Date published: 
15 October 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

FRAN KELLY:

I'm joined now by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd, Michael Kidd, welcome back to Breakfast.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thanks, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, New South Wales recorded more new cases than Victoria. How concerned are you about the level of community transmission in New South Wales?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, obviously, we're concerned about the transmission that's occurring anywhere in the country and we're watching what's happening in New South Wales very closely. New South Wales had 11 locally acquired cases yesterday. Most of those cases, of course, were linked to known other cases, which was excellent. It shows that the contact tracing is working very well in New South Wales. We know the public health authorities are very vigorous in the state. So we're just watching to see what happens over the coming few days.

FRAN KELLY:

What about the level of testing in New South Wales? Clearly, the state's Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, is worried about it. He's repeatedly saying there aren't enough people being tested. It was down to 7000 people just a day or two ago, up to 16. He says it needs to be over 20.

Are there signs that sort of fatigue around the virus is kicking in, that people don't- can't be bothered going to get tested or they've been tested before and they don't like it, so they don't want to do that again or they don't want to know the results in case they have to isolate. How concerning is this and how do you combat that?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes. It is concerning. And I think the examples that you provide are examples that many people are experiencing but it's absolutely essential that everyone continues to recognise that we are living in the middle of a pandemic of a deadly virus.

And it's absolutely essential that we all play our part if we're going to stop the spread and we're going to save lives. And that means that we have to continue to keep up the testing regimes.

Now, some people, of course, have been tested a few times for COVID-19 already during this year. But the next time that they develop symptoms of fever or a cold or the flu, it could be COVID-19. So we just have to keep those testing rates up high and of course, especially targeted to those areas where we're having known outbreaks.

FRAN KELLY:

Yeah, let's look at Shepparton. I mean, people- there's testing sites in Shepparton reportedly overwhelmed yesterday and they had to send people home without being tested. Do we have this in hand in Victoria or in New South Wales or anywhere to - so that when there is one or two new cases that suggests an outbreak, we have the infrastructure there to deal with it properly? And how dangerous is it if we don't?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Absolutely. So every time we get an outbreak, we need very swift action. And that's what we're seeing in Victoria at the moment in response to the Shepparton outbreak. It's exactly what we saw earlier in the pandemic with the response to the Burney outbreak in in north-west Tasmania.

I especially want to thank the people of Shepparton who did queue up in some cases for hours to get a test yesterday. They were accepting their personal responsibility. They were doing the right thing. They were making sure they were protecting both themselves, their families and the wider community.

FRAN KELLY:

Can you incentivise testing? Are we looking at strategies to do that?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Look, I think the biggest incentive with testing, and especially when you're getting an outbreak occurring in your local area, is to bring that outbreak under control and make sure that you're protecting your own family and the members of your own community.

FRAN KELLY:

And what about other states, testing sites in other states? You know, New South Wales has it looking pretty sharp, but are you confident that the other states have the resources and systems in place to track and trace efficiently?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, exactly. So this has been the core approach to the national response to COVID-19. It's been making sure that every time we get an outbreak that we're able to move in very swiftly and do widespread testing, have the contact tracing in place so that people can be followed up very quickly and get people into isolation so that we reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to others.

Yes, when we do get a serious outbreak occurring in a place like Shepparton, it does take some hours before we can move resources and move people to carry out very widespread testing into that site. But that's happened overnight and that'll be happening again during the day today.

FRAN KELLY:

There's growing pressure on the Victorian Premier, Dan Andrews, when he stands this weekend to announce the new elements of lockdown - what will be eased and what won't be, to lift restrictions altogether. Much of this, of course, depends whether it's safe or not to do that. It depends on the contact tracing, the testing and tracing system in Victoria. It's had problems in the past. I've spoken to you about them, I think.

Are you confident that Victoria now has the tracing systems in place to prevent a third wave if there was another outbreak of community transmission?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Look, the Victorian public health system and especially the contact tracing has been strengthened very significantly over recent weeks.

FRAN KELLY:

Are you happy with it now?

MICHAEL KIDD:

I'm happy that they're coping at the moment with the numbers that we're seeing. And what we're seeing, though, is further strengthening occurring with the Victorian response and further decentralisation of their response, which is a really important component.

But also, it's- they're not the only components, it's really important. We're seeing, as we are in Victoria, the continuing strengthening of community engagement, especially with communities where we are seeing persistent cases occurring.

FRAN KELLY:

And what about - staying with Victoria for a moment - concerns about health care workers? We spoke to Julian Rait from the AMA; they're concerned that staff at hospitals aren't being adequately protected. You know, there was an enormous number of health care workers infected in Victoria at the peak of the outbreak. There's been an outbreak of Box Hill Hospital, another investigation at the at the Royal Melbourne.

Are you concerned that - that proper protections are in place now for - for Victorian health workers and that Safer Care Victoria is doing its job, have you looked at that?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, indeed. The AHPPC has been monitoring what's happening with health care worker infections and infections amongst aged care workers as well. Right across the country, we have a continuing review of the international advice as to what is the best practice. It's [indistinct] ...

FRAN KELLY:

[Interrupts] Well there was great failure. I mean, there clearly was not best practice in place in Victorian aged care homes and places. And this week, some of those very close to that system suggest that still, some of those problems persist. How rigorous is the protocols around protective equipment and infection control in aged care homes now? Are you satisfied? Are we there yet?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Look, the Victorian public health system and especially the contact tracing has been strengthened very significantly over recent weeks.

FRAN KELLY:

[Interrupts] Well there was great failure. I mean, there clearly was not best practice in place in Victorian aged care homes and places. And this week, some of those very close to that system suggest that still, some of those problems persist. How rigorous is the protocols around protective equipment and infection control in aged care homes now? Are you satisfied? Are we there yet?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, we certainly dramatically, again, strengthened what's happening in the aged care response in Australia. We now have, building on the knowledge, which we've learned through the establishment of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, that dual approach by the Commonwealth and the state to tackle what was happening in each and every residential aged care facility and other aged care service which had an outbreak. We now have similar centres which have been established and are ready to scale up in each of the states and territories around Australia. There's been further work with all residential aged care facilities across the country to boost their infection prevention and control. The Commonwealth has continued to provide personal protective equipment to aged care facilities across the country to make sure that we're protecting not only the staff, but of course, very importantly, the residents in each facility.

FRAN KELLY:

You're listening to RN Breakfast. Our guest is Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer. Michael, we heard earlier from David Nabarro, the envoy, special envoy for COVID for the WHO, talking about the WHO's pitch to countries to not rely on full scale lockdowns, hard lockdowns to manage this virus. And he went through the number of elements that need to be in place in anybody's strategy, any countries or states strategy to deal with these outbreaks and talked about social distancing, talked about people behaving in the right way, social distancing, wearing masks, personal hygiene, all of those messages you and others have sent here. And I think Australians by and large have the message, also the capacity of the testing and tracing which we've been speaking about. So it appears as though Australia has those mechanisms and protocols in place, and yet Victoria is still in lockdown. That's coming at huge economic cost for Victorian businesses and huge personal costs for the Melburnians who've been locked down now for more than two months, and that we've seen some very alarming statistics this week about the mental health impact of these lockdowns. The Health Minister, the federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, says these restrictions should be eased, and he said that the number of cases in Victoria is below the national definition of a hotspot. But do we have a national definition of a hospital? And what is it?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, we have the commonwealth definition of a hotspot, and that is in a metropolitan area, a rolling three-day average of 10 locally-acquired cases per day. So that equates to over 30 cases in three consecutive days. It's a rolling three-day average of three locally-acquired cases per day in rural and regional areas, which would be nine cases over three consecutive days.

FRAN KELLY:

Okay, so that's the Commonwealth definition. Victoria is at that. Under that definition, Victoria would have lifted all lockdown.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, not necessarily. The definition, of course, is the definition of a hotspot. And then what's determined is what are the responses in response to that definition being applied. Victoria is really at the cusp of that area at the moment. And we've got to look at what's happening over the days. And as we say, with this definition, it's a three-day average.

FRAN KELLY:

Do you have a view on whether the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, when he stands up on Sunday, should ease all restrictions as he's being urged to do, I think, by the federal Treasurer and the federal Health Minister?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, I think that when we do see the further easing of restrictions in Victoria, it won't be easing all restrictions. It'll be a staged approach, as we saw across the country when we came out of the initial lockdown right across Australia. And it's really important that people are still adhering to the measures which are in place. But Fran, we're not going to see further easing of restrictions unless we all play our part. And it's absolutely essential that everybody, as you've been saying earlier, who has symptoms is getting tested. The people, when they're approached by the contact tracers, are providing full and honest accounts of what they've been doing so the contact tracers can actually do their job and that we continue to have the public health capacity to respond to every outbreak that occurs.

FRAN KELLY:

And in the view of the approach of the WHO and also how things are being managed in New South Wales, and in Victoria now, too, to some degree, do you think it's time the states signed on to the federal definition of a hospital and that's how we move forward in managing this virus as a nation?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, the National Cabinet will be meeting again tomorrow. I'm not able to pre-empt the decision and the discussions which are going to happen there. But we do have, at the moment, we have this commonwealth definition.

FRAN KELLY:

Michael Kidd, thank you very much for joining us.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thanks so much, Fran.

FRAN KELLY:

Professor Michael Kidd is Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer.

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