Date published: 
9 April 2020
Media event date: 
9 April 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Now, let's return to our coverage of coronavirus in Australia. The latest development — the country has recorded its 51st death, a 76 year old man in South Australia. And as we head into this Easter weekend we're being urged to stay at home.

For the latest advice and information, we're joined now by Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, who's in Canberra. Good morning to you. Why is so important…

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Good morning.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

…for people to stay at home this Easter?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, it's critically important that we continue the great work we've been doing. Staying at home this Easter. We know this is a religious observance time, it's a holiday time and an important time for families. It's going to be very different this year.

We know that in other countries where coronavirus has spread rampantly it's been associated with holiday seasons where there's been a lot of travel of people, mixing of people, and households coming together.

We can have none of those things this Easter unfortunately. And so, whatever we do needs to be done with our own family in our own home, and use the internet liberally to communicate so that we can maintain that social connection.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Luckily we've got the internet. But look, we are starting to hear a little bit of pressure, a little bit of talk about when some of these measures can be lifted. We heard the New South Wales Premier talking about how they're going to be reviewing their data once a month.

From a Commonwealth perspective, when do you think — it's the question we all want answered — that when we can have some of these really very difficult measures lifted?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

I can completely understand where that pressure is coming from. We have asked Australians to do extraordinary things to flatten the curve. The curve flattens and so the logical question is: when are we going to see those restrictions lifted?

The problem is though that COVID-19 is in our community. The curve has flattened because we've been very good at reducing the number of travel cases. But if we do relax at this critical point in time one of those cases in the community — someone who doesn't know they have coronavirus — they can potentially spread to 400 people in a situation where we don't have control.

So, we have control and we've got to keep control. And once we've suppressed the virus and then we can move towards considering a release and a restoration of what is closer to our normal life...

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Well, I suppose...

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

…but I would say that that is still weeks away.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Week- okay. Alright. Weeks away. I just want to talk to you about some numbers then, Dr Coatsworth, because we heard the Health Minister, when those numbers came out, say that the modelling, initially a best case scenario, was that we were going to have 11 per cent growth rates — we're now at around 2.

We really squashed that curve. Is there a number of daily growth rates in infection that you are looking at, where we could start to see some of that lifting? Is there a particular number that you're thinking of? Or is it not that simple?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, it's not quite that simple, because there'll be a number of elements that feed into it. But what we really need to know is what our local data in Australia tells us about how the virus is behaving.

So now that we've got 6,000 cases, we can feed that into the models and we can get that magic basic reproductive number, which is how many cases of coronavirus result from any single individual person.

We've been using our models based on basic reproductive numbers from Wuhan and around the world. Now, we can find out our own and once we know that number in the coming weeks that will be very informative with the plans in the future.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

All right. Dr Coatsworth, I just want to whip through a few other areas through you, if I can— with you if I can — before we lose you. That plane that came in from Wuhan overnight — now, that has a significant number of masks on it. Tell us about that. And just talk us through any concerns that there might be about coming from that, what was the epicentre of the coronavirus.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

So that is the case, that 90 tonnes of medical equipment came in overnight. Those have been brought in by approved importers, and they will be obviously very useful in the coming weeks.

So, they include gowns, masks, and other pieces of medical equipment. Look, we have to maintain the air bridge that exists between Australia and other countries, including, obviously, a manufacturing country like China.

So we take every precaution that we can to make sure that there's no virus importation along with importation of critical medical goods.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Just quickly, we're seeing the NRL saying that it wants to have games again by 22 May. Can I ask you what you think of that plan?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, the reintroduction of sporting events is not specifically in the health brief, but we would give advice that anything that's likely to bring individuals together en masse is not something that we're advocating at the moment. So, that's about all I can say.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Right. Okay. I mean, that is May 22. Is that far enough away, in your view? Or do you think that doesn't sound like a good idea?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

I think it's far too early to tell. We have to see what happens in the coming weeks with our Australian community cases — not the travel cases — what happens with our Australian community cases of coronavirus, before making any decision like that.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Okay. Can I just ask you about the flu shot as well? I went and had my flu shot yesterday. There are a lot of people are having concerns, though, about whether it's worth the risk of going to a pharmacy, going to their doctor, taking themselves out of isolation if they are already there, to go and have the regular influenza shot. Is it worth the risk to take yourself out of isolation, particularly if you're in an elderly or at risk age bracket?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

So thanks for asking that question. It is definitely worth going to get your influenza vaccination and attending the doctor for any chronic medical condition. Obviously, you can't do vaccination via telehealth.

The rate of coronavirus in Australia at the moment remains very low, so the risk of you acquiring it in a health care facility is very low and the benefit you get from the flu vax is very high. So please, I'd encourage everyone to go. It doesn't need to be a flood; we can do it over the next couple of months. But yes, let's get your flu vax in April and May.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

And look, we are hearing about people queuing to get that — I mean, not physically queuing but having to be told by their health care providers that they don't have it in stock yet, that they need to wait. Do we have enough flu vaccination in the country?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

We do have 13.5 million vaccinations. We have more being produced and on order. And I would say to people: it's not your general practitioner's fault, it's not their receptionist or the pharmacist's fault.

And if you are in a vulnerable group please get your flu vax as soon as you can. If you don't fit into one of those groups, it can wait until the end of April and to early May.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Okay. Allright. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. Dr Nick Coatsworth there.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Thank you. Good to get the advice about the flu jab.

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