Date published: 
7 July 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LISA MILLAR:

Well, we've heard from the people inside the towers, now let's hear from the health experts and bring in Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth. Dr Coatsworth, thanks for joining us on Breakfast.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Morning, Lisa.

LISA MILLAR:

How serious is the situation in Melbourne?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, it's deeply concerning. The numbers are obviously in three figures now, and there's a significant amount of community transmission. In fact, now the vast majority of cases are occurring within the Victorian community, the Melbourne community, rather than from overseas travellers. And obviously, we just heard from one of the residents of the public housing towers, and it's so important for us to hear those voices, that this is a real partnership between people in those towers, between Victorians and the rest of Australia and its government to get this under control. This is an issue that we all share, Lisa.

LISA MILLAR:

It seems that there's a couple of things that are different about this situation on the health side of it - that there are younger people who are coming down with coronavirus, and that the symptoms are slightly different. What are you hearing?

NICK COATSWORTH:

This is a different outbreak, substantively. It is in a different age group, it's originated from younger adults, it's emerged within households, and obviously, now spread within groups of Australians who share different cultures and languages. And so, that is very different to the return traveller outbreak, very different to the outbreaks we had on cruise ships, where it's an older population.

One of the things is that people are getting milder illness, and that means it's so much more important now that, even with mild symptoms, people actually go and get tested. So, I agree, it's a different outbreak. It's still going to be a problem with people going to hospital and getting very sick with coronavirus disease. So, no one should underestimate the impact of COVID-19, its infectivity, and its severity.

LISA MILLAR:

127 cases yesterday, should we be expecting a larger number when we get the figures today - unless you've already got them and you can share them with us?

NICK COATSWORTH:

No, we will look towards Victoria to provide their daily update. But I'd observe exactly what Professor Sutton said yesterday, we were going above a hundred, and then below a hundred, it's been bouncing up and down. We remember this from February and March, where we really had to look at the numbers on a daily basis and then see what the trend was. Keeping in mind that any intervention, anything that we do to restrict the spread of this virus will take a minimum of a week, probably two weeks, to show its effect.

LISA MILLAR:

One of the criticisms of how Newmarch House was handled was that people, residents there, who got sick weren't removed. There's been a suggestion this morning from our own Dr Norman Swan that if people are sick in these towers, then they should be taken out of that situation. Granted, it is very difficult and sensitive, but is that something that authorities should look at?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, all options will be on the table for the Victorian public health officials. What I might say in response to that, though, is that people are within their homes, they're within their flats, and the virus isn't going to travel from flat to flat if people are remaining within there, as hard as that is. Then the issue of outbreaks within households is critical, but in vulnerable situations, separating households has its own negative effects that need to be considered above and beyond the virus.

So, the most important thing, Lisa, is that medical care is available to those with COVID-19 who become unwell and need hospitalisation. And we heard that there is a pop-up hospital there down in Victoria, near the public housing towers, to provide exactly that sort of urgent assessment, primary care, and then if necessary, hospitalisation. My view is that that's the most important aspect of that treatment.

LISA MILLAR:

Alright. Doctor, thanks for joining us this morning.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you.          

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