Date published: 
17 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

NICK COATSWORTH:

We've had 23,559 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the current pandemic. 290 of those were newly confirmed in the past 24 hours to 12 noon. New South Wales confirmed seven new cases, one was overseas acquired, five were locally acquired and were contacts of a confirmed case, and one locally acquired case is currently still under investigation with the contact not yet identified. Victoria announced 282 new cases today, 59 were locally acquired and contacts of a confirmed case, and 223 people are currently under investigation for where they contracted COVID-19. In South Australia, there has been one new case identified, and that person is currently under investigation and to where they acquired COVID-19.

We have hit a tragic new milestone in the COVID-19 epidemic in Australia, with the highest number of deaths recorded in a 24-hour period, with 25 people losing their lives to COVID-19, and my heart goes out to friends and family who are mourning deaths of loved ones today. There are 674 people currently hospitalised with COVID-19, and 51 of those are in intensive care. Notably, this is in a context of surpassing 21 million cases internationally in the COVID-19 pandemic. So, in light of that ongoing spread of COVID-19, this need for all of us to adapt to a new normal, I'm pleased to be able to present to you today, and launch a new ad campaign today, that reaffirms so easily and rapidly this virus can spread, amongst all of us in the community but especially among young people. As you will see in a moment, when we view the ad, it clearly and emotively and engagingly demonstrates how fast COVID-19 can spread, often without us knowing about it. Showing the severity of the virus and the impact that it can have, not just on ourselves but more importantly on our loved ones. The ads are a reminder, that no matter where we are in Australia, particularly those states, those seven out of the eight jurisdictions where we have little to no COVID-19, that we all need to remain vigilant.

It's a timely reminder, given the number of deaths in Victoria today, that this- we need to do everything we can as a community to bring this virus under control. We need to be constantly mindful; that doesn't matter whether we are in our teenage years, our young adult years, middle-aged like me, or whether we are elderly Australians, we all need to be mindful and aware of how easily COVID-19 spreads. It's particularly important of course for young Australians to be aware of this. Why is that? Because unlike influenza, COVID-19 predominantly spreads through the age group of 20 to 29-year-olds. Those statistics hold in Australia. 20 to 29-year-old Australians have the highest rate of infection, 77 cases per 100,000, then it's followed by 30 to 39 year with 59- 60 cases per 100,000, then after that 60 to 69-year-old Australians with 56.5 cases per 100,000. We know that people between the age of 20 to 29 have milder symptoms often. That means that they are far more at risk of spreading the virus to others. Often, it's very hard when you've got mild symptoms from a respiratory virus to convince yourself you need to stay home and get tested, but it is so critically important that we do. Even though, as a proportion, 20 to 29 -year-olds have less of a risk of severe disease, we know, from cases around the world, that young people can find themselves in intensive care, young people can find themselves very unwell with COVID-19, and COVID-19 may even be fatal to young adults.

One of the challenges, of course is that when you are in your late teenage years, or in your 20s, this is the time when you're often in your second or third job, these are jobs that are often forward facing with the community, and the hospitality industry for example. Young adults often may find themselves in highly casualised employment where it is difficult to get sick leave. All this is recognised. We also recognise the deep effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had socially and economically for young adults with many losing jobs in the hospitality industry. What this ad is about is to show young Australians that the way forward is to control the virus as quick as possible, the way towards economic recovery, the way towards getting jobs back is to bring those numbers down. So, we act as a whole community, we each do our bit, and our bit differs from whether we are in our late teenage years or young adults, throughout- whether in middle-aged or elderly Australians, we all have our bit to play. But ad will show us that there are very specific things that young Australians can do to protect vulnerable people in their families and in the community from COVID-19.

I'd like now to be able to show you this ad on the screen.

[Advertisement plays]

As you can see, a very emotive, evocative ad that shows clearly how easily COVID-19 can spread from person to person and how clearly someone who is a vulnerable member of our community could acquire COVID-19 from younger friends and family. With that in mind, I will take questions.

QUESTION:

I'm just wondering on this ad, are there specifics statistics around Victoria that potentially young people are flouting laws and spreading the virus, or is this a circumstance of jobs and industries?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I don't think this is specifically targeted at all at young people because they're flouting the rules. This is about reminding young people how easy it is to transmit the virus, how people can have very mild simples and potentially not get tested, potentially still go to work. I think you saw the example of the barista there on the ad. I mean, this sort of thing can happen throughout the country. We are not specifically looking at Victoria with this ad campaign, in fact these ads will not run in Victoria, other federal government ads will continue to run down there. But this ad campaign is specifically for those states and territories now, the seven of the eight states and territories which have little to no coronavirus at the moment. And the reason for that of course is because we need to make sure that community outbreak, cases of COVID-19 in those states and territories are contained. One of the important ways to contain them is to have people continuing to exhibit the behaviours that will stop spread: physical distancing, hand hygiene, and most critically important, staying at home, avoiding work, avoiding socialising when you're unwell, getting yourself tested. And once that test is negative and you feel better, getting out there again and socialising and going to work in a COVID-safe away.

QUESTION:

Dr Coatsworth, the National Cabinet is working on a plan to deliver more face-to-face PPE training to the aged care sector, could you step through what the benefits of doing that in person might be, and if there are any estimates on how many workers you expect will be able to have that in person training, instead of or in addition to the online training rolled out at the start of the pandemic?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, thanks Claire. I mean, I think the first thing to say is that the need for infection control training in residential aged care facilities, infection control against the spread of a respiratory virus is not new to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have required this every year in the flu season for providers and facilities to be able to make sure their staff are well-trained and also to stop outbreaks of respiratory disease. That said, it is clear that we need to make sure that training is reinforced as much as possible. Personal protective equipment training, the ability to put it on or donning and taking it off, or doffing correctly is a really important part of wearing the PPE and stopping cross transmission. How might that happen? Well, there's a variety of ways face-to-face training can take place. At the moment in Victoria, it's taking place through the AUSMAT flying squads who are going into severely affected facilities. For the facilities that aren't as severely affected, there's a very strong cluster model emerging where the main referral hospital is providing the infection control training face-to-face. And of course, providers having their own experts in infection control, which is something they've been required to access for quite some time. So, there's a whole variety of ways.

In terms of the absolute numbers of people that receive face-to-face PPE training, I would simply say the best way to learn PPE is face-to-face with someone teaching you. So, no matter- there will be a variety of ways that that can be done, but that would be a desirable thing to happen.

QUESTION:

Just a couple of things. One, on the advert, do you have an idea on how much this campaign to really spread this message,] how much that costs?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I'm the Senior Technical Medical Advisor to the Government, so I don't have those figures to hand. But suffice to say that the Government is prepared to spend money on excellent ads like this one to be able to deliver the message we need to control COVID-19.

QUESTION:

On mental health, are there are other mental health concerns for Australians across the country, not just in Victoria. And if so, how do you respond to calls for increased support for mental health, like uncapping those 10 psych sessions? I know it's been done for Victoria, there are calls for that to be done more broadly. Lots of people are suffering mental health, but what is your response to that?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I completely acknowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic has created mental health stress across the country, and there've been a variety of national programs funded by the Government to address that. But specifically what we heard today in Victoria are some very concerning and distressing numbers. Increases in the portion of young people presenting to emergency departments with self-harm, for example. Marked increases in the number of people accessing those traditional mental health services that we have come to know so well such as Beyondblue and Lifeline. So there is a clear need for a rapid intervention in Victoria at the moment, and I think people around Australia will appreciate that that money needs to be targeted, focused to those in Stage 4 and Stage 3 lockdown in Victoria, and that we all as members of the Australian community recognise that Victorians are going through something that is deeply challenging at the moment and require that assistance.

QUESTION:

Dr Coatsworth, there's been some concerns about- from the amount of spread in the aged care facilities in Victoria, that this would spread into the disability sector and the disability homes. What is the Government doing to prepare that sector? And what are the similarities and differences between that sector and the aged care sector that possibly makes this response quite different?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think there's a variety of similarities, and that is reflected in the fact that the main- the Communicable Disease Network of Australia plan is for residential care facilities. That applies to residential aged care as much as it applies to disability and supported accommodation. That said, there are very specific needs for Australians with disabilities. Keeping in mind that disability is not a catchall term for the many, many millions of Australians who live with disability. Many Australians have different disabilities that render them- have differences susceptibilities to COVID-19. Not all, as I discussed with the Disability Discrimination Commissioner Ben Gauntlet some weeks ago, not all Australians with a disability are more susceptible to infection with COVID-19. And equally, some Australians with disability are very susceptible to infection with COVID-19. So, there is a variety of tools or things that we have implemented in Government, including the Disability Advisory Committee, which is within the Department of Health, and the liaison that we've had with the National Disability Insurance Scheme and insurance Association has been very productive to that end.

QUESTION:

Is the AHPPC watching what's happening in Auckland, New Zealand, in terms of the cluster there? And is that somewhat a test case for what happens when you totally remove social distancing and then have the virus unknowingly re-enter the community? Is it proof that that we will need to keep having these measures in place until there is a vaccine?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, we share information all the time with our colleagues over the ditch, and that is a very important thing that we can do with each other, to learn. It's not necessarily the case that were we to experience 102 days without a coronavirus case, that we would do exactly the same thing as New Zealand. That of course would depend a lot on the context of the outbreak. But in terms of detailed information sharing, we do that. In terms of whether it's a model for what will happen in the future, we just to wait and see how our epidemic progresses.

QUESTION:

Just on the vaccine, with the Russians starting to roll out their vaccine earlier this month. Peter Doherty said that it was a reasonable thing to do with the risk benefit analysis, and given the protocols around safety... Do you agree with that or do you harbour more serious concerns about such a thing?

ASHLEY BLOOMFIELD:

Look, I think the important thing about vaccines is that when you've got a novel virus, the safety and regulatory framework around how that vaccine is rolled out needs to be very, very consistent internationally and that essentially means that we have evidence in the scientific literature of precisely the effect that this vaccine had at its phase 1 trials and that that evidence is shared as widely as possible. We don't have that evidence at the moment and so once we get it, if it were to demonstrate that the virus was safe, effective, induced an antibody response, then that would meet criteria to move into the second and third phases of the trials. But it just highlights the importance of making vaccine data as transparent as possible and, equally, having a very strong regulatory framework which Australia has.

Just get two more.

QUESTION:

From an epidemiological point of view, we heard Professor Brett Sutton say last week, Victoria was coming off [indistinct] but we’ve reached our deadliest day, are you expecting deaths to continue to climb [indistinct]?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well one of the things about this wretched virus is that it seems to make people deteriorate at around about the 7 to 14-day mark. And that is an indicator that your severe disease will peak around about one to two weeks after your numbers in the community will peak. So it's entirely possible that we will see more deaths from COVID-19 in Victoria and that daily number could exceed 25. I think we just need to keep in mind of course that when we talk about these numbers, there are family and friends every day that are mourning the loss of a loved one because of COVID-19 and that is precisely why we need to continue the Stage 4 restrictions, bring the community outbreak under control. And of course, the number of severe- severely affected Australians and Australians dying from COVID-19 will follow and go in the right direction.

QUESTION:

Dr Coatsworth, given how rapidly the Commonwealth was able to establish the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre; how soon will each individual state response coordination centre be able to established once they are agreed, I know it is something National Cabinet are reviewing at the moment, is that something that you think could be rolled out quite quickly as well, or will it take longer?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I think the thing to remember about the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre is that it was framed under national plans that have been in existence for many, many years. The Commonwealth Disaster Plan which allows for cross jurisdictional assistance as well as the COVID-19 plans pertaining to residential care facilities. So- and within that, that sort of centre that's a collaboration between the Commonwealth and the state needs to be embedded within the state health emergency management framework. Now, this all sounds a little bit like jargon I guess, but each state has its own health emergency operations centre. They're called different things in different states but they're very, very focused on health emergencies and managing health crises and that's where an aged care response centre would have to either embed or liaise closely with. That's the model we've seen down in Victoria at the moment and that's the model that all states and territories are looking at, at the moment, to see whether that's actually adaptable to their context. I think what we've got to remember and what we said right from the start of this pandemic is that we have eight different health systems. There are similarities but there are also important differences and those differences might be in the structure of the health system or it might be in geography. And because of those differences, there won't be a one size fits all aged care response centre for every state. Similarly, there's unlikely to be a one size fits all epidemic that occurs in every state. It'll be different and the response needs to be tailored, under some broad principles, which are being discussed at the moment at AHPPC and will be presented to National Cabinet on Friday.

Thanks very much.

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