Date published: 
12 May 2020
Media event date: 
11 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

For more, I'm joined by the Professor Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd, welcome to the program.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Thanks Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

The relaxation of restrictions relies heavily on personal responsibility. How confident are you that people will follow the rules in private properties?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, I think what we have seen over the last number of weeks, while the restrictions have been in place, most people right across Australia have behaved magnificently. And have followed the restrictions, have followed the rules and been incredibly diligent. And what we’re hoping is that will continue. Now is not the time for anyone to become complacent. The lifting of restrictions, which we’re seeing are a very cautious first step. We're only see the easing of some of the restrictions, as you’ve described and that's a different approach in each of the states and territories. So very important that they were following the rules and making sure that they’re following the rules and doing everything the can to protect their own health, to protect the health of their family, to protect the health of the wider community.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

This health advice was provided to the National Cabinet about easing restrictions in this 3-stage plan. Give us an indication of what the Prime Minister means when he says we’re going to see more spikes, more outbreaks potentially, that people will have to live with this virus. What advice did you tell the Prime Minister, the premiers and chief Ministers about that kind of increase? You must have modelled it, what should we expect?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So for this we need to go back 4 weeks when the Prime Minister announced that we we’re moving towards this announcement about a stepped approach. And what he said at that time was that we would be doing increased testing. We would be doing increased contact tracing, following up anyone who is diagnosed with COVID-19. And also increasing our capacity when we do get outbreaks to be able to act very swiftly, to isolate and quarantine people, and to arrange testing to see who’s been infected and who needs to be in further quarantine and for what period before things can start opening up again.

That has been opening over the last number of weeks. We have seen a number of outbreaks which is have occurred. Obviously we would we would like, moving forward, not to have those sorts of outbreaks, but it is quite possible that we will continue to see a small number of outbreaks occurring in different parts of the country. But we have the capacity to act very quickly. What we all need to be doing though is doing all we can to prevent those outbreaks. The most important message is that if people experience a fever or if people start to develop the symptoms of a respiratory tract infection, no matter how mild the symptoms, stay at home, don't go to work, don’t go to school, don’t go to the shops, contact your GP and arrange to be tested. This way we're all contributing to making sure we don't get outbreaks.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Professor Kidd, in terms of the numbers though you must have figured out what the health outcomes would be of easing some of the restrictions. If you’ve worked towards this number, 5 people visiting a home, for instance. What's the number you anticipate about the increase in the number of coronavirus cases we might face?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So we’re not predicted or speculating on what numbers we might what we’re looking at is how we prevent going-

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

[Interrupts] Is there a reason for that? Why not?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, that’s a very imprecise science, Patricia. It is like trying to forecast what is happening What we know from the modelling is what would have happened if we hadn’t have implemented the restrictions that we had put in place.

What we’re looking at now is very cautious steps and each of those steps need to be given time to see what the response is. To see if we do see significant increases in the number of new infections. You’ve got to remember at the moment we have less than 20 infections being diagnosed right across the country each day, so Australia is in a very good position at the moment and we want to keep to it that way. But we're not moving towards being able to eliminate the virus in Australia. We're suppressing the virus and recognising we may get a small number of infections each day and doing all we can to make sure that doesn’t increase dramatically.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

The flu season is upon us. If there was a really bad outbreak, do we have the hospital capacity now to deal with that and what might be random spikes of COVID-19?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, so the flu season usually commences in June or July, each year, and the difference with influenza compared to COVID-19 of course is that we have a highly effective vaccine. And we can prevent an outbreak or significant outbreak of influenza occurring in Australia this year by everybody, and particularly the most vulnerable people, going and getting their flu shot if they haven't done so already.

Already, many millions of people have had their flu shot this year. We need to make sure as many people as possible do that and so prevent the likelihood of a significant influenza outbreak. We do not want to have the possibility of having both an outbreak of influenza and any increase in the number of people with COVID-19 occurring at the same time because if that did happen, and in large numbers, that would put significant train on our hospitals systems, our intensive care units. All the work we've been doing has been to prevent that increased strain from occurring through flattening the curve.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

We've had mass testing across the country. What's the scope for false negatives? How much faith can we have in that data?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yeah. So, the test is a very efficient test but like nearly all tests which we have in medicine and in health care, there are occasional times when a test will be false negative. And with COVID-19, this can occur for a couple of reasons. It may be that someone has just been infected and is not yet producing enough of the virus for the test to be able to pick it up and produce a positive result. It may be that a test has not been carried out in a way that has managed to pick up any of the virus. And, as we know, when these tests are being done, you have to put the swab a long way into the nasal passages and into the throat in order to get an adequate specimen.

The important thing though is if somebody has symptoms and their treating doctor thinks that they may have COVID-19 and they actually get a negative result, very often what the doctor is doing is saying: let's repeat the test and just to be 100 per cent sure just in case that was a falsely negative test.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

The Victorian Chief Health Officer said in a press conference that essentially it’s up to people to make their determinations about whether they would give family and friends a hug or a handshake if they saw them as we change some of these restrictions, allow some of these people to come into homes. Would that be the same advice you give?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So I think this is the advice for each individual and for each individual circumstance. So I'm particularly concerned about people who are vulnerable and at increased risk if they were to contract COVID-19 and this is particularly elderly people, people aged over 70, people over 65 with chronic health problems, people who are immune compromised, people who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders over 50 with one or more chronic conditions. These people, I think, we should be maintaining our physical distancing if these are our loved ones and protecting them by not coming in and giving hugs and breaching that physical barrier at this time. We have to make sure that we're doing all we can to protect the people who are most vulnerable in our society. And similarly, those people who are vulnerable at the moment should still be staying in their homes and only going out to go shopping or to go to their medical appointments, not going out for excursions or walks in the park, and so forth. These are the people that we must be protecting still in our society.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

So you're saying, if I can sort of analyse what you're saying, don't hug older people, keep— be very careful about hugging older people but make your own decisions in other age cohorts?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, I think for other age cohorts, the recommendation is still there about maintaining the 1.5 metres. Clearly, people in your own household, you can hug as much as you wish. But I think we’ve got to be very cautious and this first step that we've got is a cautious step and so, I would tell people to please exercise caution at this time.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

What would you do?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

What am I doing?

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Yeah.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So, I did not have the opportunity yesterday to hug my elderly mum because I don't want to put her at risk, even on Mother's Day, of COVID-19.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Okay. So that's a decision for an elderly mum, I understand that, but if you were to invite 5 people over for dinner, a handshake is okay? I mean, I know this sounds like a trivial question but it kind of isn't now that we've learnt so much more and become amateur epidemiologists, as we’ve made the joke. We’re not, many of us, professionally trained, but we are cautious about that now. Should we continue to be?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, we should still continue to be cautious. We should still be very careful with our hand hygiene. I don't think we should, at this time, be reaching out and doing handshakes or hugs with people who we’re not sharing our homes with. The advice about inviting people into your homes is to maintain the physical distancing measures, which we've had in place for when we're outside of our homes, making sure after people have visiting our homes again, that we wash our hands, that we clean the surfaces. We’ve got to be protecting each other at this time as we start to move very cautiously out of the restrictions.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Just quickly before I let you go, because there have been reports that Wuhan, where of course this outbreak happened first, there are 17 new cases of coronavirus reported in the last 24 hours. How alarmed should we be by those reports?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Well I think that what we're doing is watching and seeing what happens in each country. And we've seen some countries which lifted their restrictions and then have had to impose some restrictions back in again. We've seen this happen in Singapore. We've seen this happen in Japan. We're not yet clear what's going to happen in China or in Wuhan. As the Prime Minister said on Friday, the virus is still with us here in Australia. There's no reason to think why the virus wouldn't still be in other countries. And clearly, I expect that what we'll see happen in other countries where outbreaks start to occur is that measures are put back in place to make sure that the public is being protected.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Thank you so much for joining us, Professor Kidd.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Thanks for the opportunity.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

That's the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd.

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