Date published: 
13 July 2020
Media event date: 
12 July 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

REBECCA MADDERN:

Deputy CMO Dr Nick Coatsworth joins us now from Canberra. Dr Coatsworth, good morning. Victorians are angry–

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

[Interrupts] Good morning.

REBECCA MADDERN:

They are disillusioned. They have lost faith in authorities. Businesses are collapsing. There is a very real threat of long-term mental health issues as Victorians begin a second lockdown. Will 6 weeks be enough to get this virus under control in that state?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

It's always been the case that a second lockdown was going to be harder than the first. That is absolutely the case, and we do believe that 6 weeks will be sufficient. We imposed the– or Victoria imposed the restrictions a week and a half ago now, and extended those this week.

So, we would expect to see the effect of that in the coming weeks– in the coming week, I should say, and a plateauing of the cases. We know that social distancing works. So, as hard as this is, we acknowledge how difficult it is, but we know that it's going to work, and I'd particularly say for those who are suffering from mental health issues as a result of this – anxiety, depression – go to the Head to Health website. There is help available, and it's absolutely the time to be accessing it.

REBECCA MADDERN:

Doctor, the reasons that Victorians are so angry is because of the hotel quarantine security bungle. How big a problem was that for the spread of the virus in Melbourne?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

The hotel quarantine security issue was a clear breach of infection prevention and control. It's always going to be hard to tell whether that was the only factor in spread within Victoria, or whether there was ongoing low levels of community transmission, which is also possible.

So, it's important, very important, that we don't seek to cast blame. I know how difficult that is when people are angry, but blame is the enemy here of public health. Blame will stop us from combating COVID-19. Understanding is what's going to help us, so we have to understand every single outbreak and the factors that caused it, and stop it from happening again.

REBECCA MADDERN:

In Hong Kong, for example, they've gone 3 weeks without any local transmissions, but now a spike and restrictions are coming back into play. It's been dubbed a third wave. In reality, is this how we're going to have to live out the next 18 months, 2 years?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, we've been very clear, very clear from the medical expert panel that there will be outbreaks until we get a vaccine. At the moment, we have 7 out of our 8 jurisdictions with no community transmission. That is a phenomenal effort. And whilst the cases are in 3 digits in Victoria, that pales in comparison to what is going on in some places overseas.

We need to be prepared for outbreaks to occur. We need to be prepared to support those states that outbreaks are occurring in, and that's why every jurisdiction, and the Commonwealth, is supporting Victoria with contact tracing efforts and testing efforts to shut this down as quickly as we possibly can.

REBECCA MADDEN:

Are we going for suppression or elimination in this country?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

So, that's a very important question. Elimination means that you've got rid of the virus for at least 4 incubation periods, probably longer. When you don't think that there's any community transmission or any likelihood of an outbreak. That is an unrealistic scenario when there's 12 million cases and climbing around the world.

What we are aiming for, and what we've achieved in 7 out of 8 jurisdictions, is suppression to the point of elimination – suppression to the point of absence of community transmission so we can lift restrictions. That's the setting that we believe is the best balance between public health and getting society back on track.

REBECCA MADDERN:

Are you hopeful about the human trial happening in Queensland tomorrow?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think you're referring to perhaps a vaccine trial, is that right, Bec?

REBECCA COATSWORTH:

Yes, the vaccine trial, correct. Yeah.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, we're absolutely hopeful that our researchers in Australia are amongst the world-leading researchers in vaccine development. We've got to be cautious. There are a lot of stages to vaccine development, of course, but every step that brings us closer to a vaccine is one that is of value. And once we see those vaccines used in us and see us developing antibodies, they will be very exciting times indeed. But we need to really see how that evolves.

REBECCA MADDERN:

Five cases of coronavirus community transmission have now been linked to the Crossroads Hotel in south-west Sydney. What is being done to make sure New South Wales does not end up like Victoria? Because if there's any chink in the armour, we can see what happens.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, there's an enormous amount being done by New South Wales public health authorities. They have proven themselves to be so adept at getting those pop-up clinics open extraordinarily quickly. Of course, the border is closed, but with specific reference to the Casula pub, anyone who was actually there around the same time as those individuals who got COVID-19 must get tested. Indeed, anyone in that area who is developing any sort of symptoms at all, get yourself tested for COVID-19, because that's exactly how the New South Wales public health authorities are going to stop ongoing community transmission.

REBECCA MADDERN:

This is the burning question for parents: are schools safe?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Yes, they are safe. And the reason why schools are safe is because we know that particularly in a younger age group – the, sort of, 4 to 10-year-olds – COVID-19 transmission is less among those children. As children get older, into adolescence and adulthood, the rates do start to go up. But the reason why Victorian VCE students – for example, those 10, 11, and 12s – are allowed to go back is because they're much more able to follow the instructions, the social distancing instructions.

And what I would say, though, is that whilst there was 1 significant outbreak at Al-Taqwa College of well in excess of 90 cases, that is but 1 school around Australia, and the majority of school outbreaks that have occurred have been very, very small indeed.

REBECCA MADDERN:

I just wonder how you can say that schools are safe with such confidence, because it was 134 cases at Al-Taqwa College, and it seems like it's the perfect breeding ground for this virus.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think if that was the case, we would have seen it in many, many more schools. We've got all our kids around Australia going to school, and yet we're pointing to 1 outbreak. And thank you for those latest figures on Al-Taqwa.

We also need to remember that that was 1 of the communities where there was a lot of transmission within households, and of course, if you've got transmission in households where there's lots of children, you'll end up with large numbers within the school that's servicing those communities.

REBECCA MADDERN:

Okay. A final question for you, doctor. A new drug has just been approved to treat coronavirus. It's called remdesivir. Will there be enough for Australians? Where do we get this drug from?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

So, remdesivir is a drug that is uniquely purposed for COVID-19, but there are other drugs around, like dexamethasone, which is in plentiful supply. Remdesivir is within the National Medical Stockpile. We've had a supply donated from Gilead that we're comfortable we'll be able to provide to Victorians who require it in hospital, and we are going to contract with– will seek to procure more remdesivir from Gilead in the coming weeks.

REBECCA MADDERN:

Okay, well, that is good news. Dr Nick Coatsworth, thank you very much for your time this morning.

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