Date published: 
3 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

The Prime Minister has described the coronavirus crisis in Victoria as heartbreaking, saying Victorians must have reached breaking point today. The state has recorded another 13 deaths and 429 cases, and many workplaces across the state will be shut by the end of the week. Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says the Stage 4 restrictions must work.

[Excerpt]

BRETT SUTTON:

We're not thinking about a Stage 5. We are thinking about a successful Stage 4. We know it can work. It does require everyone's cooperation. The alternative is inconceivable. We need everyone to do what's required now in order to get to where we want to be.

 [End of excerpt]

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

In response health authorities and governments across the country are stepping up their restrictions in light of what's occurring in Victoria. South Australia has announced tougher crowd controls at pubs, restaurants and home gatherings from tomorrow after two new cases of the virus. Tasmania state borders were set to reopen to selected states this week but will now stay closed until at least 31 August. And in New South Wales, the Premier is urging people to be vigilant after 13 new cases were recorded in the last 24 hours. That figure includes one person from a family of four, including a baby, who were infected after visiting Melbourne.

Dr Nick Coatsworth is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer and joins us this afternoon. Dr Coatsworth, thanks for your time. Firstly, to the Stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne. How long would you estimate it should take to bring these numbers down and to see things get better under Stage 4?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, the key is that if we can bring that basic reproductive number down to well below one, we should see things improve in a matter of weeks. I mean. it's really hard to give a specific time estimate. It depends on how people react to the Stage 4 restrictions. We heard Brett Sutton calling for people to get completely onboard, as hard as that is. And that will bring the numbers under control as quick as possible. I think what we really need for Victorians now is to- is within the next week or two, see the numbers start to come down and give them some hope that this strategy will work, which we're confident it will. I mean, this is about stopping people mixing. We know Stage 3's worked to some extent because we haven't had 1000, 5000, 10,000 cases. So, the initial restrictions did work. They haven't worked enough but we can expect the Stage 4 restrictions to have an effect.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

How does this strategy work to bring the numbers down? Does not require community support which we clearly have not seen under level three restrictions?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think the community is finding it really tough down there. We've all got to acknowledge that. There have been some very notable examples of people not following the rules, but also examples of people not being able to follow the rules whether that's because they're under financial hardship, whether that's because they have to go to work because employers aren't providing sick leave. And so, it's not simply about bringing in harder restrictions. It's about bringing in some measures around that that are going to support people whilst they're in isolation to enable them to keep paying the bills. And I understand the Prime Minister's done just that this afternoon in his press conference.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

And a big announcement made on paid pandemic leave this afternoon - not quite what the unions and others had been calling for, it's only available in emergency situations so only Victorians can apply for it if a health officer has told them and they've exhausted all their other payments. How much of a game changer could it be?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, we hope that it makes a significant difference. I mean, it's going to be part of a lot of measures. So, like, we've seen through the first wave and in Victoria now, there's no magic bullet to this. It's part of a suite of measures that is designed to address a lot of different reasons why the Stage 3 restrictions didn't give a desired outcome. So, this is one of them, and we hope that it does help people stay at home where they otherwise would have left to go to work when they had COVID.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Victoria's Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said in the Victorian update that Stage 3 restrictions did work but they plateaued. Why did they plateau?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, I think the reason for that is twofold. What the data is telling us is that there were a high number of infections where we didn't have any community- any links within the community, so they couldn't actually find the transmission chains, and suggesting that it was really, really well embedded within the community in Victoria. And then a number of workplaces as well that- if tougher restrictions are imposed and they are being imposed, both those things will come under better control. The unknown transmission chains will shut down because people can't intermix anymore. And the workplaces where things were being transmitted won't be functioning. And so, less chance for workplace transmission. So, that's the extra step that the Stage 4 restrictions are likely to have and the extra impact that will lead to the curve coming down the other side.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

So, how about a Stage 5? The Premier was asked, the Chief Medical Officer in Victoria was asked. They say they don't want to countenance that but- you know, would obviously- this has to work. But clearly, there are other options if this doesn't. What could they possibly be?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think if we take it as read, and we've seen the data for this ourselves at the AHPPC, that the Stage 3 restrictions lead to a basic reproductive number of one. So, on average at the moment one person is giving the virus to one other person in the Greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shires. The reason that neither of them want to countenance that I guess is firstly because it would been an even greater imposition on the Victorian public. But secondly, if your reproductive numbers is at one and we put the Stage 4 restrictions in, we will drive it below one, which means we will start to see the numbers come down. So, I think based on the data we're seeing at the moment - and the Premier mentioned that everything is data driven, which is absolutely correct, and we've got every reason to be confident that these restrictions will start to bring some light to the end of that tunnel.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

In New South Wales the number of cases has remained fairly steady the last few days. But we know cases got out of control in Melbourne very quickly. Should masks be mandated for people in Sydney?

NICK COATSWORTH:

We saw the PM today pop a mask on; Premier Berejiklian talked about strongly encouraging it in most situations where you're in the public with strangers. But the difficulty with mandatory mask wearing as a public policy decision has been demonstrated in Victoria by the people who aren't wearing them and needing to enforce that. So, I think it is the case that you need to get to a certain level before you actually mandate them. What we're asking people in Sydney, New South Wales to do at the moment is get down to the chemist, buy some masks, get your cloth mask ready, start to wear it, start to get used to it, and get that cultural shift happening straight away. Even with the numbers at 13, we think it's going to be an important move to help stop other spread. But again, part of a whole suite of measures including getting tested, keeping distance, having the COVIDSafe app. All those things provide an incremental benefit which will help keep those numbers less than 20 and hopefully get everything under control in New South Wales.

PATRICIA KARVELAS: Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says a gradual decrease in cases isn't the way forward, that the health system wouldn't cope. Are you concerned about what flow on impact there might be to our national health system as this continues?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, I think the national health system and Victoria's health system has proved to be incredibly robust throughout this. We've had a number of requests made of the other jurisdictions, including help with contact tracing, including sending Australian Medical Assistance Teams. But what we don't want- what none of us want to see in the medium term is this constant number in the 500, 600, 700s, and even a gradual decrease of that, you still see people having to be hospitalised. You still see frontline healthcare workers being exposed to the virus. That's why we want to see the numbers come down quickly so we can relieve some of that pressure.  It's not to say that the pressure is not being absorbed at the moment - it clearly is. But I think over the coming weeks if things were to stay at 500, 600 or 700 cases a day, that's not a desirable position for any healthcare system to be in and that's what the Premier was reflecting.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Thank you so much for joining us.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth there.

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