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

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

So that alarming message that came out yesterday, that’s from the committee, the AH- Australian Health Practitioners- I always forget the initials. Anyway, they, the AHPPC suddenly said, look don’t travel to these suburbs if you cannot travel to and from these local government areas, don’t.

One person who sits on that committee is Alison McMillan, the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer for the Commonwealth Department of Health. Good afternoon, once again.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Good afternoon, Raf.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Brendan Murphy said earlier today that these outbreaks in Melbourne could just be bad luck. I wonder if you think he's right and I wonder what you think he means.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well I think that we've always said, Raf, as we move towards the suppression of this COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. That we knew there would be potential community outbreaks and I think, though the dice have fallen in Victoria at the moment, we did see other outbreaks. As we know, for instance, in New South Wales we saw around Bondi, earlier in the pandemic. So it is about identifying these quickly and trying to contain the spread. And at the moment it's in Victoria.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

What would you say to someone who is in those suburbs everywhere from Keilor downs all the way down to places just down to the south east of Melbourne? It’s a pretty big area. What would you say to those people?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

What I'd say firstly is if you are- if you have any symptoms cold or flu, loss of taste or smell, anything at all please get tested. The hotline number is there. There's plenty of places you can go to get tested and stay home. Please stay home and then if you are well remember all of those important things that have got us to this point. The social distancing or physical distancing, the hand hygiene, cough etiquette, those are the sort of things we're asking. And we're asking them please if at all possible, please don't travel out of those areas where you're living at the moment unless it's essential travel.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: I completely understand why you're urging people to get tested but the more we talk about this and the more urgent warnings there were over the weekend the longer those queues are. Lots of people are being turned away from the shopping centre testing for example at like 10 this morning they were told, we're already full for the day. Is that- I mean how do we fix that?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well, Raf, there are lots and lots more additional places people can get tested. So contact your GP that those drive-in centres are not the only places. There are lots of other clinics across the state and particularly in Melbourne where you can get tested. So ring the hotline get advice about where it is closest to you that you might be able to go and get tested, and that's what we're asking everyone to do.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Do you think Melbourne or Victoria needs to do more to change the way we do hotel quarantine for those who've returned from overseas?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Look, I think I think you would may well have heard Brendan say this afternoon that we are AHPPC we're going to look in the next couple of days what's worked well and what are the options for improvement that we can do around hotel quarantine. But I think we need to remember more than 6,000 people a week are coming back. And so we've had some outbreaks which is of course a concern. But overall this has been very successful in actually suppressing this across Australia that has been a key part of our public health controls for the pandemic.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

I think I'm correct to say that there are police supervising the hotel quarantine in New South Wales and there are not police supervising it in Victoria. Does that need to change? Would that make a difference?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Look I think it's a decision ultimately for Victoria how and in what way they ensure people are compliant with the processes. And I understand they are looking at that right now and identifying where the breaches may have occurred and making sure they can close those gaps quickly. I think one of the really important messages that Professor Murphy and Nick Coatsworth pushed yesterday is again please do not go to work if you are unwell. You put yourself, but you also put these colleagues your friends and your family at risk if you do that.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

So they are looking at putting more police on the hotel quarantine.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Look I think Raf, it's ultimately a question to Victoria. But yeah they are looking at it very in great detail.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

And I've also heard that Victoria has also said look we could do with some of the more senior public health positions to make some of the harder decisions during contact tracing. Should this person be tested shouldn't they? Some of the stuff is easy. Some of the staff requires more experience. Do you know if they are sending public health people from other states to Victoria to help?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Yes. So when we when we met yesterday by telephone for AHPPC, every state and territory obviously was offering whatever they could to support Victoria. I don't know the details Raf, of who is going where but certainly there were local conversations with a number of the other states about the experience that New South Wales could bring to Victoria because they've already had to deal with community outbreaks. Those conversations were going on yesterday and today about getting Victoria additional support. You know we're all here to help each other. Let's hope it doesn't happen somewhere else. But we are all in this together.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Alison McMillan is with us. She’s the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer with the Commonwealth Department of Health. She is part of the AHPPC so they are all of the top medical people advising state governments, territory governments and the federal government as well. Alison that communication yesterday that all of a sudden people get sprung with this news and none of the Mayors knew, I don't think and now the CEOs of those local government areas knew as well, before there was suddenly this message stay in your suburb if you can or don't go to that suburb. Was it the right way to deliver that message?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well I think the message that you see is delivered from the AHPPC and then the local on the ground communication is part of the Victorian process. They're the people on the ground they're working with those local governments and I'm sure there's communication being going on during today.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

So you're happy with it. Only because this morning and last night there were tons of mayors, tons of CEOs and tons of people going oh hang on I live outside that local government area but my kid gets to school inside it. I don't know what to do.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well I think we as the AHPPC provided that advice and the local communication now is part of the ongoing process of Victoria are doing with all of those local governments.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Are you worried that there are communities, maybe English isn't their first language maybe English is their first language but are you worried that there are communities the Health Minister here mentioned lower socio-economic groups who just aren't hearing enough of the health messages.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think there's always an opportunity to continue to push our communication we need to be cognisant that we don't just do it in English. Much of the material we have is translated but it is important that we actually reach into those communities and use the local community leaders to help us get to those hard to reach that may not be part of mainstream media. Absolutely we continue to push that effort and definitely community leaders are critical in getting to communities we might not speak to on a regular basis.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Is this the beginning of a second wave do you think?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think this is what we hoped wouldn't happen but anticipated in May. What we can say at the moment is that the numbers have not increased massively in the last couple of days. I think it’s 16 for today in Victoria. We need to get on top of this very quickly and Victoria are pushing every single resource they've got towards doing that. We're going to watch it in the next few days to see how things are progressing and see where it's at. But we always were of the view that we would see community outbreaks and we're going to continue to say that until we have a vaccine.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Is it possible that you could lock down a suburb within Melbourne's greater area the same way lockdown its North West Tasmania.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think it would be very difficult to do and you'd have to think very carefully about the implications of that. But ultimately that's a decision that will be made by the Victorian Premier and the and Brett Sutton the Chief Health Officer about what local approaches they may need to take and they'll do that as they survey what they're seeing on the ground.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

So any legal instruction to lock down a suburb or group of suburbs. Definitely a state decision not a federal one?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Yes, definitely a state decision.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Are you worried?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

No, I've got absolute confidence in my colleagues in Victoria and I think they're looking at this very carefully, but we are all here to support them should they need our help. And what we really need to push and encourage everyone who is listening in Victoria is to continue to do those things we've asked you; to take the personal responsibility, to stay home if you're sick, and follow those social and hygiene things that we've asked you to do. Because they know what we need to continue to do into the future.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

And I appreciate you saying with this bad luck but is it also because it's really cold here. Is that one reason maybe the virus survives longer when it's colder?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well it does survive longer when it's colder potentially, but there's still a lot we don't know about the virus, Raf. But again even if it is winter it's still important that you follow all of those things that we're asking them to do.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN:

Really appreciate your time and we all appreciate your work as well. Thank you.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Thanks, Raf.

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