Date published: 
10 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Let's find out if Victoria has yet turned the corner. Dr Norman Swan is suggesting, and he made this bold forecast last week in his Coronacast, that around about today or tomorrow we'd start to see the numbers turn down. Does Dr Nick Coatsworth agree? He's the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. Dr Coatsworth, good to talk to you. Good morning.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Good morning, Virginia.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Do you believe we might have turned a corner, here in Victoria?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well look, far be it from me to disagree with Norman; but I do hope he's correct, I really do. I mean what Victorians need her, is to see reward for the struggle that they're going through at the moment. Both those Victorians who under Stage 4 restrictions, but also those in rural, regional Victoria, under Stage 3 restrictions. So, whilst we never like to pull out the crystal ball, I think what we do know is the basic reproductive number is under one now. Professor Sutton indicated it’s around about 0.9; so that means that infection rates will start to fall and that the restrictions that have been put on Victorians to decrease the movement that are so challenging for them at the moment, will push that down even further. So, we will see an inflection point soon, to take us off the sort of plateau of the curve and see us coming down the other side. Whether it's today, tomorrow or within a week, time will tell.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

And good morning and welcome to everyone streaming us on Facebook on our ABC Radio Melbourne Facebook page. If you like us and follow us, we'll let you know when we're going live. Dr Nick Coatsworth, is with you, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. So, if not today, tomorrow, then sometime this week you would expect?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think, you know, we always like to see a full incubation period at least, sometimes even a couple of incubation periods to pass before we can see an effect of those policies. But there's an additive effect, as well. There's the fact that the mask wearing came in several weeks ago now, which will undoubtedly have an effect and the Stage 4 restrictions. These will have a cumulative effect on the virus in Victoria and I suspect we will very much see those numbers starting to go down. But if they don't, what happens if they don't? What happens if there's a roller coaster and they head up to 400 or even higher? I think that's critically important that Victorians not only hope on the effectiveness of these Stage 4 restrictions. We have confidence they'll-

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

[Interrupts] Is that possible? That they could jump up again?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think what we've seen with the Victorian numbers is when it's so embedded within the community, you do get this sort of roller coaster effect from time to time. And that is sometimes because some of the results take a day or two to come in, that's just by virtue of the sheer number of tests that are being done. So, I wouldn't want that to cause Victorians to lose hope, just by looking at those day to day numbers. We need to watch for a trend and we need to watch carefully over the next week.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Health expert, Stephen Duckett, has said in a piece today in The Age, that the Victorian Government is sitting on important information, leading indicators and contact tracing numbers and the like. Is it doing that? And if it is, should it be publicly releasing this information, Dr Coatsworth?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Virginia, I'm not aware that the Victorian Government is sitting on any information that should otherwise be released. I mean, we're getting some very detailed reports from Professor Sutton and Professor Cheng, at the Australian Health Protection principal committee that that critically important target of everybody who's got tested positive for the virus in a given day, being contacted or as we have seen, attempted to be contacted, because sometimes even now people aren't at home. But that’s a critical metric. And then the next thing is to look at the amount of time it's taking to get tests and then the amount of time it's taking to close off contact tracing investigations. They're important metrics as well. And whilst numbers remain high, those time periods will remain higher than desirable. But as we get control, as Victorians get control and buy the health service the time that it needs, then all the processes will become smoother, quicker and their effect on suppressing the virus will become better and better. So, it'll all be a cumulative effect.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

You've asked Victorians to turn on the COVIDSafe app and that after some algorithm changes, the authorities are saying that it's made some valuable connections recently. That's an implicit acknowledgement isn't it, Dr Coatsworth, that the app really didn't work well before. The fact that you had to make these changes and you're now urging us to turn it back on?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think it's definitely an acknowledgement, Virginia, that there has had to be iterative improvements to the app and look-

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

[Interrupts] Is that just a complicated way of saying it wasn't working well?

NICK COATSWORTH:

No, not at all, not at all. I was just about to say that I'm not an app developer; but what I do know is that when you develop IT platforms and technology and you have to roll them out quickly, then you have to make improvements and you base those improvements on how it was working. So, it's working better now; there were issues with it that were acknowledged in the past, particularly with iPhones. Some of those persist, but it's still working, it's certainly working better than when we started. It'll be useful for Victoria, when Victoria gets to the same stage as New South Wales is at the moment. So, this app is most important when your economy is open. It's not so important when your economy's shut down. But, I still want everybody in Victoria to download it, activate it and get ready to use it, in such time as their economy starts to open up again.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Dr Coatsworth, there's been an interesting change in tone and language from a few federal government members. Much more open peevishness and criticism of the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews. Is that sense of frustration at the Andrews Government management of things shared by your federal authority too?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well look, I think politicians will always express a view and it's not for me to sort of say one way or another what that view should be. My personal view-

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

[Interrupts] No. My question goes to whether that sense of frustration is shared by your authority?

NICK COATSWORTH:

No, it's not shared at all. We recognise that the extent of the outbreak in Victoria at the moment, would put the same pressures on every- any public health service, any public health service. And I think the discussions at the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, we're understanding now what the set point you need to control COVID-19 and it's about where New South Wales is at the moment. Where they're sitting between about 10 and 20 cases a day and really working round the clock to keep it at that sort of number. This is a complex infectious disease, that's highly transmissible, particularly in a household setting. So, we recognise the challenges that the Victorian health system and public health unit are under.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

When do you think we might be able to get to the same situation New South Wales is in now and that we could open up, even beyond Stage 3 restrictions? Do you care to put a general date on that for us, just to give everyone a sense of hope this morning, Dr Coatsworth?

NICK COATSWORTH:

No I can't and I wish I could. What I want Victorians to do is know that we're with them. That light at the end of the tunnel will start to come within the next week or two and when it does, we just need to keep going with our movement restrictions, until those numbers are down at a manageable level.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Dr Coatsworth, always good to talk. Thank you.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you, bye.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI:

Dr Nick Coatsworth is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer.

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