Date published: 
4 May 2020
Media event date: 
3 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

KIERAN GILBERT:

Welcome back to the program. Joining me now is Dr Nick Coatsworth, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. Dr Coatsworth thanks so much for your time. Can you give our viewers a broad sense of where we are this Sunday morning? Things are still looking good, aren't they?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Yes absolutely, Kieran, they are. We are looking good, 6,787 cases in total nationally, and only 14 additional cases in the past 24 hours, 14 — that's 14 — which remains extraordinarily low. Sadly, 94 Australians have lost their lives to COVID-19 and we have many, many Australians who have recovered from COVID-19. Finally the burden on our intensive care units is low with 28 people in intensive care at the moment and 20 of those being assisted with their breathing by ventilators.

KIERAN GILBERT:

We have under a thousand active cases now in in this country. The other day you spoke about geographic eradication of this thing. How likely is that, say, in some states? And is there a chance we can get rid of it altogether?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well Kieran, I think I've previously commented that the concept of elimination — whilst it would be magnificent to achieve — would be challenging to sustain, which is why we've taken a position of, of suppression. And at some point we would like to see, for example, our state borders opened and that really means that we should be adopting a national position of suppression.

And in fact all of our strategies at the moment at the national level are targeted towards being able to suppress the virus. So, when you see large increases in testing, when you see the contact tracing app, when you see an increase public health resources, all those things are designed so that if there are small flares of coronaviruses — spot fires if you will — that they can be suppressed very, very quickly.

And that offers the best balance between getting society back on its feet, confidence back into our society and living, living with coronavirus until a vaccine arrives.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But at the same time you've bolstered the number of ventilators, of ICU beds. That capacity's increased? And I guess, as the Prime Minister has said, the government and advisers like yourself have given them the capacity to not just trace but then to isolate any of those spot fires that you talk about?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

That's exactly right. We will be able to, with the assistance of our disease detectives who have been working overtime for the past 3 months, helped by the COVIDSafe app and be able to find people with COVID-19, be able to find their contacts and then make sure people are quarantined and isolated until it's safe for them to return into the community.

And more importantly — I'll touch on your point of ventilators and intensive care capacity — the reason why the death rate in Australia has been so low is because people have had access to care of a very high quality when they've needed it. So they're the preconditions that the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Murphy, has spoken about, the Prime Minister has spoken about, they're the preconditions that we will see on Friday will allow us to lift some of those restrictions that we've been living with.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Is it fair to say that we are likely going to face a similar long, as they call it a tail of low daily infection rates like we've seen in South Korea for example? And in that do you think that we basically just have to change the way we engage with each other for the foreseeable future? I mean everyone's taking their hygiene, social distancing to a very serious level. Is that basically the reality for the foreseeable future?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

It is the reality for the foreseeable future and what we really want to see is to be able to have the mobility of society increase. So that would include getting our kids back to face-to-face learning for example, and the increase in mobility that that entails from having parents drop children off at school, have our Australians back in retail stores. All those sort of things increase mobility.

But at the same time that behaviour has to stay very, very rigid and cautious. So, unfortunately, no, no hugging; no shaking hands; excellent hand hygiene; going into every store and seeing some hand sanitiser there that we can use. If we can do that then we can increase mobility and get society back on its feet whilst maintaining coronavirus at a very low level.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And I've got to say as a parent of school age kids I read your piece with great interest in the Herald Sun overnight, and there's no wavering at all from you and other experts. You've written as an infectious diseases specialist. You've read all the available evidence and it does not support avoiding classroom learning — it's very clear.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

It is. It is very clear. That's not to say that it's the end of obtaining the evidence. We have to, as we learn more about the coronavirus disease, get as much evidence as we possibly can. But let's examine what we've got so far. We know that COVID-19 affects far less children than they represent as a proportion of society. We know from the very detailed study in New South Wales that out of 18 children, and 863 close contacts, that there were only, there was only 1 high school student and 1 primary student that was infected.

That if that is really good data to corroborate what we already know, and we know now that COVID-19 is not behaving the same way as influenza. And whereas influenza schools are, children I should say, are often the primary transmitters in our society. It's clear now that for COVID-19 that is not the case.

KIERAN GILBERT:

In only a minute left, but if we can leave on an optimistic note — are there breakthroughs happening on the vaccine front? Do you feel good about that?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

I feel good every time I see a new story about vaccines getting closer and closer. I am obviously cautious — vaccines need to be effective, but most importantly they need to be safe. But the amount of work that's going on, I think Kieran, is a cause for optimism in conjunction with how well Australia's done, done so far.

KIERAN GILBERT:

It sure is, and we appreciate your insights and advice to government that you've provided along with Brendan Murphy and Paul Kelly — a fantastic job. Dr Coatsworth, as always, thank you for your time.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you, Kieran.

Contact

Departmental media enquiries

Contact for members of the media

news [at] health.gov.au (subject: Media%20enquiry%20-%20News%20item%20ID11427, body: URL - https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.gov.au%2Fnews%2Fdeputy-chief-medical-officer-interview-on-sky-news-sunday-agenda-on-3-may-2020)

View contact