Date published: 
13 September 2020
Media event date: 
12 September 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

NICK COATSWORTH:

Good afternoon everybody DR Nick Coatsworth with today’s national update on Coronavirus disease in Australia. We have had only 46 newly confirmed cases nationally in the past 24 hours to 12 noon today, bringing the total number of COVID-19 diagnoses in Australia during the pandemic to 26,607. New South Wales reported six cases overnight, one was overseas acquired and is in hotel quarantine, five people were locally acquired and contacts of a confirmed case or in a known cluster. In Victoria, 37 cases of COVID-19 were reported, 16 were locally acquired and were contacts of a known confirmed case or a cluster, and 21 remain under investigation. In Queensland there were three new cases, all of which were locally acquired and contacts of confirmed cases or known clusters. There were six new deaths reported overnight from COVID-19 and 803 people have died from COVID-19 in the current outbreak. There are 151 people hospitalised and 15 of those are in intensive care. Now, it is clear that those numbers are continuing to improve nationally and, very pleasingly, the numbers in Victoria continue to improve.

Without wishing to steal the thunder of my good friend and colleague, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Professor Alison McMillan, who will have a lot to say about this next week, I did want to share with everybody that next week is going to be Nursing in the Community week. Australia's nurses are playing an extraordinary role in the fight against COVID-19. When I was assisting and developing the plan for a COVID-19 response the Canberra Health Services, very early on in the pandemic in February, our community nurses our in our community nursing practice centres in Western Creek and Belconnen were amongst the first nurses in Australia to be doing testing for people with COVID-19. And so right there, at the front line, they were there from the start and have continued around Australia to play an extraordinary job- an extraordinary role.

Of course the work of nurses in Australia goes way beyond COVID-19 at the moment. They continue to care for Australians across all walks of life, and across all stages. As I said last week on Wednesday, or earlier this week on Wednesday, it is deeply concerning that healthcare workers have made up more than 15 per cent of cases during Victoria's second wave and of those more than 70 per cent of COVID-19 cases from hospitals, healthcare workers who have been infected in hospitals, have been nurses. And in the second wave of course, in contrast to the first, the majority of these infections have related to workplace exposures. That is why we're working so hard with state and territory governments, and hospitals and health services, to support nurses and indeed all healthcare workers so they can go about their work caring for Australians as safely as possible.

We're continuing to support hospitals in their efforts to protect their workers from COVID-19, including the provision of vital personal protective equipment drawn from the national medical stockpile. And since March more than 73 million masks, a combination of surgical masks and particulate filter respirators, the so-called N95 or P2 masks have been dispatched from the stockpile to support healthcare workers, aged care workers in states and territories, and also to support the disability sector.

And with those comments in mind I've got two people on the phone today and I'll start with Tegan.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

Tegan can't actually hear you currently…

NICK COATSWORTH:

Okay.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

… so maybe go with the next one and I'll just ask the question for you.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Yep. Sure. Thank you. Dana.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

She might not be- there might be a problem with the line.

NICK COATSWORTH:

Dana, are you able to hear me there? Okay, it looks like we've got a little bit of a problem with the phones, but I can take Tegan's question from the cameraman.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:

Sure. So, my- I'll start with the question. I think there's been reports that last year there were actually higher mortality rates in the aged care sector. So can you comment on that at all? Anything to do with aged care I guess would be what I'm asked about? Yeah.

NICK COATSWORTH:

So I think, Tegan's question potentially relates to the mortality rates- let's humanise those terms a little bit. The number of deaths from other causes, particularly influenza in previous years compared to COVID-19 this year. I hope I paraphrased the question okay, Tegan? And it is the case certainly that we can have very, very significant influenza seasons in this country. The last one that I remember of extreme significance was 2017 when we had the vaccine mismatch between the vaccine and the circulating influenza stream. And it is absolutely the case that many Australians in aged care lost their lives to influenza during that year. Because for viral respiratory infections, whether it is influenza or whether it is COVID-19, have a significant impact on the elderly. We know that COVID-19 is a particularly wretched virus affecting our elderly, affecting those with more than one medical condition very severely and potentially, as we have seen during the second wave, leading to deaths.

The difference I think, it's not our business to be comparing directly the numbers, but there is a difference between a bad influenza season and COVID-19, that is of course because with COVID-19 - in an attempt to stop it spreading around - to family members and to others within aged care facilities - people need to be isolated, they need to be in personal protective equipment and sometimes they haven't been able to see loved ones. And if you look beyond the numbers, then that is what is particularly cruel about COVID-19 and why we have to work particularly hard to keep- to do our best to keep COVID-19 out of aged care facilities.

This question, to wrap up, the question is related to the release of COVID-19 infection data in aged care, which is on the Department of Health website now and gives a comparative analysis of some of those figures related to influenza seasons and also to COVID-19. And I think I've got Dana on another phone. Thank you, Jane. Go ahead, Dana.

QUESTION:

Thanks Dr Coatsworth. My question was similar. Just on the data about the drop in influenza deaths this year. The aged care deaths have largely centralised in Victoria; so would you say that it would be misleading to extrapolate from that that COVID-19 somehow poses less of a risk than influenza for our elderly Australians?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Yes, I think you're right, that would be misleading. We can't make that comparison, they are, they're both potentially fatal in elderly Australians; they're both potentially fatal in residential- residents of aged care facilities. And it's a good opportunity I think to remind ourselves that aged care workers and providers have been managing outbreaks of infectious disease before COVID - be it influenza, be it norovirus which is a gastrointestinal disease. So, to an extent, the systems and processes, and infection control processes we need in place are not particularly different to the ones that would control influenza and norovirus, and other infectious diseases.

But what we know is the implementation of those infection control procedures has to be near-perfect both in the residential aged care setting, but also in hospitals. And that is why the very- one of the very early focuses of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre was supporting facilities and providers with infection control training through Australian Defence Force and AUSMAT flying squads during the peak of the COVID second wave; that is why the AHPPC has insisted, well, in collaboration with the states and territories, to provide liaison officers into state and territory health emergency coordination centres in the event of even a single aged care outbreak so that we can monitor, partner and make sure that the extent of aged care outbreaks is not as great as it was in the Victorian second wave. And, perhaps another question, Dana, if you like?

QUESTION:

Yeah. Just on the Queensland border. There are more stories coming out today about people who are desperate to see loved ones, including sick and dying. Have you had any conversations with your Queensland counterpart about this? About potentially having some compassionate ground there?

NICK COATSWORTH:

We do have conversations with our Queensland counterparts all the time. Of course, as the Deputy CMO I tend not to talk directly to Doctor Jeannette Young. But I know my colleague, Michael Kidd, has spoken to Doctor Young, that Professor Paul Kelly did prior to him- when he went on leave. Look, the substance of those conversations we have to remember is respecting the role of the Chief Health Officer in every state and territory to make these decisions.

And when these decisions do have effect, as they are, then we are asking on some occasions for exemptions. But you know, this is a very challenging situation for border towns in between Queensland and New South Wales. It is a very challenging situation I know for Doctor Young who has to assess all these exemptions. And clearly it's been challenging and deeply distressing for the families that have had to either not see loved ones or have to quarantine before seeing loved ones - these are the effects of having borders closed and we all have to consider the balance between those border closures and the effect that they are having to keep out COVID-19 from a state or territory, and whether that balance is actually achieved.

Ultimately that is a decision for the Chief Health Officer and the Premier of Queensland.

Okay. And given that we only have people on the phone today I'll wrap that up. Thank you very much.

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