Deputy Chief Medical Officer interview on The Project on 30 July 2020

Read the transcript of Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth's interview on The Project on 30 July 2020 about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth is here we hope to explain why we shouldn't be freaking out. Nick, let's start with Victoria. What happened?


Well, 723's a high number, Waleed, there's no doubt about it. It's not what any of us wanted to see. It's really focused the attention of the nation on how we're going to resolve this. Doctors and nurses around Victoria will have looked at that number and thought: when's it going to go down?

Well, the numbers will come down, the movement restrictions will work. And I've said before on this show that it's going to take longer than we thought, longer than in the first wave, and the numbers we can see are bouncing around like a yo-yo; 290 yesterday, everybody thinks we're heading in the right direction; 723 today, it's the exact opposite emotion. So it's a real rollercoaster for all of us at the moment.


Given what the Premier keeps saying about the drivers of this being workplace transmission, so people who are sick or who have symptoms, they go to work anyway. This keeps happening, it keeps warning. It doesn't change. Does there come a point where the only available response really is to shut those workplaces down?


We have to stop this workplace transmission, then it's up to us to work with the rest of government to put some advice about how that should happen. Now, whether that is more restrictions, whether that is shutting certain workplaces down. And, you know, I think it's been fairly clear that there needs to be a debate on leave and financial support. All those are potential policy responses, but the issue is we can't have people going to work with COVID.


If I could move to aged care, Nick, given that it seems to be workers who bring the virus into these aged care facilities, has your office issued a directive to stop using transient workers across the country? We know they've done in Victoria, but shouldn't that be a national action plan now?


The action plans have got to be tailored across the states, and different ones will be brought in depending on the number of cases you have. I think that sort of policy nationwide may cause workforce disruption, may cause issues with care, with residential aged care residents. So, it's just really important that we tailor those responses to how many numbers there are in a given state.


Do you share Premier Andrews' position that this is within control?


The trend is to have, broadly, the same numbers every couple of days. It's difficult to say, though, that with 723, we're at a plateau. That number needs to be responded to, and has been today. The problem though is that we can't sustain those numbers in the medium term. You do run out of puff eventually with your contact tracing capability. And we've got contact tracers around Australia working remotely to help the Victorian Government. But we have to see that curve not just flatten, but start to have decreased daily case numbers to allow the public health authorities and the health system in general to have a breath. So, that needs to be the objective over the coming days.


Nick, the vast majority of Australians are doing the right thing but it must be hard to govern d**kheads. There is a certain small percentage of the country who are doing the wrong thing, not telling the truth. How hard is it to– how big an issue is it when people are just not giving you the truth? Is it something you can factor into your own strategies?


No, in short. Nobody would have expected that story to come out of Queensland, I have to say, and it shocked all of us that people who – and I've heard the 2 people in question termed teenagers; I suppose that's a technical view. Well beyond the age of responsibility. They're young adults who knew what they were doing. You know, I would liken that, to be frank, in the pandemic to, you know, knowingly spreading an infectious disease, which is an offence for a number of different infectious diseases around.


No doubt about that, but are you really serious when you say no-one could have foreseen something like this happening? I would have thought if you told me there would be a story of people who run around, lie to border authorities, do things they're not meant to do that, yeah, of course that will happen. You hope it doesn't, but it's definitely going to happen, then you have to figure out what to do about that. Are you really shocked that this sort of thing has happened?


I think it's fair to say that we were shocked at how brazen it was, Waleed. I think we've all heard stories of people attempting to cross borders. This was remarkable for both its recklessness and its brazenness. But I think this in part comes to the question that we've had before about suppression versus elimination. We have excellent processes in place to try and stop these things from happening, but when you've got a million people wanting to go into Queensland, as we just heard, you're going to get a few people there who don't obey the rules. So that means– it effectively means that no matter how perfect your processes are, you've always got to be vigilant.


Nick, thank you very much for speaking with us. We'll no doubt speak soon.


Thanks Waleed.  


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