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

ZOE DANIEL:

As you heard, authorities in Victoria are tonight attempting to contain a deepening crisis as coronavirus infections continue to grow. 127 new cases were confirmed overnight; the state's highest one-day increase since the pandemic began. A man in his 90s died from the virus yesterday, and another man in his 60s died this morning. Residents in nine public housing towers in Flemington, Kensington, and North Melbourne have been warned that the five-day hard lockdown imposed yesterday could be extended. And authorities have made the dramatic decision to close the border between Victoria and New South Wales from midnight tomorrow night. But New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the border will close to people in Melbourne even sooner.

[Excerpt]

GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN:

Come midnight tonight, so for the next 24 hours, the hotspots will extend to all of Melbourne. So, nobody from Melbourne will be able to cross the border in the next 24 hours. But come midnight tomorrow night, it'll be all Victorians.

[End of excerpt]

ZOE DANIEL:

And for more, we're joined by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth. Welcome to RN Drive.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you, Zoe.

ZOE DANIEL:

There's a real sense of gloom descending over Melbourne. Just how bad is the situation?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, it's certainly, deeply concerning, Zoe. We saw 127 cases announced today. Those numbers are going up and down; some days over 100, some days less than 100. And it's going to take a few days to establish what the trend is. Keeping in mind that some of these certainly unprecedented measures that the Victorian Government's put in place will take time to have an effect, as we saw at the start of the pandemic in February and March. When you put these measures in place, it does take at least a week to determine how effective they're going to be.

ZOE DANIEL:

Yeah. So given that potential 14-day infection window, is it true to say that things will probably look a lot worse before they get better, because the people who are now coming up in those statistics have been out and about over the last couple of weeks?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well there have been measures instituted, as you know, in the past week. I certainly think it's fair to say that we could see three-digit numbers in the coming days, numbers over 100, of new cases. And in particular, the testing is going to be very targeted in those hot-spot areas, including the public housing towers that have had to undergo the hard lockdown, and we are likely to see cases diagnosed. Keeping in mind that once we diagnose those cases, that is in some sense very important and good thing, because we can then isolate those individuals and appropriately quarantine their families and give them the medical support that they need. But most importantly, cut down those community clusters of transmission.

ZOE DANIEL:

And there's a big focus on public housing, but what are the numbers telling us about the level of community transmission outside public housing?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well the numbers as we know, the number of cases acquired overseas is down at 16 per cent now, which is markedly different to how it was only two weeks ago. So, there are increasing numbers of cases within the community. The important distinction is whether those are related to outbreaks, known outbreaks, or whether they are they are isolated cases. So, the Victorian Public Health Unit is working hard to establish that round the clock really, and making sure that we understand how the cases are connected. And making sure that we can stop onward transmission.

ZOE DANIEL:

Is there an argument for testing everyone in public housing across Melbourne, and indeed in public housing in other parts of Australia?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, look, I don't think that that would be a proportionate strategy. I think what's been found at the moment in these particular public housing developments has led to their hard lockdown, and there's certainly no evidence that there's any issue elsewhere in Australia. But what we do know is that any sort of public health condition can affect our most vulnerable and our most marginalised in our community. And so, it's our responsibility to keep as vigilant as we possibly can. And as we see the Victorians getting this outbreak under control with all their measures and their communication with members of the culturally linguistically diverse communities and those residents of public housing- that we learn from that across the rest of Australia as well.

ZOE DANIEL:

Yeah, I mean my question partly borne from comments from those who live in those tower blocks who have said: well, we told authorities that we had only one lift working, for example. We told authorities that it was very difficult for us to social distance because of the number of people living in small spaces. It feels like perhaps there was an opportunity missed earlier rather than having to play catch up in a crisis as we are now.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think, Zoe, it's critically important that we hear those voices and we react to them appropriately, both in Victoria and around Australia. So, we need to keep hearing from people who are being affected by the hard lockdowns. The response was rapid as soon as the Victorian Government and Public Health Unit understood that there was such a vulnerable community that was affected with cases, that they've taken this very important step to institute those lockdowns. So, in a sense, I think the response has been proportionate and rapid. But it's important we hear the effect that it's having on the people in those public housing developments, which we know is substantial.

ZOE DANIEL:

I'm talking to Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth. Victoria's Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton says outbreaks in public housing are especially challenging. Here he is.

[Excerpt]

BRETT SUTTON:

It's about the structural issues that make this a challenging situation in terms of the outbreak potential. And you know, having the shared laundry, having tight spaces, lift wells, stairwells, and corridors and foyers is the challenge here as well. So, they're not for easy solutions.

[End of excerpt]

ZOE DANIEL:

Nick Coatsworth, there's some real frustration among residents in the towers, and we'll hear from one after 7.00 this evening about testing now being too slow. Is that something that can be addressed to try to at least speed up the process of finding out how prevalent the virus is?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Zoe, we understand that the focus of the Victorian health authorities is to conduct extensive testing in the public housing developments. That will obviously take time, but there is a process of prioritisation when these tests go to the laboratory. And I'm sure the Victorians are looking at that which tests need to be prioritised. I don't have the details behind that. My understanding is that with the number of tests that are being done - which is in the order of 20,000 a day - that the turnaround is still very rapid and the results will be there quickly. But 3,000 is no small number and well we'll see those tests being offered to residents in the coming days.

ZOE DANIELS:

There's talk for example that police are wearing masks who are working in those towers- that residents apparently are not. Should they be? Should they be provided with masks as an option?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well Zoe, I think the challenge here is that we've asked of those residents to be lockdown within their homes, within their flats. So I think they're not able - it's a little bit like hotel quarantine - they're not able to exit from there. So then to ask family members to wear masks amongst each other within those flats would seem to me to be a little bit impractical. I think the broader question of community mask use, outside of the flats and in the Melbourne area is an important one and that as we have increasing community transmission, there are those within our communities that have health issues, that if they are unable to socially distance should be considering wearing a mask. And that has been the position of the AHPPC for some time.

ZOE DANIELS:

Yes, this goes to my next question though, which is; how difficult would it be to stop the virus spreading within a household where one person is infected, in what is likely to be a two bedroom one bathroom flat, that they can't leave?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well we know that the virus spreads readily within households, Zoe. We also know that you know within families- our own families included there is an importance to keep together and stay together. So I think if the question sort of pertaining to should we take people of-

ZOE DANIELS:

Which was done elsewhere. In China and Singapore they moved people out of high density housing who tested positive.

NICK COATSWORTH:

And that can lead to its own problems. But what will certainly be done is those people who are COVID positive who require medical attention will be able to receive it readily. My understanding is that there is Ambulance Victoria is closely involved that there are onsite primary care facilities where people can readily access GP services and of course if people need hospitalisation they will absolutely be provided with it.

ZOE DANIELS:

And there are many people in public housing with complex needs around mental health and substance abuse are potentially domestic violence issues. What are your concerns around how they will cope?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, this is these are these are critical issues and I think that the important thing is that they are recognised. They have been recognised by the Victorian health authorities which are ensuring that people who are subject to those issues of substance abuse who perhaps need to access methadone and things like that to assist with addiction. All these things are being considered and managed. So, there's no stone being left unturned to support these members of our community during this very difficult time.

ZOE DANIELS:

And just finally the AMA is calling for a nationwide temporary halt in lifting all restrictions is that premature or over-the-top?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well it's important to remember that the epidemic remains at very different stages. Obviously, with Victoria compared to some of the states that have not had community transmission for many, many, days. I think what President Tony Bartone was reflecting was the importance of; even if you're moving to a stage of lifting stage 4 of restrictions as people are in Western Australia of course, that this virus is still here globally. And that if we drop our guard, if the restrictions lift but our behaviour goes back to normal and we transmit the virus then it will very readily spread. So yes, by all means lift restrictions but we all have a personal responsibility to maintain excellent hygiene and social distance and the sort of things that are going to assist us in combating the virus.

ZOE DANIELS:

Great to talk to you. Thanks for making time.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks Zoe.

ZOE DANIELS:

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID13287, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fdeputy-chief-medical-officer-interview-on-abc-radio-national-drive-on-6-july-2020)

View contact