Date published: 
29 June 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Well joining me live now is Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth. Dr Nick, thanks as always for your time. Appreciate it. Now, onto Victoria, onto Melbourne, is it in control? This outbreak?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well Pete, what we can say, of course, is that the measures that the Victorian Government and the public health officials down there that have put in have been really unprecedented. I mean going door to door at local government areas, communicating there with the households and the communities that are most at risk to get this under control, they turned around that program very, very quickly; it's ongoing. This is also the state that conducted 160,000 tests in two weeks.

So, I don't doubt their capacity to bring this under control. We do need to wait and see what the numbers over the next couple of days show us because the combination of testing, of contacting tracing and putting people into quarantine and isolation that the results of that will be apparent in the next week.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

But currently it is out of control, is that what you're saying?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Not at all, not at all. I mean I think out of control would imply large numbers of people sitting in hospital around Australia. There's only 11 and one in an intensive care unit. I think that the numbers have been slowly and modestly increasing as you might expect. But a lot of those cases, in fact, the vast majority are linked to known outbreaks in Victoria. So the cases of community transmission where there are no links at all, which would be of concern, remain in the in the very small minority of those cases.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Is it a second wave?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well the term second wave is not actually a public health term. It's come in sort of common parlance over the past couple of months. I think second wave is something that happens across an entire country, something that happens across the entire world. Of course, the world is in its first wave, not its second wave.

If you look at the epidemiological curve at the moment, it's better described as a second peak in Victoria's cases that's created by several geographic outbreaks. That's being a little bit technical but that's what it is.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Okay. This saliva test, Doctor, how accurate is it?

NICK COATSWORTH:

The important thing about the saliva test is the process that the saliva goes through in the laboratory is exactly the same as the nasal and the throat swab. There is as marginal, perhaps a slightly less accuracy, compared to the throat and nose swab. But ultimately, if you had a choice between not doing the test at all because someone had said no to the throat swab and doing a saliva test, then the saliva test is a preferable option.

To make sure that accuracy is maintained, the Doherty Institute and the Victorian public health labs, they've already conducted a good validation studies on the saliva tests and they're continuing to do that as the saliva tests roll out.

This is a world first down in Victoria and it's going to help a lot of people like children who sometimes can't have the tests, to get the PCR coronavirus tests.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

I mean I haven't had a test yet. I haven't needed to. But what are the grounds for refusal? Is it- does it hurt? I mean what's- and are you surprised at the amount of people who are refusing it?

NICK COATSWORTH:

No, no. I'm - not surprised at that Peter. It's- look, I've had it twice. It's not particularly pleasant whilst the test is going on but it only lasts for about 10 seconds or so and it's uncomfortable rather than painful. The saliva tests obviously offers another option now for those people who might be concerned.

It's still our preference and the number- the gold standard test remains the nasal swab and the throat swab.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

I just want to get- just before you go, Doctor, the app. A lot of people talking about the app now. A lot more critics are coming forward saying it is simply not working. Is it working?

NICK COATSWORTH:

It's absolutely working. The COVIDSafe app is working. It has worked to identify a contact that wasn't otherwise identified by contact tracers down in Victoria. Subsequent investigation revealed that that wasn't a significant contact but it does demonstrate that the app itself is working. It's in the workflow of the Victorian Public Health Units. They're using it now.

So the app is 100 per cent working and it will work even better the more people that download it. Six point five- I think we're pushing 6.5 million which is over the target of 40 per cent of the mobile phone using population. The more people that download it, the better. It's- it's an excellent adjunct and augments the capacity of our disease detectives. We still encourage people who haven't downloaded it to get it on their phone.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

I mean I guess the criticism comes from numbers that are very low that are attached to the phone. So I mean does it work when your phone is locked? Can it talk? Can the system talk to Apple phones and other companies as well, other manufacturers?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Yes. It can. We were aware that there've been issues early on with the iPhone to iPhone and the Android to iPhone communications. They're constantly being worked on; they're constantly being improved. The important thing is that the app is generating data. So if your phone's got the app running and it interacts with someone else's phone with the app running, it is generating contact data, it's doing it as we speak. So it's functioning as intended and of course, The Digital Transformation Authority will continue to make improvements on the platform but it was working from day one when it was released on 26 April.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Dr Nick Coatsworth, always good to get you with us. Thanks for joining us. We'll talk to you soon.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks, Peter.

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