Date published: 
28 March 2020
Media event date: 
27 March 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Now Australia's testing regime is about to be ramped up with a new finger prick test on the way for GP clinics. For more, Professor Michael Kidd from the Chief Medical Officer's team join us now from Canberra. Professor Kidd, good morning to you. So what do we know about this test?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yeah. Good morning Michael. These tests — we actually have 1.5 million of these tests due to arrive in the country over the coming few days. They'll be rapidly sent out and distributed across the country and will be a test which will be carried out by a doctor or nurse. As you've said, these are what we call a point of care test. So, you'll have a finger prick, a drop of blood onto the test kit. We'll get a result back very quickly, while you're there with your doctor or with your nurse, and then be able to provide you with advice.

One of the things about the test, Michael, is that they're what we call an antibody test, which means you have to have been infected for a number of days before the test will actually show whether you are positive or negative for COVID-19. So, this means that it will probably be a test which will mainly be used for people who already have symptoms of fever or respiratory symptoms. It won't really help us in people who have been in contact but are currently asymptomatic or if the contact has been very recent.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. Looking at the toll in Australia this morning, sadly 13 deaths. The number of infections has climbed above 2,800. A lot of those are people who've been overseas or have had contact with people who have been overseas, but there are 115 cases where there is an unknown source. So how concerned are we that there are people out there who are unknowingly transmitting this disease?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes. Australia has one of the highest testing rates per head of population in countries right around the world. So even though, like many countries around the world, we've had a limitation on the number of tests, which have been able to be carried out, up until now, although, as you say, that's about to rapidly ramp up.

We do — we have seen a lot of people getting tested. And so our current testing regime is focusing on the people who are most at risk. But what it means, also, Michael, is there may be people who are infected who don't yet know. And this is why the measures which have been put in place are so important. But also the things that each of us can do to protect everybody in our society.

And the three things that people need to be doing:

Number 1, be absolutely scrupulous in washing your hands after all contacts that you're having.

Number 2, maintain that physical distance of 1.5 metres between yourself and other people when you're out.

Number 3, if you have symptoms of fever or respiratory symptoms, please stay at home, contact your GP, contact your regular health provider, or the government's healthdirect line or the helplines in your state and territory, and get advice about what to do.

And if you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 or told that you're at high risk and you need to be in quarantine at your own home, you go straight home, you stay at home, you don't have contact with other people. You wait until you're told you're clear before you actually leave your own home. These measures are absolutely essential. Everybody has to do their part, Michael, in making sure that we are protecting each other, and especially protecting the most vulnerable people in our society.

The tragic deaths that we've seen over the past week have been mainly in elderly people. That's somebody's grandma, somebody's grandpa. We've got to work together.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Absolutely agree. And we can't repeat that advice often enough, Michael. Now Professor Brendan Crabb the Head of the prestigious medical research centre, the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, is calling for an immediate lockdown. He says we need to go to a nationwide lockdown now, if we have any hope of containing the transmission. You and your team are saying, well no, that's not necessary.

Why is there such starkly different medical advice? You're all experts, you're all in the top of your field. Why is there so starkly different medical advice out there and can you understand why that is confusing and, in fact, terrifying many Australians?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes. Absolutely. And everybody is looking at the evidence of past pandemics, the evidence of what is happening around the world, what is happening in different countries. The pandemic in each country is different depending on the responses that we've seen, the responses and availability of healthcare services, the availability of resources to protect our healthcare workforce and also to protect the general members of the public.

And I want to add, Michael, we have had a shortage of masks in Australia. But over the last 36 hours, another 2.4 million masks have arrived in the country and many millions are due to arrive [in] over the coming days.

But, yes, I understand that people may be saying, well why are things so confused? What we have in Australia is we have our Chief Medical Officer meeting very, very regularly with all the Chief Health Officers from across the country and then providing advice to the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet about what are the measures that Australia should be taking. And you'll have seen, of course, with the Prime Minister's messages over the last couple of days, that we have moved into much more dramatic restrictions of movement around the country.

Some of the states and territories, of course, have gone into lockdown and closed their borders. We've moved to protect remote Indigenous communities in ways which have never happened before. How this rolls out, whether it's rolling out in the right sequence to please everybody is, of course, a moot question. But please be really reassured with the advice that you're seeing coming out from our Chief Medical Officer and the advice that's been given to our Government.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Just about out of time. Just want to end with one bit of confusion. That 30-minute limit on hairdressing appointments to National Cabinet, that was based on medical advice?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

The medical advice that comes from the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Health Officers then goes to the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet. The advice is provided. The Prime Minister and the National Cabinet make their decisions about which pieces of action are appropriate to enact at any one time. I'm not privy to what happens...

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

[Talks over] Okay. But why was that medical advice — why was it overturned by National Cabinet?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

No, I'm not saying the advice was overturned because I'm not privy to what advice is going and what Cabinet is doing.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Well the decision was overturned. You're saying it was medical advice, that was overturned a day later. So, again, can you understand a bit of confusion out there?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes. Okay. So, I think I — what you're saying is that the original advice was then revised…

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Yep.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

…and the regulations were changed. Yeah. Absolutely. Because what we're seeing is as regulations are being put in place, we then get very rapid feedback from across the community, saying this is working, this isn't working; this is practical, this is not practical. We need everybody contributing to determine how this country is going to respond to this pandemic and that's actively happening at the moment.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. Professor Michael Kidd, I know you're a very busy man. Thank you so much for joining us on News Breakfast this morning.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Thanks, Michael. Thanks for your work.

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