Date published: 
19 May 2020
Media event date: 
18 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

DAVID KOCH:

We're joined now by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth. Nick, good to see you again. Look, how long will it take to see the impact on case numbers from easing restrictions this weekend? And what's acceptable and what's not?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Kochie, the incubation period of the virus is 14 days, so it's going to be a minimum of 2 weeks. National Cabinet is looking at the levels or the steps out every 3 weeks to see where we're at. So I think it would be fair to say in the next 2 to 3 weeks we can see what the effect of the weekend's lifting will be.

DAVID KOCH:

Right.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:

Okay. Nick, an increase in cases might not actually mean a second wave. You know, we're hearing words like outbreak, second wave which sound scary, but it might just be some clusters like we're seeing at— Rockhampton Nursing Home had one. What are some of the warning signs that we need to sort of be looking out for before things shut down again?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think the main indicator would be if there are a large or an increasing number of cases where the public health authorities can't find the link. And that would indicate community transmission with lots of different clusters that were unrelated. That would be an important sign that things weren't going to plan. If we have the clusters as we are at the moment which are restricted, geographically isolated, and can be sorted out relatively quickly, well, that's actually a measure of success for the public health authorities.

DAVID KOCH:

Okay. So a good example of that is this 12 McDonald's restaurants in Melbourne closed overnight after a driver who delivers to the stores tested positive. So that's one that, yes, the right measures are being taken to close the store down, but wouldn't be too much of a concern to you because you know the bloke who's delivered it all?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

That's exactly right, Kochie. We know, and then they can do what's called upstream and downstream testing so people who were in contact before he got the virus, people who were in contact afterwards. And I guess behind all of that, you can imagine a delivery driver has so many different potential contacts. We do have to say that having the app on one's phone in this sort of scenario does makes it so much easier for the disease detectives who will do the calls that they need to do. But at the end of the day, if they can pick up an iPhone and have that data of the digital handshakes — who he was in contact with — that that would just make the job so much easier.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:

Okay. Now, it seems unlikely or impossible, Nick, that we're going to eliminate this virus without a vaccine. A real vaccine could be at least a year away. So how then do we live with this? What do we consider an acceptable rate of infection for Australia to live with and will it become a scenario where influenza floats around every winter and most of us don't get it so it becomes sort of a bug, a virus like that?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

I think acceptable levels' a difficult one there. But I would say that as long as an Australian can get an intensive care bed as and when they need it for COVID-19, then we've got the capacity to manage increased number of cases. What we don't want though is a whole number of cases that don't have a community link, that would represent a second wave. What happens into the future? Could it become what we call endemic within society and it does sort of circulate like influenza? That's an entirely possible scenario and the best way to deal with that I think is to have excellent personal hand hygiene, but also excellent infection control within our hospitals.

DAVID KOCH:

There's a lot of talk about Vietnam over the weekend. And it seemed to— because we're learning about good ideas all the time from experience overseas, that if you went in to get a cough medicine or a cold medicine at a chemist in Vietnam, you were tested, if you went for your Codral. And I was reading that thinking what a bloody good idea that is. Are you thinking of that?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think it's an excellent idea. I mean, I think it represents the principle that we've been putting forward which is if someone's got symptoms, they should get a test. And what better way to work out if someone's got symptoms than someone who turns up to the pharmacy for some cough or cold medication. I think it's a great idea that Vietnam's got there.

DAVID KOCH:

Yeah. It's a really sensible one, isn't it? Nick, always great to catch up. Thank you.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks Kochie.

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