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

KARL STEFANOVIC:

The Federal Government's COVIDSafe app has finally been put to the test. Victorian health officials accessing the service to trace contacts after a patient tested positive to coronavirus.

ALLISON LANGDON:

But it's not all good news, with health officials in NSW reporting they can't access the app data. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth joins us now for more. Thanks for your time this morning. Firstly, can we get an update on fresh COVID-19 cases overnight?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Yes of course. So 11 new cases Australia-wide in the past 24 hours, bringing our total to 7080. And yesterday there was the 100th death from coronavirus disease in Australia, and our hearts go out to all friends and families of those who've been affected in that terrible way by COVID-19.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Well said, well said. Look, the debate- I'm sure you'd be aware, or maybe not, considering how busy you are, but there's been debate raging on our show this morning amongst the premiers about the fact they haven't opened up the borders. What is the Federal Government's view on the borders; what is your medical opinion on the borders?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, the international border closures were a seminal event in protecting Australia, Karl, there's no doubt about that. When State borders were closed, there were a lot of cases on the eastern seaboard, there were increasing cases in Western Australia and South Australia as well. But that was not done under the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. That was firmly a state decision, and as such, it has to be a state decision to relax them. At the moment though, with the small number of cases Australia-wide, it is challenging to see the medical benefit of keeping State borders closed for lengthy periods of time going forward.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

So what you're saying, effectively, there's no medical reason, in your learned medical opinion, to keep the borders shut?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I guess what I am saying is that the national strategy is suppression. Which means we're not going for zero cases Australia-wide, and so we expect to see small numbers of cases come up now and again. So I think it's important that that national strategy of suppression is a national strategy. That we don't have countries within countries during this pandemic.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Closing the borders is not going to mess with that.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Closing the borders may lead to an expectation that you can have zero cases in a particular area until there's a vaccine and I think that would put too much pressure on the nation, of course. And it's looking for an outcome that we are not even sure that is going to happen, which is a vaccine. It could be 12-18 months away or it could never happen

ALLISON LANGDON:

Doctor, I wanted to talk to you about the app, the COVIDSafe app, because it was used for the first time successfully in Victoria yesterday. But on the flip side, New South Wales Health are saying that their staff are unable to access the data. So what's happening with it?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well Ally, I think the first thing to say is that every state and territory public health unit can access the data. There's no access problems. I think the issue- there have been some technical, particularly with iPhones. But the access is not an issue, it's how we incorporate the use of the app into traditional contact tracing which is done verbally. And I think what we saw from Victoria yesterday is that they found a case using the app where they had not been able to do that with their standard contact tracing methods. So that is really the milestone for us with the app, that it has been used successfully to find someone who is now in self- isolation and protecting themselves, their family, and the rest of the community. So that's a good measure of success.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Okay. So you still are encouraging people to download it. And you've got a new COVIDSafe campaign that's been launched today. What can you tell us about it?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well we do, and it's really the messages that we want going forward as people look forward to getting out into the community. We want people to wash their hands as often as possible. We want people to keep their distance where they can, and we want people to download that app. And by doing those three, we stay COVID free. And you'll see a talking head, it will be mine, quite frequently on the telly for the next month as we get those simple messages out. But it really is about simple messages, Ally, to keep ourselves safe.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Alright. And do you think now that we are in a position that we weren't a couple of months ago, if we do have the little outbreaks that we can jump on top of them?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think if there's these small localised resurgences of COVID-19, Victoria is doing a fantastic job proving to the nation how quickly we can jump on top of them. They conducted over 9500 tests in a day yesterday. New South Wales similarly, over 6500. So it's very clear that the public health units are able to get on top of these cluster quickly.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Good on you, doctor. Really appreciate your time today, as always.

That is a very smart man who has been at the forefront of this whole crisis from the very start. And effectively, what he's been saying today, just then, is what some people have been saying and the questions being asked of our premiers in terms of why they continue to shut the borders when the medical advice does not indicate that it makes any difference whatsoever. Surely, it's a rocket up them. It's bring the borders down, let us try to help the small businesses. If it's having no impact on the number of people getting the virus or not, open it up. There's no medical reason for you to do that. So open it up.

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