Date published: 
27 May 2020
Media event date: 
26 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

KIERAN GILBERT:

Let's go live now to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly. Paul Kelly, thanks so much for your time. Can you give us an overall sense of where the numbers are today, a bit of an update? I noticed that active numbers are once again down despite a couple of high profile cases out today.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Ah yes, good afternoon Kieran. And we're still in a very good place. We have over the last week had— continued to decrease the number of cases and most of those have been involved with people coming from overseas. For example, a group arrived in Western Australia, I think yesterday, from overseas, a family group, and there was 4 positives there. That's the only cases they've had for a while, and then again, just emerging of some cases on a ship that's arrived, a sheep ship — difficult to say — in Fremantle.

So, most of the cases are those. But the occasional cases continuing to emerge in the community. So there's a couple of cases that have occurred in schools at some— whilst, you know, we hope that the cases would stop appearing, actually finding them is a really good thing for us, if we are actually testing enough and picking up those cases quickly. And that's the key to this phase now as we open up the economy and our society back to some sort of normal way of working and living, will be that we will find cases from time to time, and as long as they don't transmit to others then we're continuing to flatten that curve, or there's virtually no curve at all now.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah, indeed. And I guess we saw a similar situation with South Korea with a long tail of low cases. Is that basically your sense of where we are right now?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yeah, look, I think— you know, South Korea had a large number of cases very early on and then took them a while to get that under control and to keep it under control, and they've done a wonderful job. We're starting off a lower base and still about two thirds of our cases of this pandemic in Australia have been related to overseas travel. So, we really haven't had— other than a few high-profile moments in north western Tasmania a few weeks ago now, which is completely under control.

The Cedar Meats outbreak in in Melbourne, again, pretty much under control now. And a couple of aged care facilities in Sydney. Other than that, we really haven't had large clusters of cases as has happened in South Korea, and certainly nothing like the type of very widespread transmission around the community that has happened in many other countries. So, we've been in a good place for a while. Very few cases now. I think only 60 in the last week right across Australia, and most of those have been in Sydney and Melbourne.

KIERAN GILBERT:

You mentioned that vessel, that live export ship with the sheep on board and about 50 crew members, 6 of which have coronavirus and have been quarantined in Perth hotels. The Premier thinks that there'll be more. Have you been briefed on that particular situation and what's occurred there?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yes, I have. It was discussed at the Australian Health Protection Committee meeting today and I've had a subsequent phone conversation with Dr Andy Robertson, who's my counterpart chief health officer in Western Australia. And so they've had some experience in relation to ships at Fremantle and this one is certainly not anywhere near as complicated as the Artania situation from a few weeks back. So, they know the drill. They know what to do. This virus is very infectious, we know that, on ships, particularly where people are in close quarters, live together and working closely. So it's quite possible that there will be more cases, but it was— all of the processes that worked so far very well, there were 7 people that were reported as being, sick 6 of them were positive for COVID-19 and they've been taken off the ship to— not because they're particularly unwell but to protect the others. And they'll be continuing monitoring and the situation will evolve as it evolves. At the moment, the ship's sitting there. It's not loading its cargo of live sheep and so we'll know more about that in coming days.

KIERAN GILBERT:

The Premier seemed to suggest that the local authorities, the Fremantle Port Authority, wasn't briefed by Border Force and the Department of Agriculture about potential health issues on the ship before their officer went on board. This is the Fremantle [audio skip]. Was that— was there any breakdown between the federal and state agencies?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Look, not that I'm aware of. I don't know that particular detail of what happened, but it is beholden on the ship operators to give that information about people who are sick on-board, it's the maritime law and the biosecurity law covers that. And so, what happened in terms of reports to the actual port authority, I can't comment on that, I don't know about that at the moment.

KIERAN GILBERT:

We've got the first human trials in the southern hemisphere kicking off in Melbourne this week. How optimistic are you of a breakthrough because this is the potential game changer?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yeah, look, a vaccine would be a game changer not only here in Australia but internationally. And we're all looking very closely at developments there, which are going very rapidly, more rapidly than I would have predicted a few months ago — even a few weeks ago. So, there are now around 10 of the over 100 potential vaccines are in human clinical trials, and so that's a very rapid and very welcome development. So, this latest vaccine, the Novavax vaccine, is undergoing clinical trials — what we call Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials — both here in Australia starting in Melbourne this week and I believe two other places next week in Australia, but also in the US. It's a US company that's involved, and they're using one of the several very innovative ways of looking at vaccine development for this coronavirus. And so, it's certainly very welcome news. It's early days. I'd like— I see this as a steeplechase. So not quite a marathon but lots of hurdles, and so we're getting over one of the hurdles now which is great. But let's see what happens in this clinical trial.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah, indeed. And do you have a timeframe that you're hoping that we get that sort of breakthrough on? Is it sort of— you know, are we still hearing 12 to 18 months or can it be expedited given basically every researcher in the world is on this right now?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yeah, look, the best and brightest are certainly involved and a lot of money too. There's a lot of money being invested by governments, also by pharmaceutical companies and philanthropy as well. And so all of that leads to great possibilities. As I said, this particular vaccine that's being trialled here in Australia is one of several very innovative ways of looking at not only developing the vaccine but crucially scaling up its production [audio skip] would be the traditional ways of making vaccine. So, if they can be shown to be both safe and effective, then that may shorten that time. But, look, 12 to 18 months to develop a vaccine for the very first time against this type of virus is— that's— that would be really very fast in the nature of vaccine development. But you know, let's hope for the best and we'll keep watching this and the other trials that are happening around the world, including our home-grown vaccine candidate which is still undergoing animal trials before it goes into human studies. We hope soon.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly. Thank you very much and appreciate your hard work and the clear information that you and your colleagues — Dr Murphy and the others — are providing us basically on a daily basis. Thank you very much.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Thanks Kieran. You're welcome.

 

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