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

KARL STEFANOVIC:

More now on those big changes coming to Victoria's contact tracing system, with a team of health officials heading to Sydney to see what can be learned.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, joins us now. Thanks for your time this morning. This is just a positive development. As it stands this morning though, do you know how many active contact traces Victoria has compared to New South Wales?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well Alli, I must admit I take my information from the Victorian Premier and Chief Health Officer as well, and it certainly is in the thousands - which is an immense increase in the resources that have been targeted towards bringing the epidemic under control in Victoria. And these moves to reform the system, to change where the contact tracers are actually placed - to put them out into the suburbs, to put them out into the regional areas - these are all lessons that the Victorian public health response has learnt. And it's great that they are applying them right now in preparation for lifting restrictions in the coming weeks and months.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

I mean, tough lessons. If you live in Victoria, you have every right to ask why it took so long.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Yes. I think that's right, Karl, but the reality is that what's happened has happened. There were some very difficult aspects of the Victorian outbreak. When it did get to the point, or when it got beyond the point of being able to be controlled by that public health response, that's when it spirals. So it's very important that those lessons of decentralising is what we call it - digitalising the contact processes; making sure that you have great leadership of those contact tracing teams, those thousands of contact tracers. These are all lessons that are being applied and we're confident that they'll have the desired effect, and I think Victorians can be as well.

ALISON LANGDON:

Nick, you say what's happened has happened, and that's very true. But it's still relevant because there is a class action planned. And just looking at the paper today in The Fin Review, the Federal Governments saying that the Victorian outbreak would never have occurred had proper protocols been in place from the beginning. Do you agree with that?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think there must have been a point, Alli, on the epidemic curve where had different interventions occurred the outcome might have been less. But at the end of the day this was an outbreak that had found its way deeply into the Victorian community…

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Yeah.

NICK COATSWORTH:

… and that is always going to be difficult for any public health unit to respond to. So I think lessons learned, apply those lessons, develop your system, but also acknowledge that at the- in the early phases of the outbreak the Victorian public health unit was faced with a very challenging situation.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

I get the whole premise too of trying to move forward here because hopefully we are nearing the end to this serious lockdown in Victoria. I mean we hope, even though there have been serious inconsistencies and failures, that they now have the right procedures and protocols set up. Do you think there needs to be more uniformity? And maybe a national approach to testing and also contact tracing? Maybe it's national teams and certainly a national database, Nick?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well in actual fact, Karl, the approach, the method of contact tracing - to find that person with symptoms, to isolate and then quarantine their contacts - that is a national approach discussed by Communicable Disease Network of Australia. The testing is a national approach discussed by the Public Health Laboratories Network. It's the application of that approach…

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay.

NICK COATSWORTH:

… at a state level that is where the variability occurs. And that's why Victoria is moving towards some of the techniques that New South Wales has so successfully applied to keep their outbreaks under control.

ALISON LANGDON:

And Nick, I just want to ask you about reports just breaking of a major COVID vaccine set back - that's in the AstraZeneca trial, the Oxford University trial in the UK. It's been put on hold due to a, quote: serious adverse event - the details still aren't clear. Obviously though, a huge concern because this was the one, I guess, looking most promising.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well Alli, I can understand how we would interpret it in that way. It's certainly does not mean that the Oxford vaccine is in any way dead just because of one adverse reaction, but it is a serious adverse reaction and it needs to be investigated. And what's encouraging here is that despite the accelerated vaccine development, the processes are exactly the same - the safe- focus on safety is exactly the same. And I'm actually taking a lot of reassurance out of these early breaking stories this morning, but in particular I'm going to wait to see exactly what the adverse reaction was and whether they do in fact attribute it to the vaccine.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Yeah, it's going to be a long haul, isn't it? Nick, thank you so much for your time today. Always appreciate it.

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