Date published: 
14 September 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Well more chaos on the streets of Melbourne as anti-lockdown protesters again clash with police over their demands for freedom.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth joins us now. Good morning to you, Dr Nick. The penalty is the threat of arrest. It seems it's not enough to stop these demonstrators who keep coming out. How do we get through to them?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Deb, the first thing to say is that in the rest of Australia it's very hard to understand how people are feeling down in Melbourne at the moment coming to the end of the Stage 4 restrictions. The passions are clearly high but what I would say to people who feel like they need to protest, is the light is getting bigger. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger every day. It won't be long now. The roadmap is there. Yes, it's a conservative roadmap but it shows a way out. And, you know, we're Australians. We have a democratic right to protest but don't put at risk the gains that Victorians have made for Australia in the past weeks.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Let's get into the nitty-gritty of these cases. Ninety-nine mystery cases with no identifiable source in metropolitan Melbourne. How big a threat is that to restrictions easing?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Karl, that is the biggest threat to restrictions easing. I think what we'll see, though, is that those numbers will also come down. They'll need to head down into something that's clearly manageable as it is in NSW. So single digits for the mystery cases would be a very reasonable target and that's what the Victorian Public Health Unit will be going for. But the more those numbers go down, the more aggressive the contact tracing can be. We already know that the Victorians have really improved their systems and processes and all that will have a positive effect on getting the mystery case numbers down and under control.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

And you can see that that roadmap is conservative. It is happening quite slowly. Should we look at speeding it up in Victoria, if we keep getting those low case numbers that we do?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think one of the most encouraging things about hearing Professor Sutton over the past week, as we've talked about the roadmap, is that like all chief health officers around Australia, he's prepared to change tack if things improve more quickly than was otherwise expected. So that's certainly a positive but it does mean that we have to unfortunately look at those numbers again on a day by day basis and just see how quickly they're coming down.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

The Queensland government, as you would know only too well, is copping it for their border policy. How significant a risk do you think, Nick, is it individuals from interstate attending a funeral, pose to the community? How much of a threat to kids visiting their sick dad? How much do those put strain on the system?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Karl, the tragic thing in South East Queensland, of course, is that the outbreak was sparked by two people that were engaging in criminal activity and unfortunately has led to the situation where ordinary Australians are having challenges getting to see loved ones. But I might add that the Queensland Government is, and Dr Young in particular, is doing their utmost best to treat every case with compassion. Going to the substance of your question though, Karl, it is about risk tolerance and it's about - the discussion is whether in a pandemic we can have a position of zero risk and successfully maintain that without some fairly deep consequences of maintaining that position.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

[Interrupts] Well we can't, can we?

NICK COATSWORTH:

We discussed this on- Well, it's difficult, Karl. It's difficult. That's why I'm raising it. And I think that ultimately, we are still discussing this at the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. What is not acceptable, though, is the amount of trolling or even bullying that's been going on on social media towards our Chief Health Officer in Queensland, Dr Young. I'd like to provide our support from the AHPPC. Jeanette's one of Australia's most experienced Chief Health Officers. And the way we get to a positive outcome in all of this is working together constructively. And the border, the hotspots issue, these are live discussions at nearly every AHPPC meeting that we're having at the moment, as we try and get to the best solution for all Australians.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Yeah. And no-one deserves death threats or being trolled in the manner she is, that is for sure. I wanted to ask you too about the option of the vaccine. We know that the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says he's quietly optimistic that we could get that COVID-19 vaccine in the first half of next year. The AstraZeneca trial is back on. That must be quite heartening.

NICK COATSWORTH:

The AstraZeneca trial being back on should be heartening to all of us. It's interesting that on day one a week ago, on last Monday, I said quite clearly that it probably would be a couple of days. These are normal parts of these trials that we're now seeing played out in the media, quite rightly, because of the international interest. But this was by no means a confidence-breaker or a deal-breaker in the Astra vaccine - the Oxford vaccine I should say - and its trials are back on track. So we are quietly optimistic that the first half of next year could deliver the vaccine that we're all waiting for.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Nick, can I ask you a question? It just occurred to me over the weekend when we were looking at Jeannette Young and the pressure that she's faced from the community and from trolls and all of that. This must be pressure of the balance between the politics of this health crisis and the health of this health crisis must be an incredibly difficult thing for people like yourself to navigate.

NICK COATSWORTH:

It is, Karl and I've had my own fair share of trolling. I think that the majority of Australians do provide us with support. We get it every day. Just as many - I don't look at the trolls but I do look at the messages of thanks and I'm sure that Jeannette's getting them as well.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

[Talks over] Block, block, block.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Yeah. Block and mute. I found these two things on Twitter. It is hard but it is important. We're public health officials. We have to take the broader context into account, not just the daily number of COVID cases but the effects on non-COVID related health problems, the effects on the society and the economy. That's what public health officials do and so we have to keep doing that.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Always good to have you on the show, Nick. Really appreciate it, always. Thank you man.

DEBORAH KNIGHT:

Yeah. Good to get your insights.

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