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

BEN KNIGHT:

90 new cases were reported in Victoria over the weekend, but the Federal Government says the outbreak is not indicative of a second wave. Well for more, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Nick Coatsworth, joins us now from Canberra. Dr Coatsworth, good morning. Let's start in Melbourne; is it inevitable that there are going to have to be parts of the city that are locked down, in order to just put the lid on this?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Ben, what we've seen in the past week is really unprecedented effort to control an urban outbreak in a major Australian city. Keeping in mind, that the Victorian health system is the one that managed to do 160,000 tests in two weeks. So, their testing blitz is going to be very significant. They've gone door-to-door in those affected local government areas, to communicate with the households who are in the thick of it down there, and make sure they understand when and where they can get tested.

So, I think it's probably too early to say what the effect of that will be, but it's certainly a major effort going on, and there's every reason to suspect that it will be able to be brought under control. Premier Andrews has left open the possibility of increasing restrictions in certain geographic areas. But certainly, the coming days and the coming numbers will be very important to have a look at.

BEN KNIGHT:

And you can understand the concern, especially, most people were incredulous that people returning from overseas were not required to have a test and up to a third of people said no, until that decision was changed. Was that a mistake?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Ben, I think the first thing to say is that these outbreaks in Victoria are not the result of people who haven't been tested, leaving quarantine. So, that's an important message to make. I think the Victorians have led the way with the testing regime in quarantine, of having an early test at three days and a latest at 11 days. A variety of reasons why people didn't want to be tested, including children. Parents not wanting a swab being given to children. But now people have a choice to be tested at the end of quarantine or not. It is just if they choose not to, they'll be staying in quarantine for another 10 days.

BEN KNIGHT:

Okay. You mentioned the swabs there; that's obviously a significant piece of news this morning. The nasal test was quite uncomfortable, the saliva test much less so and a lot easier. But, how effective is it? Is it as good?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, the nasal test is uncomfortable - I've had two. It only lasts for about 10 seconds. And, you know, you do get over the discomfort. It remains the preferred option to have a nasal test. The salivary test is, perhaps, slightly less accurate. That might be marginal, but because this is a world-first that we're rolling out in Victoria, the Victorian public health laboratories and the Doherty Institute are doing some real-time testing, on whether the salivary tests are the way to go. But there has been, already, preliminary tests that we've reviewed at the AHPPC that suggests that the accuracy is sufficient for it to be rolled out. And it will be great for people, like kids who can't really tolerate the nasal swab.

BEN KNIGHT:

You're probably aware that Chief Medical Officer, Brett Sutton, has been speaking on RN Breakfast on radio, this morning. One of the things he said is that the spike in cases in Victoria isn't due to most people ignoring the guidelines or ignoring the social distancing rules. But what he has said is that it's because Australia pursued a suppression strategy rather than an elimination strategy. And when people in the east, look at the pictures that are coming out of Western Australia at the moment; is hindsight- in hindsight, should that have been the approach?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Ben, it's always going to be a balance of the effects that in a prolonged elimination strategy with the potential economic effects of doing so. I think to assume that an elimination strategy would have been done and dusted with a few more weeks of restrictions, would not be accurate. And moreover, you know, we have 10 million cases now around the world and we know that things like hotel quarantine are not perfect systems, even with the new restrictions that have been put around them. So we never thought at the AHPPC, that elimination was a particularly realistic strategy. We still don't. And even for those states with no cases at the moment, there's still a significant possibility of importation of COVID-19. So, suppression, heavy suppression, and elimination in those states where that was possible, I think, will still in the long-term prove to be the correct strategy.

BEN KNIGHT:

We've seen some data coming out of the United States, where obviously there's a massive problem, but suggesting that in states where masks have been made mandatory or at least strongly recommended, that you are seeing a slower spread. It's cheap, it seems reasonably easy and it seems like you'd have a fair amount of buy-in from the public, who are obviously concerned. Why aren't we talking about getting masks out there as the norm?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, it's a really good question, Ben. And masks for public use are considered on a weekly basis by the AHPPC. There's evidence out there suggesting that they are effective. But where you've seen that evidence and where you see these- this evidence coming out of the United States is where the community numbers are very, very high of COVID-19. So, certainly in the bulk of Australia at the moment, they will be of no use at all. And even if Victoria, where the numbers are modestly increasing, their use may be questionable. But certainly, if there is a place where we are looking to see whether masks should be recommended, it's down in Victoria. 

And I know that Brett Sutton said on a number of occasions that he's considering it. Our position is that if people feel more comfortable wearing a mask, if they're on public transport, they should do so. But they need to be able to do it in a correct way, that's going to be safe for them. So, we've never rejected mask use out of hand. It's just not a widespread recommendation at the moment.

BEN KNIGHT:

Alright. We will leave it there. Thanks for your time this morning, Dr Nick Coatsworth.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks, Ben.

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