Date published: 
21 July 2020
Media event date: 
20 July 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

CARRIE BICKMORE:

Well, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth joins us now. Nick, should Sydney restaurants, pubs and bars be shut down? That seems to be the main transmission place.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Carrie, it certainly is the case that pubs, bars, restaurants have a risk, but they can also be COVID-safe, and that's up to the proprietor of those institutions, but also for the patrons as well. You can clearly see if something is unsafe, if people aren't socially distancing. So basic principle: If it's heaving, you should be leaving, I think would keep people in good stead at the moment, rather than shutting down all those institutions based on the current epidemiology in New South Wales.

STEVE PRICE:

Nick, is it fair to say New South Wales has this more under control because of their contact tracing and the fact they know where these outbreaks have occurred?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think the important thing to remember about contact tracing is that it has to be every case, every day. And the low number of cases in New South Wales at the moment is fortunately facilitating that. So, they're in a lucky position of being able to get on top of the cases early, quickly. Unfortunately, the numbers in Victoria at the moment don't necessarily support that.

WALEED ALY:

The numbers in New South Wales, though, look very similar to what the numbers did look like in Victoria for a while. Remember, that period where they had constant days in the teens, and then it got to 20. Are you saying despite that similarity, it is a different situation?

NICK COATSWORTH:

We clearly learn every time there is an outbreak. And obviously, Waleed, there's going to be similarities with the curve early on with low numbers of cases, I think. The difference here perhaps is that obviously there was a point source at the Crossroads Hotel that could be jumped upon very quickly. The situation in Victoria was different in that it had spread out already into many different small outbreaks which then led to the situation you have now. So, I do think there are some important differences there that maybe enablers for New South Wales Public Health Unit to get on top of this as quickly as possible.

PETER HELLIAR:

So, I think it's Wednesday that marks the two-week lockdown period in Melbourne. What do you want to see in those numbers, and what should Victoria hope for?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think when we see that there is not large increases, large consistent increases, that's the most important thing. And it can also- that's also reflected in the hospitalisation numbers, which have broadly been between about 120, 150 people. So total number of cases, not increasing. The hospitalisation numbers, not markedly increasing. So that, on some level, is good news. But I think of course, what we want to see is those three digit numbers start to come down under 200 consistently in the coming week or two.

WALEED ALY:

And is Thursday the day for that?

NICK COATSWORTH:

It's too early, Waleed. We can't- I don't think we can expect or indeed predict a day. I wish I could. Potentially- I've said before that community transmission, I think, means a longer curve potentially here, slightly longer than it was in the first wave, to get things under control, because of the widespread nature of the outbreaks in Victoria at the moment.

WALEED ALY:

Nick, while we've got you actually we want to have a look into the issue of masks in a bit more depth. Do you mind just hanging around?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Of course.

WALEED ALY: Great, appreciate it. Because in parts of Victoria and New South Wales of course, they are now being advised or told to start wearing masks. And there is a lot of conflicting information out there, so we took a quick look at the issue.

CARRIE BICKMORE:

The most important mask rule is: it needs to cover your nose and mouth. In superhero terms: you want to be more Deadpool, less Batman.

VYOM SHARMA:

What's important is that the material is sturdy and doesn't have holes in it, and it fits snugly around your head and face so it's not going to fall off.

CARRIE BICKMORE:

If you're keen to make your own, the web is filled with guides and videos. The ideal mask has three layers: an outer water-resistant fabric-like clothing or even a reusable shopping bag. Then a middle layer of either cotton or polyester, and a water-resistant inner layer, ideally cotton. Then ear loops from elastic or shoe laces. If your sewing isn't up to scratch, you can buy them online. Or you could just shove a sock on it, like this Dutch legend.

DANIEL ANDREWS:

It can be a handkerchief, a scarf, a bandana. There's all manner of innovative methods.

VYOM SHARMA:

We should be aiding towards reusable, single, or ideally even three-layer cloth masks. That one is the gold standard we're going for. For now, anything is better than nothing.

WALEED ALY:

Nick, thanks very much for hanging around. Let's talk masks, shall we? Is a bandana or a handkerchief really going to cut it?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well look, Waleed, I'm a respiratory and an infectious disease physician, and I have to say that bandana or any sort of- that sort of face covering is a last resort. If I could, that's what you wear on the way to the chemist to buy yourself a mask. But, of course, the important thing is that you should only be going out for the four reasons within Greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shire. So, the key is to restrict movement. Where that movement involves close contact with other members of the public, a cloth or a surgical mask is going to be preferable. If you don't have those, then, as a respiratory and infectious disease physician, I would say: yes, by all means, you need to cover yourself with something. But do your best to get the more durable masks that I've mentioned.

CARRIE BICKMORE:

How long can you wear a washable one before you have to wash it again?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think we are into questions now that there is not a great deal of evidence to support the response to. But from my view as a clinician, once your mask of any sort starts getting damp, that is the time that you need to take it off, wash it and then start again.

CARRIE BICKMORE:

That sounds so gross, doesn't it? [Laughs]

WALEED ALY:

Is that just ordinary hygiene or are you giving virus-based advice?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, it is ordinary hygiene, and that's the substance to so much of this, isn't it? It's common-sense ordinary hygiene that we need to do.

STEVE PRICE:

Nick, I've got a mask here. I mean, how long are these things going to be a part of everyday life for Australians, do you reckon?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think in the Victorian context at the moment, Premier Andrew has signalled many, many weeks, if not months. We are encouraging mask use because there's community transmission, when indeed we're mandating it. It's because we want that extra added level of protection the masks provide over the suite of all the control measures that we've got. And I would imagine they're going to be there until there is zero cases of community transmission, which is the target that we'll have.

WALEED ALY:

Nick, I think we've asked enough of you for the evening. Thank you very much for joining us, for giving us your time. Appreciate it.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks, Waleed. Pleasure.

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