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

BRENDAN MURPHY:  

National Cabinet is still progressing through measures and will be making some final decisions on adjustments of measures at the meeting on Friday. And I will be joining the Prime Minister at a press conference after that. So today I am just going to give the brief general health update which we have been used to getting. The current number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia is 6,849 and unfortunately 96 deaths. So whilst our death rate is much, much lower than many comparable countries it is still a terrible thing that 96 Australians have lost their lives due to this virus. We had an increase of 25 cases over the last 24 hours until this afternoon and the increase in the last day or so has been a little higher than we have seen earlier in the week, where we have been getting less than 20 cases a day. That is obviously of concern but mostly it relates to the Victorian meatworks outbreak which, I have to say, has been expertly controlled by the Victorian Health Department with very, very extensive tracing of contacts, isolation and quarantine.

And it is a salutary lesson, that outbreak in Victoria where- these are the sorts of things we are likely to keep seeing over coming months, particularly if we do relax some of the measures. We will likely see outbreaks and we have been saying for some time that the most important thing is when we do get an outbreak, given the very, very infectious nature of this virus that we have to have that capacity to quickly test, trace, isolate and quarantine, which is exactly what has happened in that outbreak.

We have still got 20 people on ventilators in intensive care units, 27 people in intensive care. So that number has been falling and that's obviously very gratifying. The testing rate across the country has significantly ramped up, 665,000 tests have been done now. Victoria is leading the pack with a very substantial increase in testing. But a number of other states are doing much broader testing, starting to test some cohorts of people and that again was one of the very important, what we call, precedent conditions that the National Cabinet set for us to have in place before we consider relaxing restrictions.

The other one that we've talked about a lot is the app and we're tantalisingly close to 5 million, I think it is 4.95 million downloads at the moment. As you know, our target population are the 16 million adult Australians with smart phones and we do need more because whilst at the moment with low case numbers the contact tracing is being done very efficiently and well by our state and territory public health units, if we do get outbreaks in the future that we want to control quickly, the app will be a very significant help to us.

So that's pretty much all I wanted to say other than to continue to encourage people to download the app and also to continue to practice our general new principles of social distancing. I said on Sunday that we are seeing some evidence through the various proxy measures of mobility that people are starting to move around. We are seeing people going back to retail, getting out and that's great that people are starting to do things more. We are starting to open up the economy but we just have to continue to be careful all the time. We still have to practice that social distancing, practice that hand hygiene, not do silly things, get together in house parties, not break any of the rules.

The steps that the National Cabinet will be taking and making decisions on later this week will likely be fairly cautious decisions because we know that whilst we are in a really good position, this virus is still here in the community. It may be in different amounts in some parts of the country compared to others, there are some parts of the country that have really had no cases for a long time and they can get a bit more confident about what they can do. Other parts of the country we are still seeing elements of community transmission so we just have to be careful and cautious as we move. We are in a great place but we cannot risk this great place that we're in. So I'll stop there, thanks.

QUESTION:

The Prime Minister has said that there's going to be cases [indistinct] will you touch on that as well? What does the modelling have to say on how many cases Australia may see as things start to reopen and what rate are we looking at and how long do we expect cases are going to linger as we go forward?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So the modelling, that sort of modelling is entirely speculative. Our modelling team are looking at what would happen if you had an outbreak of a certain size with a certain effective reproduction rate and how long it would take you to get to very large numbers. We don't ever want to be in that situation. What we are expecting is small outbreaks like we've seen in Victoria where we might see hopefully, small numbers of cases where quickly the testing and tracing happens and we are getting under control with perhaps case numbers of less than 100. That is the sort of thing we know we can manage. We don't want to have any situation where there is broad transmission over a long period of time where you end up with several hundred cases and a large outbreak. That is the sort of thing that we are trying to avoid. And that is why we have to test so aggressively and that's why we keep saying to people please, please, do not leave your house if you are in any way unwell other than to get a COVID test because we want everybody with a sniffle or a sore throat or a cough to get a COVID test and do not go to work. And in particular, do not enter a hospital or go to an aged care home.

QUESTION:

To follow up that question, we have seen Treasury has provided figures on how many jobs it is costing to have schools closed, but is there any estimate or modelling on how many more cases there are likely to be if schools reopen?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

No, because we have no real evidence that schools are a driver of transmission. So it is not possible to model that. Obviously, that's something we would watch. The most- I would imagine the most likely negative effect of schools might be some transmission from adults to adults, like teachers if they are not practising good distancing in the classroom. We don't believe that there is significant transmission from children, so we've done no modelling on that.

QUESTION:

In regards to those small outbreaks of up to 100 cases that we hope to see, do you think that sort of pattern would remain for the rest of 2020, [indistinct] rest of 2020. And are we going to be testing until 2020 and beyond? Do we have enough tests to last us until a certain date? Has that been looked at?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Sure. We have a good supply line of tests now. We are much more confident in our supply line of tests. We've got a diversified supply line; we have enough tests to do all of the expansion that we want to do. Certainly, we've got sufficient supply over the next- over coming months and we're diversifying our supply lines. So, we want to continue to increase our testing numbers. We're still not at the level we want to be at. The challenge with this virus is that nobody really knows what the long-term future holds. Our strategy at the moment is to keep Australians safe over the next two to three to four months, whilst safely relaxing restrictions so that we can get on with economic activity and our lives in a COVID-safe way. We will continually need to re-evaluate our strategy. If we get promising potential vaccines, if we get promising potential therapies, there may be a different strategy. But at the moment what we're keen to do is continue to suppress and control as much as possible. If in some parts of the country, as is possible, for example in the Northern Territory, we've actually eliminated transmission, that is a fantastic outcome, but you can't take the brakes off, you can't- cannot assume that there isn't transmission in those places.

So, at the moment, I think we will be testing for the foreseeable future. We can't give you a 12-month strategy at the moment. We don't know enough about this virus.

QUESTION:

If we return to the COVIDSafe app, do you know when contact tracers - i.e., the state health officials - will be getting access to that data? And given some restrictions will be lifted on Saturday, can we assume it will be some of that data?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

My understanding is that those arrangements with the state and territories, which are really just about making sure that what we promised the community is that only those people would have access to the data and only in the absolutely secure circumstances, so it's just putting those belts and braces in. My understanding is that they're all going to be resolved this week. So, I believe that they will be in place.

QUESTION:

I was just going to ask the question about going back to schools. You were saying that you think adults possibly could transmit the disease between themselves, so the teachers and the staff at the school. Why not the kids? Why are the kids any less likely to transmit than the adults?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

Because that is the science at the moment. There have been- there is now an increasing amount of data that A) particularly younger kids, don't seem to get the infection, and even when they do there is now a number of studies that show they do not seem to be transmitting to their fellow classmates in the school. We don't know why. It's a very unusual feature of this virus, but all of the data that we've seen, both in Australia and in other parts of the world, suggest that children are not transmitting this virus, which is a wonderful thing.

QUESTION:

Mr Murphy, the Prime Minister started talking about COVID-safe workplaces. What do they look like from the health perspective? Is it going to be hand sanitising, distancing, is there anything else? And have we seen the end of hot desking, the practice?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

[Laughs] Well, I think hot desking would have to be done in a different way. I think- so, you've got the major features. So, distancing. So, staggered start times and finish times. We don't want everybody crowding on public transport at the same time. We don't want everyone crowding in the lifts at the beginning of the day and the end of the day. So, staggered working start times, distancing. If you are doing hot desks or sharing common spaces, frequent cleaning. We want cleaning products everywhere. We want staff to have a responsibility for hygiene. Hand sanitiser everywhere. Everybody sanitising their hands. People not shaking their hands. People not crowding into a small room for a meeting. Using video meetings where it's possible to do it. Not travelling interstate for a meeting that you can do via video. So, there's a range of general measures that are all about reducing your close contact with fellow human beings.

QUESTION:

In regards to what Karen Andrews said a couple of days ago, she's saying life isn't going to really return to normal until we have a vaccine. She says it's going to be 10, 15 months away. Is that something, obviously, that you agree with? And what parts of our life will not return to normal until we have approved a vaccine to COVID?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So, I think that is true, that the virus is likely- I mean, it's possible we could find a highly effective treatment for severe disease, which would be a different thing to a vaccine, but assuming we don't and a vaccine is the solution and assuming one doesn't happen more quickly than that, I think all of those things that we were just talking about then, those distancing measuring, will be with us. I think it's unlikely that we will be able to have very large, close-packed crowds until we have got rid of this virus. So unfortunately, I can't see 100,000 people packing a grand final of the football. But I think we can do a lot- but as we get more and more confident and as people start behaving differently, we can start to do more. So, I wouldn't want a crystal ball too far ahead, but I don't think we'll be shaking hands and randomly hugging and getting crowded in rooms for a long time.

QUESTION:

What about interstate travel? What has to happen before the advice to stay- because obviously it's their choice, but what would have to happen before that sort of…

BRENDAN MURPHY:

I think that is something we are seriously looking at at the moment. I think it's likely that we have to have leisure and recreation. If the epidemiology stays strong, and if- when we make the first moves to relax measures over the coming weeks, that if epidemiology also stays good and we don't have a lot of cases, I think there will be a case to look at gently promoting local tourism within Australia, including interstate travel - being very careful about things like areas where they're in high-risk communities like Indigenous communities, but I think that's not something that we're keen to push in the first tranche, but I think it's likely that that will be a future consideration.

QUESTION:

Do you believe it's safe to start easing restrictions? We hear the Prime Minister say it's costing 4 billion a week to keep them in place. Is that a consideration we need to keep in mind, and would our system be ready for another outbreak if it were to occur?

BRENDAN MURPHY:

So, I think that's what the National Cabinet were very clear about, that they wanted us to reassure them that our system is ready to- not to deal with a very large outbreak, but to stop a very large outbreak. And that means, as I've said already, lots and lots of testing, really good public health response capability. Just exactly what Victoria's done in that meatworks outbreak - find a case, really descend on the place, close it down, test everybody, isolate people, and that's the way you stop big outbreaks. So, we think across Australia, every state and territory, public health divisions have been working hard to get ourselves ready, but the reason we need to be very cautious in our first relaxations is we have to test that. So, by only relaxing a bit, we can test the system without risking a large outbreak. That's the challenge.

No more questions? Great, thank you.

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