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

LAURA JAYES:

Let's go live to Canberra now. The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, joins us live now. More evidence today, at least from a New South Wales doctor, that we are starting to flatten the curve. And many people are asking, what happens next?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, good morning, Laura, and I can completely understand that. Australians have done precisely what we've asked of them and we thank them for that and the consequence has been to see that curve flattening.

The thing is that for anyone to be talking at the moment of exit strategies in the expectation that they're days or weeks away is not hearing our message. These are weeks to months away. But what we are considering is what those strategies might look like. And so, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, academics, universities around Australia considering in detail what it looks like in weeks to months from now in managing COVID-19.

LAURA JAYES:

And what does it look like, Doctor? Does it look like some suburbs, jurisdictions, states moving ahead as perhaps a test case?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Laura, we're a continent and a federation so we certainly have the option to do that. There are no options either on or off the table at the moment, we're looking at every possible scenario. And those scenarios will be informed when we put our data — which is now considerable, we had 2,052 cases. And so we can now plug that data into the modelling to show us exactly, to give us an idea — not show us exactly obviously — but to give us an idea of how the epidemic’s going to behave in the coming months and what those interventions, whatever they might be, may have as an effect on coronavirus.

LAURA JAYES:

I know you keep on being asked for a magic number as to when business restrictions can be relaxed, so I'm not going to do that this morning. But do you have a range, a threshold, any indication of the numbers we're getting every day, when that relaxation might come? So, what exactly should we be looking at?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

So, what we need to be looking at is very clear. It's the behaviour of the virus within the Australian community, not the travel related cases.

So particularly in Sydney, Melbourne and south-east Brisbane, we need to see the rate of rise amongst these so-called community cases — the cases where they've acquired coronavirus and it's been given to them by a person who didn't even know they had it.

So, we need to look over the coming weeks at the rate of rise amongst those cases, that's the major indicator.

LAURA JAYES:

Do we need to build up a number of infected people in Australia in order to reach some kind of natural immunity? It is a theory that has been, I guess, gaining a bit more prominence over recent days.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

The problem with the herd immunity strategy, Laura, is that to get to herd immunity you need 60 per cent of the population infected — that's 15 million Australians. And if that would be the case, with the death rate that we're seeing at the moment, that would be an unacceptable scenario for any of us.

We... it's not a reasonable scenario to allow this virus to move through the community so we have to control and constrain it, we have to maintain the restrictions, and we have to work out at the right point to relax those so society can live with coronavirus, until such time if and when a vaccination becomes available.

LAURA JAYES:

And are vaccinations still 12 to 18 months away?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

I think that is a very reasonable timeframe to put on it, Laura, and I don't think we should be expecting it any sooner than that. If it does come sooner than that, obviously it will be a fantastic thing for Australia and the world.

LAURA JAYES:

Yes. And we hope it comes from the CSIRO. Deputy CMO, Nick Coatsworth, thanks for your time.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks, Laura.

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