Date published: 
30 July 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

AVANI DIAS:

Dr Nick Coatsworth is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia. So he advises governments on how to deal with these numbers. Thanks so much for coming back on Hack.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thanks very much, Avani. And thanks for having me.

AVANI DIAS:

723 new coronavirus cases in one day in Victoria. We're three weeks into the Melbourne lockdown. Is it clear that this strategy isn't working?

NICK COATSWORTH:

It certainly a serious number; 723. I guess the question is why those aren't those coming down. We do know that overall the movement in Victoria is a lot less, that people are adhering to restrictions. But this is a different epidemic now. This is embedded within the Melbourne community. And even people who have to do essential work, they can still get infected. So there still appears to be sufficient movement to maintain those case numbers that at a high level. So that's what exactly what we need to focus on immediately, to try and develop some other strategies to really, really slow down that movement of people around Melbourne. It's people that take the virus around. The virus of course doesn't move. It's the people that move with the virus.

AVANI DIAS:

Another alarming number that we're seeing is that 34 Victorians are in intensive care. Two of those are people in their 20s. We haven't really seen those numbers among young people in intensive care yet. Is that worrying to you?

NICK COATSWORTH:

It is very worrying to me, and I think what it signals is when you have large numbers of COVID-19 cases, even though you might have a high proportion of mild cases in young people, for sure that a few of them are going to get very unwell, find themselves in intensive care. And this can be a fatal condition for young adults as much as it can be for older adults.

AVANI DIAS:

Dr Nick Coatsworth, I guess one element that the Victorian Government keeps pushing this week especially is that this time round it's a younger population, a working population that is infected and transmitting coronavirus. And there are a lot of concerns we're hearing from triple j listeners who are saying they feel the pressure to keep working even if they feel sick, even if they've been tested. Is just telling people to stay home from work kind of the best approach to dealing with that problem?

NICK COATSWORTH:

The message is to young people: yes, this may cause you to lose a few days income. It may well do. But the thing is that if we don't get this under control, then it's many, many months of affecting the economy, many, many months of affecting employment. So even a bit of short-term pain now in terms of staying home, in terms of getting yourself tested and waiting for the results of that test is absolutely critical to bring this under control.

AVANI DIAS:

There are calls for paid pandemic leave. From a health perspective, does it take a measure like that to actually force people to stay home when we know just telling them that this is what we need to do on an individual level, it's obviously not working?

NICK COATSWORTH:

If the problem is that people who are young are still moving about and they have those reasons to move about, well we have to consider addressing those.

AVANI DIAS:

It is interesting as well. We are seeing, I guess, a lot of measures from the community being taken to force people to follow the rules, and one of those is two 19-year-old women who went home to Queensland after travelling through Melbourne and through Sydney, being named and shamed in the media, across social media as well. Is that a strategy to force people to follow the rules?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Let me say firstly that I'm not in favour of people being named, whether it's because they've had coronavirus disease - of course that would be a matter of medical confidentiality - or whether they've broken the law, because we don't typically release the names of people who have undertaken criminal activity. And the reason I point to criminal activity - it is a crime to declare falsely where you've been in this country at the moment. It is a crime to travel around when you've got symptoms of a cold. I would find it hard to believe that there's any Australian now who hasn't heard these messages. I also think we've got to be careful about using the word teenagers. I mean sure, 19, that they're over 18, they're adults and they have the same responsibilities as all of us to control the spread of COVID-19.

AVANI DIAS:

I do want your thoughts on the New South Wales situation as well. It's been sitting in the high teens for several days now. Today though, six infections are unknown sources, so there's obvious community transmission happening there. Should that state head into lockdown sooner rather than later to avoid the Victoria picture that we're seeing?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So the important thing to remember about those six cases, their transmission links are unknown today, which just means that the transmission links aren't immediately obvious and it requires a bit more disease detective work. There have been cases like that over the past few days, and within the 48 hours or 72 hours, the New South Wales Public Health Unit has actually found the links between those and existing outbreaks. In terms of whether further restrictions need to take place, whilst that's a matter for the New South Wales Government, it's important to remember that their Public Health Unit has been able to link all their cases so far, so they're doing an amazing job to be able to do that. And it does give them a little bit of breathing space with regard to any further decision making.

AVANI DIAS:

All right, just lastly, a lot of young people listening right now may be worried about these high numbers. The fact that you know they're not going down the way that the Government and health authorities like yourself would have wanted by this stage, what do you say to those people who are pretty anxious about this situation?

NICK COATSWORTH:

The best way for us to get this under control is to work together on it. And like I said, the issue is that we all need to restrict our movement, particularly in Melbourne. We have to wear the masks. We have to get ourselves tested. We can't go out and go to work after we've got that test. These are the things that will bring it under control. And I know that we'll bring it under control as a public health physician, so that you can be absolutely assured us. But we all need to pitch in together.

AVANI DIAS:

All right, Doctor. Thanks for coming back on the show.

NICK COASTWORTH:

Thanks, Avani.

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