Date published: 
16 June 2020
Media event date: 
15 June 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

A second person who attended Melbourne's Black Lives Matter protest last weekend has tested positive for COVID-19. It's among 12 new cases confirmed in Victoria today. And health authorities in New South Wales are investigating how an Illawarra man contracted the virus. He's one of three people testing positive in that state today. Meanwhile, overseas China has reported 49 new cases from an outbreak in Beijing from a Beijing market, and the UK Government will review the two-metre social distancing rule.

Professor Michael Kidd is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Hi Patricia, thank you.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Victoria has recorded 12 new cases today, and one of those was a person who attended Melbourne's Black Lives Matter protest while minimally symptomatic. Are you concerned that the message to stay home if you're unwell doesn't seem to be sinking in?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, very concerned about the cases that we're seeing, and the increase in the number of cases that we've seen over the last 24 hours compared to how things have been over the past week or so. And yes, you're quite right that that message about if anyone has any symptoms, no matter how mild of a respiratory tract infection, to stay at home and arrange to get tested still has to be there. And we just can't afford to become complacent at this time. And as we've seen, if we get outbreaks occurring it's really important that anyone with symptoms is being tested.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Given that it has been more than a week now since those protests across many capital cities and we haven't seen a massive outbreak, that second wave that was potentially feared, are you confident we may have avoided or are we there yet?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, I hope we've avoided it. But as you know, the incubation period for COVID-19 can be usually between five to seven days, but sometimes between 10 and 14 days. So, there may still be further cases and further transmission occurring. And of course, some people who are infected with COVID-19 either have no symptoms at all or as we've just discussed may have very mild symptoms. So again, people who did attend any of the protest marches, please, if you do have even the slightest symptoms, do arrange to get tested. And just a reminder that the testing is free at the state and territory hospital fever clinics and at the Australian Government's GP respiratory clinics. You don't need a Medicare card. And even if you're not a resident of Australia, you can get free testing at these clinics.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Health authorities in New South Wales are still trying to work out how an Illawarra man in his early 20s contracted coronavirus. Is that cause for concern at this stage? Does it suggest more community transmission? I mean, where there's smoke there's fire.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes. So, obviously, each case which is detected, the contract tracers in state or territory go into great detail to try and work out what was the source of that infection and to try and work out the context. Here's where the COVIDSafe app, of course, comes into its own as well, and it's been used many times now, particularly in those two states for contact tracing. And we are concerned where we get a case where we actually can't work out what the source was, because that then tends to indicate that there has been some further transmission occurring in the community. People have either been asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms and have not gone to get tested.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the Government will look at the two-metre distancing rule and perhaps revise it. Is Australia looking to revisit that guideline?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, my understanding is in the UK what they're looking at is- they currently have a two-metre rule, we have a one point five metre rule and they're looking at whether to reduce their two-metres to one point five metres. So, it would be similar to what we've had in Australia throughout the pandemic to date. Certainly, we do need to continue to maintain that physical distancing while we have community transmission occurring in Australia. It's one of the safeguards in place, but of course it's only one of the safeguards along with the hand hygiene, the cough etiquette, and most importantly, if you have symptoms, stay at home and get tested.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

At least 10 neighbourhoods at the Chinese capital of Beijing are being locked down to try to contain a fresh outbreak of coronavirus linked to a major wholesale food market. There are 49 new cases in China. What does that mean for us on a practical level?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So, I think that we look and we see what is happening in countries all around the world. We see these outbreaks occurring, and some countries like Australia have very high levels of testing, very good contact tracing capacity and the ability when there is an outbreak to move in very quickly and isolate people in arrange testing of all their contacts. And clearly that's what we're seeing happening in Beijing at the moment with the outbreak that they've had there. And of course, we've had similar outbreaks occurring in Australia. The example in North West Tasmania with the two hospitals was an example, where we moved in and very rapidly tested large numbers of people. So, I think we've got to wait over the next few days and see what the reports are coming out from Beijing, to see if this is just one of those localised outbreaks or whether it actually reveals much larger numbers of people who test positive.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

And of course, international border closures are part of all of that. You're- what does the information show us in relation to what happens there? If we're seeing a fresh outbreak in China for instance. We've been told expect the international borders to be closed, but how long are we looking at realistically?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, that's still something which we don't know and it depends on what happens with the pandemic around the world. Clearly Australian and New Zealand are looking at possible lifting of boarder restrictions between our two countries. But when we will be in the capacity to open up our borders to many other countries around the world still remains to be seen.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

But what might the easing of international borders look like, especially as we move towards that trans-Tasman bubble becoming a reality? How will these kind of green zones dictate who can enter Australia?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So clearly, what we'll be looking at with green zones would be countries like Australia, like New Zealand have very low levels, or no levels of community transmission and have very high levels of control when cases do occur. As we've seen in the media over the last few days, there are discussions about whether we might start to have pilots for international students coming back into Australia in small numbers into some of our states and territories. That may be one first step in opening up our borders to non-Australian residents coming into the country for their education.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

In terms of domestic border closures, Queensland has floated the idea of 10 July opening, Western Australia is still giving no indication of a timeline. Is this going to be a longer-term process than many Australians are expecting?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yeah, I think we've still got to wait see. Clearly this is an issue for each of the states and territories. South Australia has provided a date in July when all things going well, they're looking at opening their border, as is Queensland. Hopefully we'll see more borders opening as things get better in our country.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

But on that issue of the borders, it's been another one of those- it reminds me of the school's debate, about whether we should re-open schools, where state leaders are taking the advice of local- the local medical advice when you say something different federally. Why is that the case given the medical officers are on this national board? Why are we getting this disconnect?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So, I think that it relates to the local epidemiology in each of the states and territories. It relates to a lot of the imperatives that each of the leaders of the states and territories sees to keeping the borders closed or open. The expectation of the local population. So, there's a lot of factors as well as the health factors which are behind these decisions.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

But they say that it's all health factors. So, you've got different health advice you're providing?

MICHAEL KIDD:

There's different advice coming from the chief health officers in each of the states and territories which then the local premier or chief minister needs to take into consideration when deciding whether to keep the borders closed or to open them up again.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Do you worry that that's confused people?

MICHAEL KIDD:

I think there are lots of things around the pandemic which causes some uncertainty and confusion and you mentioned the different decisions that were made about school opening in different states and territories. That was confusing for people in different parts of the country. And we have to accept that we do live in a federation. We have to accept that the epidemiology of COVID-19 is different in different states and territories and that's unfortunately part of living in a pandemic.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: 

Thank you so much, for joining us.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thanks, Patricia.

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