Date published: 
1 July 2020
Media event date: 
24 June 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

ALLISON LANGDON:

Thousands of people have been turned away from coronavirus testing stations in Melbourne as health authorities scramble to contain a spike in new cases, and there are fears of a possible second wave in Victoria.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

We're joined by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth, who joins us from Canberra. Doctor, thank you for your time again. How many new cases have been recorded overnight?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

So 20 new cases in the past 24 hours, Karl, of which 17 have come from Victoria.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay. So that's— I think it was 16 yesterday, so 1 more today. Is there any sign we're getting that under control there?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think those numbers have remained persistently between 15 and 20 for the past few days, which is good news. There are many, many hundreds of Victorians heeding the message and getting out there and getting tested, which is fantastic, and the public health unit has really ramped up its response over the past week to contain the virus down there.

ALLISON LANGDON:

Well, we saw lots of people trying to get tested yesterday. There were huge queues, they were waiting up to 4 hours at a time, and it is happening again today. Are we starting to see people panic?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

No, I think we're starting to see people hear the message again, and they really do want to get tested, even if they have the mildest symptoms. That's obviously going to entail some increased resources from the Victorian Government down there. There are nearly 90 clinics that you can go and get tested in the Melbourne area, and some of those are going to extended hours, all of those are having increased staffing. So there is a natural limit to how many you can test in a day, so if you are unwell and you've been waiting for a while and need to go home, do so and come back again when those queues are a little less.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

It just feels like — and we've been talking about it all morning — today and yesterday just felt a little bit different. And yesterday, the New South Wales Premier basically lobbed a grenade over the Victorian border, didn't she? Is there any medical evidence at all that we shouldn't be going to Melbourne?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think the advice has been pretty clear from us, that we should be avoiding school holiday travel to and from those local government areas. Obviously, that doesn't mean that people in those local government areas can't go about their business and go to work and travel around Melbourne, of course. The Victorians are considering their next moves in this regard. But whilst things are fairly stable, so 15 to 20 cases per day, I think that advice should persist. School holidays are difficult times, Karl, we know they can present a risk for spread of infectious diseases.

ALLISON LANGDON:

What do you think of Victoria's efforts so far to get on top of these outbreaks?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, Ally, they're doing some amazing things in a very short period of time. Keep in mind that this is the state that conducted 160,000 tests in 2 weeks. And now they've got public health professionals going door to door in those local government areas and making sure that people who are from English as a second language background have information about COVID in their own language, door to door, Ally. So I think that that is a remarkable effort that they're doing down there to get this under control.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

It's also the time of year, isn't it, when people present with flu symptoms and normal cold symptoms. The Premier, Daniel Andrews, is threatening to reintroduce a state-wide lockdown if the outbreaks are not contained. Do you think there is a little bit of it's flu season as well happening at the moment?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Undoubtedly, Karl, and that makes it difficult. We've been talking about this for a few months now, what the impact of the respiratory winter virus season will be. And what it does is it creates testing demand of course, because you won't know whether it's just the common cold or whether, in some cases, it may well be COVID. So the message is still the same, you need to get tested. Certainly, it's responsible for some of the increasing demand that we're seeing.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Okay.

ALLISON LANGDON:

So you've been saying that the cases in Victoria, in Melbourne, have remained consistent over the last 7 days. Looking at what the government is doing to get on top of the outbreaks, are you confident that we won't see the numbers continue to rise?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think it's very encouraging that over the past, sort of, 2 to 3 days, those numbers have stayed within the 15 to 20 range. I think that we'll start to see the effect of what the Victorian Government is doing towards the end of this week and into next week. In particular, the number of tests that have been conducted at the moment that will reveal whether there's any more community transmission going on. But we're confident that there's thousands of tests being done and that won't return a huge number of positive results.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Is there any reason why, for example, the Queensland borders should remain closed then, in light of what's happening in Victoria?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well look, obviously, Premiers and their Health Ministers have a close eye of what's going on in Victoria. They will have to make their decisions on the borders based on what the numbers do in Victoria, I guess. As a positive though, I think we can all take comfort from what the Victorian Government and the public health unit is doing down there to get this under control. And I think people down in Melbourne can take comfort from it as well.

ALLISON LANGDON:

We know the school holidays do kick off the end of this week in Victoria, what's your advice to people? Stay home? Can they still travel?

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think obviously people can still travel if you're not in an infected area, but enjoy your school holidays in a different way. We've been saying that 2020 is different. If you are travelling, if you are interacting with families that you haven't seen for a while, try and avoid that temptation to hug, to kiss, to shake hands. We need to maintain that social distance. It is not normal human behaviour to try and avoid that sort of thing. It's difficult. But we certainly need to do it to try and avoid the spread and keep those great hygiene behaviours that we've all been doing so well. That's the main message.

KARL STEFANOVIC:

Just tell you what — there's just been a little shift in the dialogue, hasn't there, in the last 24 to 48 hours? We'll just need to continue to be vigilant.

DR NICK COATSWORTH:

Yeah, that's right, Karl. There has been a shift, but keeping in mind that it's because we've done so well. We've had so few cases that now you see these rises, which are not high compared to the peak of the epidemic in Australia a couple of months ago, but it does create a change in the mood. I couldn't agree more.

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