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

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Good afternoon. I'm here to provide the daily press conference in relation to COVID-19 pandemic.

So, in the last 24 hours, I can report that we've seen 23 new confirmed cases in Australia. One in Queensland, one in New South Wales and the remainder in Victoria. 15 of those in Victoria are as a result of overseas travellers returning to Australia. They are Australian citizens or residents returning here. And I think it is important to remember, in the context, that we are seeing about 6500 people, or Australians, returning to our shores every week. And so whilst these numbers are a little more than we have seen in recent days, we are seeing people return from places where there is a very high prevalence of COVID-19 and so we should continue to potentially expect to see people returning. Important to remember, everyone is in quarantine and they are strictly adhering to those 14 days. Just a little rise in those numbers.

The other one of the other cases in Victoria today is in an aged care facility that is currently now in lockdown and following those very clear guidelines about how one manages an outbreak in an aged care facility, so we will currently monitor and watch that. So, currently overall, throughout this pandemic now, 7370 cases in Australia. We have seen 16 people remaining in hospital. Sadly, three of those in intensive care. And as previously reported, 102 deaths, sadly, in Australia. So those are the figures that we have for today.

The other thing of note that we are seeing media reports in today from the UK is early media reports, at least, on the success of the use of a very commonly known drug, dexamethasone, and the use of patients either in hospital, either requiring oxygen or requiring ventilation. Now, we are cautiously pleased to see this report, but obviously these reports are currently media reports, and so AHPPC have considered that today and it will be making a statement in relation to that study reported in the media.

But we must remember that even if a treatment has been found and we will need to see the published data, that does not in any way detract from the need for us to continue to prevent the spread across Australia. So, we need to continue to do those things that we have been doing to prevent spread of COVID-19 so that, in fact, one would never need a treatment.

So, that's our report for today and I am happy to take questions.

QUESTION: 

You mentioned there that the biggest cluster, for want of a better word, of the cases that we've seen from overseas travellers. Are you expecting that as social restrictions continue to ease, that we might be seeing clusters in the public, as opposed to those groups of people still returning from overseas?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

We are seeing small community clusters. We know we've seen that in Victoria. And we do and did say as we ease restrictions, we would expect to see these small clusters. The important thing is that Victoria have moved quickly in containing that small outbreak. They're doing extensive testing and contact tracing, and that's what we need. So, we need people, if they've got symptoms, to quickly get tested, and therefore we can then get in contact - obviously, particularly helpful if they've got the COVID app and we can contain those outbreaks to small numbers.

QUESTION: 

We started seeing over the weekend crowds returning to some sporting matches. Of course, something that many Australians want to see. But is there anything that health authorities have observed about the measures put in place regarding sporting grounds over the weekend that were successful, or anything that needs to be stepped up as more grounds open up their doors again?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think it would be fair to say - I know that in South Australia, the Chief Health Officer was actually at the football to see how things were going and I think she reported that she was very pleased to see the measures that were in place that night where the two teams played, and will continue. So it was very controlled numbers, everyone had an allocated seat, there was significant space between everyone and everyone was encouraged to, of course, not attend if they felt unwell. They are the sort of things we're going to continue to want to see, and I understand there are more plans for crowds this weekend again, and it will be these physical distancing, these hygiene measures that will mean that we can continue to return to this sort of life we remember from the past.

QUESTION: 

There was a lot of discussion about people attending Black Lives Matter protests and rallies around the country, and concerns that there could be some community transmission at those rallies. We haven't really seen any cases popping up, maybe one or two that had been linked to the Melbourne situation. Does that suggest that we are in fact getting on top of this virus, even more so than what had been predicted?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well I think we can say that with the significant success we have had in the suppression of the spread, we are really pleased to see that. But that is as a consequence of people doing the right thing; continuing to social distance, stay at home, hygiene, we need to keep doing those things. We are not out of the time that we may still see some cases from those protests, mostly the incubation is between five and seven days but we do know it can stretch 10 or 14. So there is still a potential that we'll see cases from those but less likely over time. We are really pleased to see that. Our advice was - from AHPPC - was please don't go. But we are, of course, pleased to see that we're not seeing significant numbers out of these protests.

QUESTION:

And on the weekend you were saying that there haven't been any strong plans put in place to start relaxing restrictions around international business travel. Of course we know a lot about this discussion on the trans-Tasman bubble, I'm sure you're sick of being asked questions about it but has that progressed any further? Are those sort of plans, or at least getting an idea as to what sort of checks and balances would need to happen on both sides of the border to ensure that something like that could go ahead?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

We are constantly reviewing both those travel restrictions and the quarantine requirements as we know more about the virus and more about the evidence. But as yet, no, the borders will remain closed. The rules are still there. I know there are discussions going on around what might be possible, how we might make this work, but at this point in time I'm not aware of any plans of any firm dates for when they would occur. But we - as I say - are continuing to look at how we might do that were a decision to be made to do that.

QUESTION:

There's some reporting around this morning about one of the centrepieces of the public health program here which was the COVIDSafe app. Reports saying that, at first that app was - on iPhones at least - only effective around a quarter of the time or even less than that. I'm not asking you to comment on the technicalities because that's slightly out of your realm of expertise, but do you understand the concern that people might have that they were originally sold what could be a [indistinct] here when they were told to download this app and it probably wasn't working?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well I was one of the people that certainly promoted the downloading of that app and we've seen - I understand - from the digital transformation authority there have been five upgrades since then. Yes, we have learnt more about its operational effectiveness and it is working a lot better now than it was in the beginning. But that doesn't take away of the importance of being able to use or supplement our ability to track and trace people, contain this disease. And this was always a supplement to the existing public health measures and the containment structures we put in place. And as it continues to be upgraded we will see its performance improve.

QUESTION:

Do you know if there's been, with some of these cases popping up in the states, any more requests for access from state health authorities to use the app?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

No, because if you remember at the very beginning we were really clear that as the Federal Government we weren't able to access that information, that it was only through states and territories. There has been some reporting as we know that it has been used where there has been a positive case. But again, we are not privy to that information because we made it so tight in its privacy restrictions.

QUESTION:

Just finally, how much attention do you give to other parts of the world when it comes to their easing of restrictions? We know that there has been a lot of work happening in the Europe and the UK at the moment, they are starting to see some of those social restrictions wound back. Do you keep a close eye on how that goes as well as an indicator of transferring that knowledge to Australia? Or is it a different kettle of fish because it is such a different circumstance over there?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Our clinical connections and our government connections remain. We are very vigilant to learning and see what happens overseas, and that's important so we can learn and understand the global picture of this because that still has an impact on Australia. Only yesterday I was part of an international zoom meeting of chief nurses and midwives across the world, and the reports and stories, for instance, from Italy, just are a very salient reminder of how fortunate we are in Australia to have not seen that. So we keep all of those connections very much tight and we watch across the world about the evidence and how it's changing and the emergence and changes in the prevalence in different countries.

QUESTION:

Are there any hotspots that are of particular concern at the moment?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well I think you would not be in any doubt to see that Brazil clearly has got some enormous challenges in the numbers of cases and deaths its seeing at the moment in Brazil. It's very sad for all the people in Brazil with that difficulty.

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