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

TOM CONNELL:

Earlier I spoke with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Obviously, we're very concerned about what's happening in Victoria. The Commonwealth has already allocated 200 Defence Force personnel to assist with the testing blitz, which is occurring in the local government area hotspots in Melbourne. Overnight, the Commonwealth has agreed to a request from Victoria and we'll be providing additional 800 people to assist in both the testing, but very importantly, as you say, in the expanded contact tracing. It's very important that we're not only doing extensive testing but we're following up the contacts of every person who is diagnosed as being positive with COVID-19. And obviously, the Commonwealth and the other states and territories are doing all they can to support Victoria at this time.

TOM CONNELL:

So what's the limit in terms of a federal response because Victoria said it was reaching its limit at 2500 people in quarantine and the team having to trace their contacts. At what point would we hit a level where Victoria could no longer have, across the board, contact tracing?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well I hope that we don't actually get to that point and obviously, the response that we're seeing in Victoria is exactly what was planned in the case of an outbreak like this happening in Australia. And we've seen similar outbreaks occur; we saw the outbreak in Burnie with the hospital cases in North West Tasmania. Just like there, there's extensive testing of the population there's the very rigorous contact tracing and then following up with those people and making sure that people are in isolation and quarantine. But also, very importantly, Tom, everybody in Melbourne at this time who has even the slightest symptoms of a cold or flu, any respiratory tract infections must not go to work, not go to school, must arrange to get tested and then go home while they wait for their results. If we all do this, then we won't reach a situation where we have to worry about reaching the extent of our capacity.

TOM CONNELL:

In terms of that capacity though, I mean is there any indication how far away we are from reaching the extent and at that point, what fork in the road are we at? I mean are we saying at that point Victoria's suppression strategy would no longer be successful?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well at the moment, that is the strategy. The strategy is suppression. And I don't think we're anywhere near that point at this time. And clearly, through the AHPPC, we are monitoring and meeting daily with our colleagues in Victoria discussing what's happening, what the responses are. Clearly, the Premier is making decisions about the response which we're seeing in Victoria, the Commonwealth. And as I say, all the [audio skip] continue to be available to provide additional support. So I don't think it's a matter of running out of capacity or running out of people who can assist with the response that we're seeing at this time.

TOM CONNELL:

You mentioned the situation in Burnie, a very early action there was for a localised lockdown. Why would Victoria not have gone down that path as yet?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So it's a very different situation. Burnie, obviously, is a regional centre and to lockdown an entire town as – as happened with Burnie is very different to attempting to lock down individual suburbs in a very large metropolis of nearly six million people, like Melbourne. So it is a – it is a different situation. And – and it is – it would be much more difficult just to lock down individual areas. However, the Victorian Government continues to look at a range of options for tackling the outbreak. And so we have to wait and see what – what responses are made.

TOM CONNELL:

But when you say the difficulty, I mean presumably there could be a lot of help available, including ADF personnel from right around the country. If Victoria wanted tomorrow to lockdown these 10 hotspots, the suburbs that have been identified, it could with that assistance presumably?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well that could happen but again, it would be quite a challenge. I mean if you think of a large regional town, the number of roads going in and out which you could block and stop people moving in and out, much more difficult in a very large metropolis.

TOM CONNELL:

Okay. And in terms of that option, how long is it on the table? How long would a localised lockdown in these 10 suburbs be an effective strategy? Is there a time limit on that once it, sort of, spreads beyond what is a pretty localised situation at the moment?

MICHAEL KIDD:

No. That's – that's an issue which would be obviously a decision for in Victoria and would be based on following what was happening with the local epidemiology if that eventuality occurred.

TOM CONNELL:

What's your sense, just broadly, on the outbreaks in Melbourne at the moment? Do you still feel like the situation is under control?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, I do. I think the response that we've seen in Victoria has been very vigorous and appropriate. And it is really heartening to see the numbers of tests which are being carried out, through the testing blitz. It's also really very heartening to see the response from the people of Melbourne and across Victoria. Everybody has to take personal responsibility, as we tackle this outbreak. Everybody has to make sure that they're doing their part in maintaining physical distancing, the hand hygiene and the cough etiquette. But most importantly, everyone, with even the slightest symptoms, must be staying at home and must be arranging to get tested so that we don't get further transmission occurring. If we all work together, we can work together to stop the spread and to stop this outbreak, that's currently underway in Melbourne.

TOM CONNELL:

We know that the restrictions have eased in Victoria, since the height of them. At what point would they need to be placed back on the community? Is there a point, either at active cases or perhaps, daily community transmission, where that would be advisable?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So, this is obviously a decision, again, for the Premier in Victoria and for his advisers. What we always said, with the easing of restrictions after the initial national lockdown, was that this was happening in a stepwise process. And that each of the states and territories would move through the various steps, at the pace which was appropriate, given the epidemiology in their own jurisdiction and that's what we've seen in Victoria, as we've seen in all the other states and territories. So, whether any of the current eased restrictions need to be moved back in, is a decision for the Premier.

TOM CONNELL:

A decision, but there must also be a view and also close eye kept on this at a federal level, to decide when you would be saying, at least giving advice – whatever form it might take – to say at what point restrictions might be needed again to be ramped up?

MICHAEL KIDD:

As I say, it is a decision for the Premier. The support is available from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth will provide what support is requested from Victoria, to make sure that we get on top of this outbreak.

TOM CONNELL:

The Federal Government has said all along, the advice has never been to close state borders. That could change, presumably, at some point, depending on how big this spread is in Victoria?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So, the decision around borders, again, is a decision for the Premiers and each of the states and a decision which they will make and they will do that based on the advice that they're each receiving.

TOM CONNELL:

But the Federal Government has kept saying there's no health advice to shut borders? If we get a situation where all the other states are basically going towards nil and Victoria's outbreak gets worse, that at some point could be could be the health advice, could it not? That it would be a good idea to shut borders?

MICHAEL KIDD:

As I say, the decision around borders is a decision for each of the state Premiers.

TOM CONNELL:

So, is there any talk within AHPPCC of official advice around borders, in a federal sense, that's taken to National Cabinet from the federal health advisers?

MICHAEL KIDD:

The AHPPC has not made advice around borders. It's a decision for the state Premiers.

TOM CONNELL:

Okay. What lessons, just finally, can be learnt from what's happened in Melbourne?

MICHAEL KIDD:

I think we need to be learning from each of these outbreaks, which occurs in Australia and indeed, continue to learn from what's happening with the pandemic, right around the world. We need to be implementing policy, which is based on the best evidence that that we can find. You have to remember that as a global community, we've only been living with COVID-19 now, for just six months. So, we're still learning a lot about this virus. We are learning a lot about what are the appropriate responses, which should be made. We are learning a lot about what works and what doesn't. What we do know though, is that the approach of testing, of contact tracing, of isolation and quarantine, and as I've said, the personal responsibility that we all take if we had symptoms is absolutely essential and will form the core of any effective response.

TOM CONNELL:

Hindsight is easy, but, you know, again, it's – it pays to be specific here? If you could change one thing over the past three or four weeks around this Melbourne outbreak and the response from authorities, what would it be?

MICHAEL KIDD:

That's a very good question and again, through the AHPPC, we will be monitoring, but also, reviewing what's been happening with the outbreak in Victoria, as we've done with other outbreaks that have occurred across the country, to provide continuing advice about how to prevent further outbreaks from occurring or if they do occur, what responses need to take and the pace of those various responses. So, we'll be providing advice on that over time.

TOM CONNELL:

Professor Michael Kidd, thanks for your time today.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thanks so much, Tom.

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