has been that in some jurisdictions schools were closed and have been closed because of the general message of stay at home and they didn't want a lot of people moving around the community. But there is no one on AHPPC who believes that there is a risk to children sending them to school.

QUESTION:

And yet the Victorian Medical Officer has suggested that stay at home learning continue, remote learning continue except for essential services. So how does that work within the committee when you have differing points of view about the messaging? Do you just trump the other members of the committee? How are the decisions made?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

No. Our decisions are consensus, and the Victorian Chief Health Officer, with respect, has said publicly that he thinks schools are safe for children. He has expressed the view, as have the Victorian Government, that in the epidemiology that they had in Victoria they want to stop movement of people around the community - that's the basis for their decision. He has never disputed the evidence on the safety for children.

QUESTION

So, sorry - just to then, just to carry that through. For him then in that jurisdiction do you think that it is wise for them to potentially make the decision that's right for their community and the spread they had there? Is it okay for them to go a different way?

BRENDAN MURPHY

I think the National Cabinet has always recognised that jurisdictions will take measures above the national baseline and I know that every jurisdiction is now, including Victoria, is looking at what they do with schools. I mean, I think the Victorian Chief Health Officer has already flagged publicly that they are looking to try to see how they can safely reopen schools in a way that will gain the confidence of their parents and teachers.

So there are there are differences, there are other differences across the nation but in general they're at the margins. And schools, clearly the National Cabinet has taken a consistent view that they want to get schools open for face-to-face learning as soon as possible but bring with them the parents and the teachers who have still got residual anxiety.

QUESTION

Professor Murphy on aged care, you've raised concerns that some of the elderly, particularly the with dementia are not getting the care that they would, given the visitation of families have been prevented. Would you like to see, or be ready to commit to some kind of review looking at so-called extra deaths effectively, if there has been an increase in the number of deaths compared to normal? Not including cases of coronavirus.

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So I think we would all- the question relates to whether the visitation is a risk. Is that what you're saying?

QUESTION:

If there's been a higher than normal deaths within the aged care sector not including those coronavirus cases…

BRENDAN MURPHY

I get what you mean. I think that would be a difficult study to do but I- let me consider that one because I think there are obviously, unfortunately, a large number of deaths all the time in aged care. But my concern was not so much about the risk of death but it was more of a mental health risk. If you're someone who has dementia and you're at the end of life and, you know, the only person that gives you any real succour and mental interaction is your family, we think that - unless there's a really strong public health reason - we should allow visitations. But that's an interesting question to look at.

I'll let someone else- you haven't had a go yet. No. You go. Sorry.

QUESTION:

Professor Murphy, just on universities. This morning Dan Tehan flagged that he was interested in not only school campuses reopening but also universities reopening in a more fulsome way. What relationship has the AHPPC had with universities exactly? And how is that conversation…

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Sure. So I think universities are clearly in the mix of things that we're talking about with National Cabinet during this week. And again, it is likely that that they will start to recommence some activities in coming- without pre-empting the decisions of National Cabinet. But a lot of what universities have done have been of their own volition. We didn't ever say that universities should shut down and we think that there are clearly things they can do online, but there are some things that they should be doing face-to-face. It's hard to run a research lab and do some sort of small group teaching online. So it's likely that they will start cautiously, like everything else, to recommence some of that activity.

QUESTION:

Professor, just on aged care again is there anything that the AHPPC has seen? Are you investigating instigating new protocols? Is there a need to reconsider that from what we've seen in recent days?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So I think we did- there was a very significant review done of the Dorothy Henderson Lodge outbreak that we have seen and I think the, the message about this virus in aged care is that if it gets in and is widely spread it is a very, very difficult problem. And it seems to, interestingly, some elderly residents get asymptomatic infections but a lot of them get very severe infections. And clearly many of these people have advanced comorbidities and had been very unwell anyway.

The message, the clear message has been how difficult it is to control when it's in there and that we must do everything we can to keep it out. And probably the most important message that we keep saying is that nobody, nobody - no staff member, no contractor, no visitor - should enter an aged care facility unless they are 100 per cent well. If you have a sniffle, a tickle in your throat. a sore throat - do not go into an aged care facility. Go and get a coronavirus test, you can get it now, but stay away. You have to be perfectly well to walk in the door of an aged care facility - that is my message.

QUESTION:

In that context then Professor, at the Newmarch facility - is it best for those people to remain in that facility so that the outbreak is contained? Because there's some people saying: why aren't they being sent to hospitals, or other areas where they can be isolated? Would that just increase the risk of them spreading the virus more widely?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Well I think wherever they’re looked after you should be able to manage infection control properly. The main reason, my understanding is that most residents have stayed because that's where they want to be. And clearly if somebody can benefit from hospital treatment, as happened in Dorothy Henderson and as has happened with some Newmarch residents - they were taken to hospital. But in the main, if people have expressed a strong view that they want to stay where they are that's where they should be looked after. And our folk philosophy, and New South Wales Health’s philosophy has been to in-reach all of those services that are necessary to make it work.

QUESTION: 

Professor, we have heard information this afternoon that a member of the New Zealand Warriors actually travelled to Tamworth with the rest and he's going to get a COVID-19 test but he hasn't been diagnosed anything. But does that information worry you? And do you think that all the members of the team should potentially get a test now while they're in quarantine, so they can find out before they start playing if they might be at risk”?

BRENDAN MURPHY:  

Well the value of testing well people is not demonstrated, it only tells you whether you've got the virus at that one time. The most important thing is that they're quarantined for those 14 days. The risk, New Zealand has hardly any cases of the virus. I hadn't heard about this player being tested, I'd be very surprised if it's positive given what's happening in New Zealand at the moment.

But the most important thing, and one that I would have insisted on with Border Force, is that that they had a rigorous quarantine arrangement because we're doing that for everyone who comes from any country at the moment - that's the important thing is that they're quarantined. Clearly if anyone in their team becomes unwell, they should be tested. But there's not a lot of value in testing well people because you could be incubating the virus, it could appear in a few days' time - we don't know what that means. We'll just have one more question.

QUESTION

With regards to the changes that the AHPPC is considering going to National Cabinet, could you speak to the timeline that you might expect a first stage? You mentioned Monday, potentially. And would it be considering multiple stages at once? That we could potentially have a longer term roadmap to give Australians?

BRENDAN MURPHY: 

Again that- without pre-empting the decision of the National Cabinet, clearly this has to be staged. So there will be a stage one, and there'll be a stage two, and how many more stages after that is a decision for the National Cabinet. But the lessons that we've learned from overseas is that if you go too quickly, and open up things too quickly you can get a second wave. So our strategy will be to make some cautious, gentle steps in the first instance, to wait a period of time - and you need some weeks to see what the impact of those changes are - and if things are good, and those conditions that we've set out in National Cabinet to monitor still are good, we'll go to another stage, we'll re-evaluate and further stages will depend on how things are going in the epidemiology.

Okay. Thank you very much everybody.

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