Date published: 
24 September 2020
Media event date: 
23 September 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

ALISON MCMILLAN:

There are now 26,973 positive COVID cases since the outbreak of this pandemic in Australia - 22 newly confirmed cases in the last 24 hours. Six of those cases were in New South Wales. All of those cases were in people who had returned from overseas and were in quarantine. One case also in South Australia - the same, someone returning from overseas and in hotel quarantine. Fifteen of the cases were in Victoria - 10 of those were confirmed as known- part of known outbreaks and known contacts, five continue under investigation. Sadly, deaths now in Australia are 859 with sadly five additional deaths reported today, all of those in Victoria. Eighty-nine people remain in hospital with COVID-19 and 11 of those in intensive care.            

More than 7.3 million tests have been conducted, again, since the commencement of this COVID-19 pandemic - 42,000 in the last 24 hours. But the numbers of cases testing positive per 1000 tests remains very stable, but we do encourage everyone still, however minor your symptoms, however vague they might be, that scratchy throat, sneezing, coughing, general feeling of cold or flu, please do stay at home, don't go to work and do get tested. Testing is freely available widely across Australia, and you do not need a Medicare card or you do not need to pay for many of the testing centres available.           

So, today's numbers are extremely encouraging. As we've seen reported widely, the 14-day rolling average now in Victoria is less than 30. And as we say- as I said, New South Wales has now seen two consecutive days without any community transmission. These are all really encouraging signs and are evidence of the tremendous work that you are all doing across the community to help prevent the spread. It is the work you're doing, staying at home, following the rules, hygiene your hands, cough etiquette, staying 1.5 metres that brings about these results of these low numbers and particularly, this low level of community transmission we're now seeing across the country. And as a consequence as we can see, we're seeing a continued- the numbers of restrictions around the country, we are seeing them being relaxed. We're seeing borders being opened and many people- allowing many people across the country to see family and friends that they may not have seen for a significant period of time, and I'm sure for many, that's a very exciting opportunity.            

But we mustn't drop our game here. We need to remind ourselves of what we're seeing across the world, and I draw to an example of in the UK at the moment, where they are seeing significant rise in cases and their Prime Minister has announced today, particularly UK, is at a tipping point. So we too must remember and look to the other examples, and I remind you again of those things that are now part of our everyday life: social distancing, hygiene, cough etiquette, staying home if you are sick and getting tested. These will remain with us into the future.            

However, there are obviously many positives announced today by the Minister for Health. This Australia's joining COVAX. COVAX is a facility of likeminded countries coming together under an agreement that will allow us to gain access to vaccines as they become available. Obviously, these vaccines become available once they are being proven to be safe and effective. But again, this is Australia looking to the international world. And there are, at the moment, more than 180 vaccines in a range of testing stages and we want to make sure that we can get access to a vaccine that's safe and effective as soon as possible, and this provides additional opportunity for us to do that. Today, we've announced 123 million in addition to previous investments so we can join this facility. This facility also as part of our partnership with other countries around us, particularly perhaps our Pacific Island friends, because our partnership, this can help both our role for our own population but also communities that we share across the world and our role as a global player in this pandemic.            

Today is also the International Day of Sign Language in the week of people with deafness. And I particularly want to take this opportunity to thank the interpreters who have supported us through all of these press conferences we've done now over such a long time. This means that we can do everything possible to try to make sure that our public health messaging can get to all Australians, and I thank them for their tireless work in doing this. It's not an easy skill and it takes many years to learn. And so, I do again thank and congratulate all of those interpreters for the work that they've done to support us and we'll continue to do into the future.            

So I'll take some questions. Dana, I understand you have a question for me.

QUESTION:

Yes. Thanks very much. Could I just ask you about the current aged care outbreak in Victoria and the one worker, one [indistinct] rule. Is the Federal Health Department aware of any workers involved in these outbreaks working across multiple sites?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Yes, thank you Dana. Certainly, one of the things we've learnt in aged care is the importance of trying to prevent workers moving between facilities, and so, we've been supporting the industry in its code of conduct related to trying to encourage and create an opportunity where workers can be employed by one single employer and we certainly provided financial support so that that can happen. Certainly, Donna, I'm not aware. It would be a part of the Victorian contact tracing to know where these cases are in aged care, but I'm not aware that this is a consequence of staff moving between facilities. I think it's evidence of the still trickling numbers we're seeing in aged care of how difficult it is to combat this vaccine in this environment. And there's still enormous efforts through the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre to get on top of these still continuing small outbreaks in aged care facilities. What's the second question?

QUESTION:

That's all from me, thanks.

QUESTION:

I have a question. We've seen Queensland borders opening to the ACT this week. Do you think we're likely to see more in the near future nationwide?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think generally we're seeing- certainly, the Prime Minister has indicated his desire to see borders opening. It's an important part of getting our society returning to the new COVID-safe normal. And that is something I think we're all looking forward to. But those decisions will be made when the Chief Health Officer and those governments of each of the jurisdictions feel that they have satisfied themselves that it's safe to do so. But I do hope, and I'm sure that we will continue to see these borders continue to move forward as time goes on, and we're seeing some very encouraging signs of a proportionate response, I think particularly of Queensland announcing some changes to their borders and New South Wales, and recent announcements about access to- between- now, travel between ACT and Queensland.           

I think there's a question from Paul?

QUESTION:

That's right. Thank you. I'm just wondering whether there's any evidence of mental health presentations going down in areas where restrictions have been lifted and the economy is sort of getting back on its feet. Is there any at least anecdotal evidence that that is the fact?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think, Paul, it's probably too early to call that. And I think we need to remember that mental health covers not only the mental health we see that presents to hospital, but there is a mental health we see as a part of a GP consultation, as a part of a community visit. We've certainly invested significantly in- and particularly in telehealth to encourage people to feel confident to be able to access counselling services and mental health services across the country. We did anticipate and I think we know that we do see and would expect to see a rise in numbers, but as I say, I think that we need to wait a little longer before we can make any definitive call around declining numbers. I think I would suggest, Paul, that mental health has- often has a long tail and it has a long impact on the community well past the impact time, and we see that particularly for instance in natural disasters where the impact on your mental health may not manifest immediately. It may come in weeks and months and even years after an event has occurred. So, I think we're very vigilant to the numbers and we're certainly investing to try to prevent and treat any mental health conditions. And we'll see over time what we see through the numbers.

QUESTION:

Okay, thanks. And just an unrelated question, we're seeing a lot more domestic flights are about to start up shortly between states. Is there any extra work being done with airports and with airlines to ensure greater COVID-safety? Is there a particular taskforce been put in place or briefings with the airlines or what's happening in that space?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

We did a lot of this work very early on in the pandemic, Paul. So, we worked with industry, with the key players obviously in Australia to ensure that they could create a very COVID-safe environment. And all of our airlines have worked incredibly hard. And if you do get on a flight, it's very clear on how stringent they are on their restrictions and their requirements. So, nothing essentially, Paul, has needed to change, only the fact that there is increased numbers of flights and we do- I do remind everyone, please, it's really important not to get on a flight if you feel unwell. But much of this work has been done and it's just a reinforcement of the COVID-safe environment and COVID-safe world we operate in today.

QUESTION:

Thank you.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Thank you. Thank you for your time.

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