Date published: 
1 July 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

NEIL MITCHELL:

On the line is a member of that key federal committee, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, that's the mob that— the pollies love to rattle off the letters. But that's the organisation that really sits in judgment of all these things, the one that recommended the 6 municipalities be treated as hotspot. They're making all the decisions.

Alison McMillan is on the committee of the— she's the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer for the country. Alison McMillan, good morning.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Good morning, Neil.        

NEIL MITCHELL:

You'd be aware of this concept of ring-fencing. Is that a possibility?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Look, there are a lot of possibilities. I think at the moment, Neil, as you know, and you've just mentioned, we're providing advice to those people in those local government areas where we've seen some community transmission. We're hoping that with good advice and additional testing and people staying home sick, we won't need to take any further measures. But we're going to watch this very closely, so that we can make sure that we contain any outbreak.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, what would the next step be?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well, I think that those decisions, ultimately, Neil, are for the Victorian Government, for the Chief Health Officer, and the Minister for Health. They, I think, will consider what they're seeing and what next steps they might take. But, at the moment, they're providing very clear advice, and that's following advice from the AHPPC that came out over the weekend.

NEIL MITCHELL: 

Yeah, but the AHPPC has named the 6 municipalities. Presumably, if they thought there was a need— if the committee thought there was a need for further action, that would be recommended, wouldn't it?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

It would. It would. So, every day— we meet every day, Neil, and we look at the figures. We look at the epidemiology, as it's called, and we'll continue to support our colleagues in Victoria with the experience from other jurisdictions and discuss what the approaches might be.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I can assure you, we're all aware of what epidemiology is, after the past few months. So, are we— is Victoria at a crossroads here?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

It is. It is, and these are the times that I understand and appreciate are very difficult for people. I can hear you, and I've heard this morning, people queuing at Highpoint already. We need to watch very closely in the next few days what the figures are telling us. Victoria's acted quickly, and they're putting a lot of effort into containing the spread. We always said that there was an opportunity or a chance that we would see community outbreaks, and that's what we're seeing now

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it a second wave?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

No, I wouldn't describe it as a second wave. It is, as we predicted, that in— whilst we've been enormously successful with our suppression, and there is elimination in some states and territories, we always knew that whilst there's a lot of COVID virus around the world, that we were likely to see outbreaks in certain parts of our community. And that's exactly what we're seeing now.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So, does that mean we have to get used to these type of outbreaks? I mean, we handle this one, hopefully, we get through this one, but it will happen again, and we have to react in a similar way?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think, Neil, each time we see an outbreak, we'll measure and understand what we're seeing and take effective action to address those outbreaks. But yes, we can anticipate that as we know, it took 1 week for it to go from 8 million to 9 million overseas in COVID positive cases. That disease is still out there, and we are not, whilst we've been enormously successful— there is still world transmission, so we could expect, and can expect, to see more outbreaks.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is there a figure at which you take a leap or is there a figure that you'd say, now, if we can get several days at around this figure — in Victoria, I mean — then we've got on top of it?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

It's not— there's not pure numbers Neil. It's really about the nature of what we're seeing. We know that for many of the cases we've seen in Victoria, there's a clear link within families or within workplaces. If we were to see more cases where there's not a clear link, that would cause us greater concern. So it's the nature of the spread as much as the pure numbers that provide us with those indicators about what we're seeing.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Victoria's had a lot of cases through the quarantine system. Other states haven't. Why?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Other states have, Neil—

NEIL MITCHELL:

[Interrupts] Not as many, I don't think.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well, New South Wales also has taken an enormous share. It really depends on where the international flights come into and the capacity of those airports to [indistinct]

NEIL MITCHELL:

[Talks over] Well, yeah, but I'm talking about the transfer and outside the international travellers to staff and the like, and families.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Sorry, Neil. Then— repeat your question again [indistinct].

NEIL MITCHELL:

Well, no, I'm talking about— I accept that people coming in from overseas are going to possibly have the virus, which is why they've been quarantined. But Victoria's had a significant number of staff who are caring for these, or supervising these quarantine people come down with the virus, and of course their families, in some cases, come down with the virus. That seems to have happened more in Victoria than elsewhere. Why?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

It does. And so, I understand that Victoria are, at this point, making a very close examination about what procedures and processes — in our language, it's infection prevention and control — what are they doing? Are they adhering to those very strict protocols that they need to do and making sure that no-one — really, no-one — should be going to work if they're at all unwell. It's a principle we've messaged through this entire pandemic.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Yeah.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

And that remains very clear — do not go to work if you're unwell.

NEIL MITCHELL:

So have we got something wrong in managing the quarantine here?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I don't think it's wrong. I think that there's evidence that perhaps, over time, it's not unusual that people can become potentially a little complacent, and so the need to reinforce those very strict protocols about how you use the personal protective equipment and the processes, that reinforcement needs to be there. And again, not going to work if you're sick.

NEIL MITCHELL:

I don't want to misquote him but I think I saw Professor Murphy saying yesterday that the Black Lives Matter rally in Victoria might have led to some broader— the broader community saying: oh well, it's all off and I don't have to follow the restrictions anymore. Did that lead to complacency, in your view?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well yes, Professor Murphy did say yesterday that he believed that people could have had the perception that things were over here in Australia. Numbers were low and therefore it didn't really matter anymore. And that's not the case, we know that's not the case. And I'm not going to— I can't speculate on whether that led to complacency, but one could imagine that that is part of what we're seeing at the moment. And therefore, the need for us all, particularly us and the health professionals, to reinforce that message to the community about the vital work they need to do and their responsibility.

NEIL MITCHELL:

The 6 municipalities you've named, could that— could we add— could they be added too? Is it possible that will have to be other municipalities put in the same position?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

It is. It is a possibility. We need and will continue— we'll get further results this morning from obviously what's been significant testing over the last day or so. So, we will watch that very closely to see whether there are any other municipalities where we need to take, or consider additional advice to the community.

NEIL MITCHELL:

And did — the people in Hume, Casey, et cetera, at the moment — you don't want them to leave the area? You want other people to go in? Is that correct?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

That's correct, yes. We want them, wherever possible, to remain within their municipality. Yes. And also asking people, unless essential, please don't travel there. And that's advice so that we can try to contain the spread and we don't see it moving beyond the boundaries of that significantly large proportion of the Melburnian population.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Audience member has children. Kid's sports is pretty much back. Children who play sport against teams where children are based in that area. Should they be going ahead? Or do they call them off?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Look, I think they need— each of the sporting clubs need to make those considerations about the kids and travel — what they think is the most important. We know that children aren't a major transmitter amongst each other. And I think it's— hopefully these restrictions will be short lived and we can get this contained.

But again, we're providing that advice: please, if it's not essential don't travel outside of those municipalities and don't travel in. So that's the general advice. And then, depending on where that school or that sporting club is will depend on what— how they might follow that advice.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Let's hope the numbers do drop but how— what period of time do you have to have lower numbers to say: okay, you can open up those municipalities again?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well, we then generally talk in 14 days of the incubation period. So, I know that there— the Premier has announced in Victoria that there'll be no change to the current restrictions for another, I think, 3 weeks. I think that we will be looking to see a sustained flattening of those numbers over probably a couple of weeks.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Schools. We've got 2 schools both in those hotspot areas named today. Are you concerned about schools? I understand that it's unusual for children to transmit between themselves, but I think we do know that about 8 schools are affected in Victoria.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Yes. But what we are seeing, Neil, remember is not transmission at school. It's transmission where kids have been infected through family contacts for instance, and then have gone to school. So, those very clear advice we provided as schools returned about not going if you're sick, maintaining the social distancing or physical distancing at drop off and pick up. All of those things are the important components to preventing spread. And we're really very much asking people to continue to follow those physical distancing instructions so that we can keep those schools open.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Is it possible Victoria could go back, as we were, to a total state wide lockdown?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Ultimately, that's a decision for Victoria to make based on the— what we see in the next couple of weeks. Obviously, we're very hopeful that that's not necessary. And AHPPC will continue to support Professor Sutton and everyone in the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria with that decision making, and we'll do everything we can so that we don't need to see those restrictions returned.

NEIL MITCHELL: 

Why Victoria? Why? I mean, for about a month we're 170 per cent ahead of the New South Wales, or more than New South Wales. Why?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Why? I think you would have heard Professor Murphy say yesterday, to some extent, it's luck. New South Wales did see some big community outbreaks earlier in the pandemic, particularly in Bondi. Now, unfortunately, it's Victoria's turn now. Next time, it may be somewhere else where we see a community outbreak. But given that Victoria and New South Wales have the largest populations, these are the places one might expect to see them.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you for your time. Any good news on a vaccine yet?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

There's lots of really good work going on. I think that Australia has invested significantly. I think there's areas that we're looking to go to human trials very shortly. But obviously, you can't rush a vaccine. But we are well positioned, if and when we find one, that we'll be able to get that up and running as quickly as we can.

NEIL MITCHELL:

We're still talking 6 months or more?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Yes. We have to make sure it's safe.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Thank you very much for your time.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Thank you Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL:

Alison McMillan, who, as I said, is on that acronym, AHPPC, which is the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. They all sit around with all the chief health officers. She's in the middle of it, deciding the path to take. She is the Australian Government's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer. So Australia's Chief Nurse, if you like.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID12981, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fchief-nursing-and-midwifery-officer-interview-on-3aw-mornings-on-1-july-2020)

View contact