Date published: 
15 April 2020
Media event date: 
1 April 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Well joining me now is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth. Doctor, good morning to you, thanks for joining us. So first of all, just in light of that recent press conference out of New South Wales, there seems to be a trend that is happening at the moment, we do want to get too excited of course. But 150 new cases overnight, which is well down from what it was a couple of days ago. How do you read into that?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:  

Well Pete, I think, like every health professional advising government, we are treating those figures very cautiously. I think it's clear that we've landed a punch on COVID-19, but it's by no means on the canvas. And the reason that punch has been landed is because of the extremely strict travel related and quarantine measures, including Australians having to be in hotels and I realise how difficult that is for those Australians who are in hotels at the moment. This is a promising sign, but we need to be very cautious and it is no time to take our foot off the accelerator and doing our bit- each of us doing our bit keeping our distance.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

I mean, that was just in New South Wales, though. Speaking with a national focus, what's happening elsewhere at the moment? I know that Victoria yesterday all of a sudden jacked up.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:  

Yes, and I think the Victorian statistics just show you that within a day, things can appear to change. So it's really important that we take a trend outlook on this over the coming weeks, in particular we need to wait until the early to mid-next week to see the effects of the measures that we put in last week. But remembering that these measures are unprecedented and they're extremely strict. And we know that the majority of Australians understand these measures. And so that's what we need to actually see, to see if we're combating the virus effectively.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

What about when it comes to nurses, ICUs, ventilators? What are your thoughts on the numbers that we have in place at the moment, and is everything as prepared as it could be in the eventuality of a sudden influx?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:  

So Pete, I was an infectious diseases doctor leading the coronavirus planning three weeks ago in Canberra health services, and I can tell you that quietly and diligently, behind the scenes, ever since we saw the horrific images out of China and Italy, intensive care units in emergency departments around Australia have been preparing. So in usual business, we have 2200 intensive care beds in Australia and just over 60 of those are occupied at the moment with patients with COVID-19. So very small numbers at the moment. We can immediately expand to 4400 by repurposing other ventilators that are within the community, and we have a target. We have a target of 7500 which we will be working on in the coming weeks to months. So I'm comfortable at the moment with our capacity. We have the- amongst the lowest hospitalisation rate and the lowest intensive care rate in the world at the moment for COVID-19.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Okay. What about when it comes to nurses and in particular, staffing numbers? Is there a backup plan in place, whether it's to bring into play student nurses, or even bring some nurses out of retirement which some countries are doing at the moment? Is that in play here?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:  

Well there's a grading of plans, Pete, the first one is to make sure hospitals and our states and indeed, us in the Commonwealth, are well aware of every nurse that has had critical care training. So that's the workforce you go to first because there are a number or critically care trained nurses that aren't in intensive care units at the moment. Greg Hunt just announced yesterday the agreement with private hospitals. So that has freed up tens of thousands of nurses into the system for the response. And then yes, if there are increases in cases to the extent in Europe, then medical students and nursing students are on that list but they are a long way down on that list and we hope we don't have to call upon their service.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Doctor, there was a bit of an outbreak yesterday, particularly in Victoria, that involved kids who contracted coronavirus. Should parents be worried out there? Do they have any reason to be extra worried this morning?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:  

I don't think they have any reason to be extra worried this morning. I think we should all be worried and we are and that's why I think Australians are getting this concept of social distancing and flattening the curve. With particular regard to children, though, the disease does seem to affect them in a different way to adults. It seems that there are less of them affected. Certainly less of them that develop symptoms and certainly less of them that develop severe disease but those children will be very well cared for and I think Australian parents can be comfortable that there's no change in what our advice is regarding children based on that cluster.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

And is that the same for newborns as well?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:  

Well newborns are always, regardless of COVID-19, considered a very vulnerable population with regard to infectious disease. So we would continue to view newborns in exactly the same way and take every steps we can to protect them as we always do.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

But it doesn't seem to have passed into many new newborns, as far as I can tell anyway. What's your read on that?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

I haven't looked at the data in depth on that. I'm aware that there have been some cases, but not in Australia as far as I'm aware, but I can take that on board [inaudible].

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Just finally, there's a bit of criticism about at the moment that police are being too heavy handed in separating people out in public, particularly in New South Wales at the moment. Do you believe that the measures that are in place are as good as they can be?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well I think that the social distancing measures that are in place are important to be followed, but any recommendation that we make at this point in time has to go beyond a recommendation, Peter. We're in a pandemic. There needs to be enforcement. There absolutely has to be enforcement. And whilst some may interpret this to be heavy handed, I have complete trust every day in police, as I did before the epidemic, that they are doing what they do to protect our society, just as they would give you a speeding fine if you were going at 150 in an 80 zone, if you're not obeying the social distancing measures, it should be enforced.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

What's your message to people who continue to gather in parks and sunbake and go to beaches and gather together?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well my message is that I know how difficult this is; we are a social species. We want to socialise and being told not to do that is a very difficult thing. But the consequences are worse. The consequences are worse off of gathering, of spreading the coronavirus. You must assume that you have it and that you can give it to somebody else.

PETER STEFANOVIC:

Okay. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth, really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for joining us.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you.

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