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

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Professor Alison McMillan is the Australia's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer. She sits on the national panel of health officers, the AHPPC and she joins us this morning. Good morning.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Good morning Nadine [sic].

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Just one new case reported in South Australia, what do we read into that?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Well, Nadine, I think this is what we've been planning for to some extent. We knew and have always said that there is the likelihood that we will see small outbreaks in different parts of the country at different times. And we've seen South Australia take a really strong response to this – in moving all of its systems into place very quickly. They’re doing widespread testing. And it's very encouraging to see- to hear that they haven't heard of yet many more cases, and they've activated all of the things that we’ve been- SA have been planning for. And we are really confident that South Australia are getting on top of it.

RUSSELL WOOLF:

Alison, let me just say this. I'm sure you'd like to know. But it’s Nadia, and not Nadine. I beg your pardon.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Oh, sorry Nadia.

RUSSELL WOOLF:

I don’t want to embarrass you. But I know that if you kept saying, you’d feel awkward at the end of it. But my name's Russell. It's good to be talking to you. So do you think that other states have been too quick to close their borders?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

So, Russell, I think that we've seen throughout this outbreak that each of the states and territories will make their decision based on their own advice, and that is theirs to do. I’m encouraged to see that Victoria and New South Wales are saying, no, they're not going to close their borders. I imagine that, over the next few days, we'll see the other states and territories monitor and see how things develop in South Australia and then make a decision on their border responses after that. But ultimately, it is a decision for each of the jurisdictions as it is in Western Australia.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Okay, Professor. Just have a listen to the WA Premier, Mark McGowan, speaking to the media yesterday.

MARK MCGOWAN:

I cannot rule out toughening our border controls further. Bringing back the hard border altogether is under serious consideration, especially given the number of people from South Australia that have been travelling around the country in the last week. I know that Queensland has received around 7000 arrivals from South Australia in the last week, and no one was required to quarantine over that period. We will closely monitor the situation, and if we have to, the hard border will return for all states and territories.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Now, that border hopping, he’s talking about border hopping. Surely, that is a legitimate risk in this instance?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Oh, border hopping is an interesting, interesting- People are keen to reunite with each other across the country. I think we've all seen many stories of people who’ve not been able to connect with their loved ones, not been able to go to a whole range of family events. So I think we are seeing that.

The measures, this reminds us, I guess Nadia, that the measures that we have put in place from the very beginning around people getting tested if they have symptoms and staying home and all of the other social distancing and the requirements are part of what will be our normal life for a very long time to come. These are the measures that will protect us, along with all of the other things.

So, ultimately, though, whatever the decision of the Western Australia Premier is, that is what will occur in your jurisdiction. But we have been planning, as I said, for an outbreak such as this and we are seeing this response very positively. And all of the other states and territories included in Commonwealth were providing support to South Australia so that they contain this small outbreak so that we can all go back to hopefully the position we were in a few days ago.

RUSSELL WOOLF:

Professor Alison McMillan is with us this morning. And you said a little while ago that, you know, congratulations to Victoria and New South Wales, for keeping their borders open to South Australia. You know, Western Australia is tightening its border. Are you saying that we're doing the wrong thing?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

No, no, Russell. I'm not saying I'm(*) doing the wrong thing. I think that we know now that every state and territory is going to make the decision themselves. But there is a desire – and we've heard that from the Prime Minister very clearly – to try to open up Australia as much as we possibly can in a safe, COVID-safe way for Christmas.

So, obviously, Western Australian Premier and Victoria Premier have looked at the current situation in South Australia, have made a determination on what they're going to do, and it's encouraging that they are demonstrating a confidence in South Australia that South Australia is managing this small outbreak very appropriately.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

1300-222-720, tell us what you think as you listen to this. Were we too quick to close the border? Should we have followed the approach of New South Wales and Victoria and keep it open and just be I guess a lot more vigilant when it comes to testing and tracing? Because do you sense then, Professor Alison McMillan, that maybe there is some distrust amongst states, that maybe the states need to have more faith in each other's systems? Because, as we know, there are some systems that are not necessarily uniform across Australia, and hotel quarantine is one that comes to mind, for instance.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Nadia, all I have ever seen throughout this has been enormous collaboration between all of the states and territories particularly, obviously, as Russell has mentioned, I’m a member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and all of those chief health officers have worked together, supporting each other. And we saw that again last night when we teleconferenced to support South Australia and its response.         

I think we’ll continue to see ourselves hopefully as one country, working together. But ultimately, federation, you know, allows and permits each of the state and territories to make a decision themselves and that’s what we’re seeing.

I don’t think it’s mistrust; I think it’s precautionary and they’re watching and observing what's occurring in South Australia. And as I said, they may choose to make an alternative decision in coming days once we get more results from the testing.

RUSSELL WOOLF:

I wonder if you're concerned that Western Australians have forgotten what it's like to live with coronavirus?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I can't speak for Western Australia because I haven't been there, but I've obviously been involved in a number of states and territories, including Victoria and I think it is easy to forget, I think, as you move back into not doing things normally and I think we've tried, continuous(*) to remind everyone and I'll do this again, if you have any symptoms whatsoever, please, do get tested.

There are supports in place. So if this will affect you financially, there are mechanisms to help you support if you go and get tested and then have to isolate. But this will be our protection into the future where we identify any cases early and can isolate them to prevent extra spread.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

What about in the future? Do you think it's inevitable that we'll get more outbreaks from hotel quarantine, particularly as we're seeing more and more international arrivals?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think that, Nadia, one of the things we're seeing at the moment is that because of the amount of disease just across the world, those that are returning to Australia are having higher percentage of them being positive when they're- when they arrive here. But we are supporting Australians to return home, so the risk remains.

I think that we all know that this virus is extremely infectious and will exploit any chink in your armour. So, the continuous vigilance that we are maintaining in hotel quarantine remains there all of the time. And everyone's continuing to work to make sure that we don't have any outbreaks. But it may and is likely to occur simply because no system is perfect.

RUSSELL WOOLF:

I wonder whether, you know, we heard(*) this morning, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Michael Kidd suggest people in Adelaide should be wearing masks if they're in a situation where they can't maintain physical distancing, like on a train, for example. Is there a need for people in WA to start wearing masks now or is it too soon?

ALISON MCMILLAN: Look, I think that the advice has always been that if you can't maintain physical distancing, particularly, for instance, if it's on a [indistinct] crowded train, for instance, you may choose to wear a mask, but you need to still do that safely. So follow the guidelines about hygiening your hands before putting them on and removing and making sure you dispose of them safely.

There's no harm in wearing a mask and you may choose - particularly if you’re vulnerable, to do that in crowded places. So ultimately, it's a choice of the individual. But if you were to choose to do so, I do implore you to do it safely because masks need to be put on and removed in a safe way.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

Just quickly before we let you go, another vaccine is showing promising results. The Moderna vaccine, it's called, interim data shows it's up to 95 per cent effective. Are you encouraged or excited about this development?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think, like everybody else, these developments are quite astounding. And the amount of, what I think, 212 vaccine candidates out there at the moment across the world, 48 of them are at clinical trial level. The best minds in the world are applying their capabilities at the moment.

This, again, is really encouraging. These sort of figures are quite phenomenal. Ultimately, of course, as we all know, these need to be subject to assessment, rigorous testing of their data when it becomes published through a peer review process and then ultimately the TGA in Australia provides that additional support.

So, again, really encouraging. And I think we will expect to need a range of vaccines to meet different population groups; the elderly, those with immunocompromised. So, the wider range of options there are for vaccines, the better it will be for all of us.

RUSSELL WOOLF:

Just finally, can you give us an idea of what the likely timeline will be, you know, for Australia to get its hands on a vaccine like that and to get everyone vaccinated that needs it?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think that what we'll see, as you know, we've got a number of arrangements in Australia currently with AstraZeneca and the Pfizer vaccine. We're still talking around early next year. Obviously, the logistics around the distribution and administration of a vaccine is complex.

And obviously, the work at the moment is concentrating on who will be the priority groups but we're increasingly encouraged by the enormous range of vaccines available to us. And we will, as a nation, be able to access those as quickly as we can.

NADIA MITSOPOULOS:

We'll leave it there. And we very much appreciate your time. Professor Alison McMillan there. She's Australia's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, but obviously also on the committee that's overseeing the coronavirus response here in Australia.

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