Date published: 
22 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, join us now from Canberra. Thank you for your time this morning, and nice to have your company on this Friday. Can you talk us through, firstly, the latest figures and whether they've been affected by an ease in restrictions?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thank you. Good morning, Karl, good morning, Ally. Yes, just over 7000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Australia. Sadly, we've had 101 deaths with an additional death reported since yesterday. And well over a million tests, of course, been carried out by the population.

ALLISON LANGDON:

So how many new cases is that?

MICHAEL KIDD:

We had seven new cases yesterday, those cases were in Victoria and in New South Wales.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Victoria and New South Wales. Any details at this point on the death of that 101st patient?

MICHAEL KIDD:

No, I'm sorry. I don't have those details.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Seven new cases with 25 million people, or thereabouts, it's pretty good.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, the Australian public is performing magnificently. And the concerns that people had as the very first small step of lifting restrictions began nearly two weeks ago, we've seen people behaving, by and large, very responsibly and making sure that we're not risking a resurgence occurring across the country.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

So, given that, while state leaders- I mean, the state leaders have been bickering over the borders, small businesses and the tourism industry - we know that a lot of them are going under. How is the federal and state health advice so much at odds in relation to the borders?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So, the issue of borders is, of course, a sovereign issue for each of the states and the premiers to decide. And the premiers are consulting with their chief health officers and with their other advisers in making decisions about what's appropriate for their own populations.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Do you-

KARL STEFANOVIC:

[Talks over] But how is it- sorry.

ALLISON LANGDON:

No, you go.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

How is it that there's a difference in the advice?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, the difference in the advice reflects the difference that we're seeing in the rollout of the pandemic in different parts of Australia. Obviously, the epidemiology is different in different states, with some states which now have had no new recorded cases for quite some days and other states where we continue to have very low levels of new cases being reported.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Alright. And we're just getting word through now that the- some details on that latest death, there's been a new death overnight, is an 88-year-old woman from Concord in New South Wales - that's the confirmed death. But can I ask you, Michael, do you think that part of this issue with the borders is now- it is less about the health debate and it has become political?

MICHAEL KIDD:

That's a very good question. I'm here to talk about the health issues, of course. Not the …

KARL STEFANOVIC:

[Talks over] And that's a yes.

MICHAEL KIDD:

… political issues.

ALLISON LANGDON:

No and that's a very good point. I should respect that.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

[Indistinct]. Keep going, sorry.

ALLISON LANGDON:

No, because I wanted to talk to you about, despite social distancing measures that we've been told, we stay 1.5 metres apart. Airlines, you've got Qantas saying that flying planes filled to capacity is perfectly safe. Would you be comfortable sitting in the middle seat?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yeah, I think that's a really good question. So what the airlines have done - as every industry is required to do in Australia - is they've carried out their own risk mitigation exercise following the guidance, which is being provided by the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, chaired by Nev Power, and they've looked to see what they can do to mitigate any risks for both their staff, but also for their customers. In this case, the passengers on the planes. Qantas and Virgin, of course, have a lot of experience in moving people around during the pandemic, we've had a large number of flights coming from overseas, bringing people back into Australia. They've got a lot of experience in, particularly, how to protect both the travelling public, but also their staff both on board the airplanes and the people who are in the airports as well. So, the risk mitigation exercise that Qantas has gone through has looked at what's happening.

But the challenge here is, of course, if you maintain physical distancing of 1.5 metres between people on airplanes, we would not have any planes flying in Australia. So there is this balance between the measures and then what happens. And the other side to this is, if we don't have planes moving around, then we have a huge number of people on our roads and, of course, that brings attendant risks as well of more car accidents and more fatalities. So, these are very challenging decisions which need to be made and are being made by each industry as we look at lifting some of the restrictions.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Michael, as it stands at the moment - and I think the battle for the airlines are a confidence thing. For example, from a medical point of view, would you be comfortable flying on a plane in economy right next to someone?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well, I think given the measures that are in place, the answer to that is, yes. But it does rely on the public and the travelling public. So, anybody who has any symptoms, as we keep reiterating, needs to stay at home, so anyone who has fever or respiratory tract infection should not be travelling to an airport. These people, if they do get to the airport, will be picked up through the screening processes which the airlines have put in place. And then what we know is going to happen is the planes are going to be thoroughly disinfected between flights, and people obviously who are boarding the plane are being offered masks and hand sanitiser.

ALLISON LANGDON:

But if you're asymptomatic, that's not going to be picked up.

MICHAEL KIDD:

If people are asymptomatic, that's true, but we have very low numbers of community transmission occurring in Australia. So, the chances of sitting next to somebody who is asymptomatic is very, very low in Australia at this time. Very differently, if I was asked if I was going to board a plane in the USA at the moment or in some other countries where the pandemic is very different, obviously my answer would be different.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

But domestically, it gets your tick, which is a big move forward and quite a significant gesture based on your research.

Now, millions of students too will go to school on Monday. It's going to be a very, very big week for Australia next week, isn't it? I guess we approach that with a little bit of trepidation, but as far as our schools are concerned - even though there was that one case in Sydney - you're still maintaining that the schools are safe?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Absolutely. And I'm sure that many parents are going to be delighted that the schools are returning next week, and many children are going to be delighted to be joining with their friends again after what has been a really challenging time. And as the Prime Minister has reiterated again and again, it's really important that we're getting our children of Australia back into the classroom and back into their learning. What we do know is if we do have an outbreak in a school, and we have had a small number of outbreaks occurring in schools across Australia so far during the pandemic; we know what to do. We move in very quickly, people are isolated, people are tested, the schools are thoroughly cleaned, the schools work with the state and territory health authorities to determine when it's appropriate to reopen the school.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Yep. Will be a big week next week. Thank you, professor, for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

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