Date published: 
6 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LAURA JAYES:

Let's go live now to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Nick Coatsworth. Nick Coatsworth, thanks for your time. We've seen two deadly clusters, in New South Wales in particular – one being the Ruby Princess, the other at Newmarch House. Is there any evidence to suggest that a concentration of cases in one area makes this disease any more deadly?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well Laura, the fact is that in non-immune population the coronavirus disease does spread incredibly quickly. The fact that it's more deadly tends to relate to age and other comorbid conditions that a patient, or a resident of aged care have. Which is so important, which is why it's so important to have really excellent infection control practices, but more importantly have our residential aged care workers and have our visitors to aged care facilities, if they're at all unwell, must not enter into those facilities themselves. Because we have seen, at Newmarch, how devastating that can be for residents and their families.

LAURA JAYES:

Age and underlying health conditions aside, we have seen healthy people report a difference between, you know, some pretty horrendous symptoms and some reporting no symptoms at all. Do we know why?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well there's such a broad range of potential symptoms that you can get with COVID-19 and, as you say from near no symptoms at all through to having to be in intensive care units. So we don't specifically know why that is beyond saying that many viruses can cause a range of symptoms and you can get, of course, very, very severe influenza as well. Well, the characteristic of COVID-19 of course is that very marked age gradient of severity – ranging from mild disease and low cases of severe disease in very young people through to very severe cases in the elderly – that's the characteristic that is absolutely clear at the moment.

LAURA JAYES:

Do we have a better handle on how this has been transmitted through our community? Is it that this is airborne? Is it and that it's hand-to-hand contact? Or is the disease surviving on surfaces? Or is it a combination of all three?

NICK COATSWORTH:

COVID-19 is definitely not an airborne pathogen. When you have airborne pathogens, like measles for example, the basic reproductive number that we've all come to know so well is much higher than what it is for COVID-19 – so, so definitely not an airborne. It's got- this is a droplet pathogen which means it settles on surfaces. Once it is coughed up or expectorated it tends to- it drops to the ground very quickly. And that's why hand hygiene and physical distance are our most important measures, and will be our most important measures particularly when we start opening businesses that they that they enable processes that allow us to keep our distance from each other until we have a vaccine or effective treatment.

LAURA JAYES:

Okay. So I just want to rule that out. That it's not airborne, so there is no concerns about it going through air conditioning in planes for example.

NICK COATSWORTH:

That's, that's correct, Laura. And I'll give you a good example – we use the measles example again. If you- you can get measles if you're standing next to someone from a very short period of time, but you can't get COVID with- in that sort of scenario. COVID, we know by the contact definition, requires contact of greater than 15 minutes just to give you a high likelihood of transmission. So no concerns there from the general public for airborne transmission of COVID.

LAURA JAYES:

How concerned are you about the links to Kawasaki disease in children?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Look Kawasaki disease is a very rare condition in children that can be provoked by a variety of viruses and it seems increasingly clear that COVID-19 has been associated with episodes of Kawasaki's disease in the United Kingdom. Because it's so rare though the likelihood of it actually happening in Australia with such a low number of conditions would be even more unlikely, at such a low number of COVID-19 cases. Whereas when you get tens of thousands, you're going to start seeing the rare things appear as we have done in the UK.

LAURA JAYES:

Okay. Just finally, are there any known unknowns that you're still concerned about when it comes to COVID-19?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well I think the big known unknown, if we can put it that way, is when we're going to get a vaccine. We're seeing positive reports on- almost on a daily basis but the steps to delivery of a safe and effective vaccine is what's going to take the time. So the message to Australians is still that we are not immune, we don't have a vaccine. And so, as our mobility increases in society –and it will do in the coming weeks – maintain that physical distances, keep that great behaviour, keep hand hygiene up and we'll be able to live with this virus.

LAURA JAYES:

Even when we do get a vaccine, Doctor, how long will it take to administer and ensure that we do have that herd immunity rate?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Yeah. Well that's, that's a critical question. It will take some time to roll out a vaccine from when it's determined to be safe and effective. The other thing is what will the effectiveness of a vaccine or efficacy of the vaccine actually be? Will it be completely protective? Or will it be more along the lines of the annual flu vaccine? Which is 30 to 60% effective in a given season. So we don't know the answer to that yet, Laura, and that's again one of those unknowns that we really need to wait and see what the answer will be.

LAURA JAYES:

Dr Nick Coatsworth, thanks for busting a few myths this morning and keeping us up to date. I appreciate it.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks Laura.

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