Date published: 
19 August 2020
Media event date: 
18 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

MICHAEL KIDD:

In the past 24 hours, 226 people have been diagnosed as new cases of COVID-19 in Australia. This is down from 289 people yesterday. We're seeing the continuing signs of a sustained reduction in daily numbers of cases in Victoria. Tragically, though, we've seen another 17 new deaths reported in the past 24 hours, all in Victoria. This brings the number of people who've died from COVID-19 in our country to 438. Our thoughts are with those who've lost their lives and with their family members and their loved ones. Despite the fall in the number of cases, the high daily number of deaths continues, and the deaths that we've seen today continue to reflect the high levels of community transmission that we were seeing just two weeks ago. Over the past 24 hours, 222 of the 226 new cases were in Victoria. There were 3 new cases reported in New South Wales; one of those was overseas acquired, and the person is in hotel quarantine, and two locally acquired. And we've seen one new case in Western Australia, again overseas acquired, and that person is in hotel quarantine.         

In Victoria, we're continuing to see a decline in daily figures, which is very encouraging and a huge credit to the people of the state. We all recognise, though, that there is still a long way to go. In New South Wales, today has not just been as good day but again reflects the positive trend and also reinforces that there is still a way to go to drive down and keep down community transmission in that state. These outcomes reinforce for all of us the importance of getting tested if you have any symptoms, no matter how mild; of continuing to follow the physical distancing measures in your state and territory; and the guidance on mask wearing. It also reinforces the continuing focus on contact tracing, making sure we're following up every new case every day. Twenty-three thousand, seven hundred and seventy-three people have now been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Australia. There have been 2076 people diagnosed over the past seven days, and while nearly 15,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 in our country, we still have over 7500 active cases, reflecting the very high numbers we saw over recent weeks. Nationwide, there are now 682 people with COVID-19 in public and private hospitals. This is an additional 4 people hospitalised since this time yesterday. Among those in hospital, there are 52 people in intensive care units, which is one more person in ICU than yesterday, and 37 people are reported to be on ventilators. Over 5.3 million COVID-19 tests have now been carried out in Australia, and we thank everybody who has been attending for testing.

Normally this is the peak time of the year for seasonal influenza, and yesterday we heard New South Wales Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant advise people that if you think you have the flu, you probably have COVID-19, so please get tested. I want to back up those comments. We're seeing very few cases of influenza in Australia. Thankfully between January and June of this year, there have only been 36 reported deaths from influenza in Australia compared to 430 reported deaths for the same time last year. In part, the low number of people with influenza is due to the record number of people who have been immunised against influenza this year, with 18 million doses of seasonal influenza vaccine secured and distributed to the people of Australia. This compares to just over 13 million doses last year. In part, the low transmission of influenza also due to the physical distancing measures which have been in place since the start of the pandemic, so thank you to everyone in Australia for your contribution to the control of influenza this year. We feared a double whammy of COVID-19 and influenza, and we have avoided this so far this winter. A reminder, though, that if you have symptoms of fever, or aches and pains, or cough, or sore throat, it is unlikely to be influenza. It is more likely to be COVID-19, so please, if you have symptoms, no matter how mild, arrange to get tested.

I also wish to focus on the importance of continuing to receive healthcare for all our healthcare needs. While much of our focus remains on COVID-19, it is absolutely essential that we continue to focus on all the other healthcare issues that affect the people of Australia. As a general practitioner, I remain very concerned about reports of some people delaying presentation for new health problems, especially among those who are living under the restrictions in Victoria. Our Australian attitude of she'll be right doesn't apply to your health or to the health of your loved ones. With the disruption in our lives caused by the pandemic, it's still essential that we continue to seek advice and attention for our healthcare concerns. If you have a worrying new symptom, please reach out to your GP, arrange a consultation to ensure either that is not something serious or that further investigation is required. This also includes the need for people with chronic health conditions to continue to attend their appointments, either face-to-face or by Telehealth and to continue to have regular blood tests, continue to take their prescribed medications, continue to see their nursing and allied health professionals, who are helping to keep them well and helping to prevent their health conditions from getting worse and causing more serious problems down the track. And it also includes people with mental health concerns; this especially applies in Victoria. Please, if you have an existing mental healthcare concern, please use Telehealth to reach out to your GP or to your therapist and arrange a continuing care. Our three national cancer screening programs are for bowel cancer, cervical cancer, and cervical cancer… sorry, bowel cancer, cervical cancer, and breast cancer, and can detect changes before the cancer occurs, or detect these cancers earlier than if you were waiting to see symptoms. Screening doesn't take long, and it can save lives, so if you receive an invitation to participate in the breast cancer, bowel cancer, or cervical cancer screening, please make an appointment. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program and the National Cervical Cancer Screening Programs have continued to operate through the pandemic. The processing for bowel cancer screening kits has actually shown an increase during the pandemic. For the National Cervical Screening Programs, while we saw a reduction in testing in mid-March to April, this has since increased, but we still have many people who are not attending for their appointments. Breast Screen Australia services were paused during April but have since reopened in many parts of the country, so please, if you have an appointment for breast screening, please arrange to get that done as well.

Thank you, everyone. I'm happy to take any questions.

QUESTION:

I'm just wondering whether you may have seen overnight emerged some amazing pictures out of Wuhan in China of a mass pool party with people with no mask, no social distancing. Wonder if you have any observations on that given the restrictions we have to live under?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yeah, so the question - I'm not sure if everyone can hear - but the question is about images overnight of a massive pool party in Wuhan in China and our response to seeing those images. I think it's quite remarkable that compared to eight months ago, when we see these images, we all have a visceral reaction to it, of seeing very large numbers of people coming together, very large numbers of people crowded in a single space and people not adhering to physical distancing. So it is quite alarming. I'm not sure what the figures are for Wuhan in China at the moment for community transmission, but we do know, for example, in Hong Kong, that there are further community transmission outbreaks occurring, so I think it's alarming any time we see large groups of people- very large groups of people coming together in such a manner.

QUESTION:

Professor, the case numbers in Victoria have gone down, the lowest in a month, so there's a bit of a degree of optimism there today. Do you think that's justified?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thank you. So, the question is, is optimism justified with the fall in the figures that we've seen in Victoria now at their lowest level in a month? I think it's very encouraging. Obviously, we have seen numbers going up and down over recent weeks, so- but by and large what we are seeing is a continuing downward trend in the numbers in Victoria. So as I say, it is very encouraging. I think it's a great credit to the people of Victoria. But we need to continue to watch the figures over coming days and obviously people need to still be adhering to the restrictions and get tested as required.

QUESTION:

Given the number of active cases in aged care settings and Victoria, can you put any figure on the amount of people that might be expected to die in coming weeks?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So the question is given the number of figures that we're seeing in aged care in Victoria, can we put a number on expected number of people who may lose their lives to COVID-19 over coming weeks. The answer is we can't. Fortunately, what we are seeing is a dramatic reduction in community transmission in Victoria from that very high peak of the 700's that we were seeing just a few weeks ago, and so we hope that we will continue to see that continuing lowering level of community transmission in Victoria. But unfortunately the tragedy of COVID-19 is that when you have high levels of community transmission you do get deaths occurring, and the deaths of course follow one to two weeks after the high numbers that we have seen. So certainly I hope that we see a decline in the number of deaths over the coming week or two, but we can't make accurate predictions there.

We do have on the phone, Dana.

QUESTION:

Thanks very much. Just a question about the issues of staffing of aged care in Victoria. Why didn't the Federal Health Department take action months ago after seeing how the workforces of Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge were wiped out in New South Wales?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So I'm not sure if everyone can hear the question but the question is about the workforce in aged care in Victoria, and why action was not taken much sooner following what we saw with the workforces in the nursing homes which were affected in New South Wales.

So in fact there has been surge workforce of course provided to support the work in Victoria, as we have seen the outbreak increasing initially and then during the peak with large numbers of Defence Force personnel who have been deployed to support the responses in Victoria with significant numbers of nurses and aged care workers coming in from other states with people being redeployed from work in other settings, from other aged care facilities and from private hospitals and elsewhere. It is absolutely essential we have a full complement of workforce in each of the aged care facilities, which is affected by COVID-19 so that we can ensure that the people in those facilities are receiving the care that they need. Of course maintaining and ensuring the workforce has been a core focus of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre which has now been functioning for three weeks, and we're seeing the results of the coordinated partnership efforts of the centre over the last week or so.

We have Tamsin on the phone.

QUESTION:

Hi Professor, thanks for taking my question. I was just wondering before you said that there was about 15,000 Australians who have no recovered from coronavirus. Given that we have seen lots more people go through this, are we doing any research in terms of the longer term impacts on their health and what is that showing?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thank you. Thanks Tamsin. So the question is about the long-term impacts on the health of people who have now recovered from COVID-19 and what research is under way. So the answer is, yes, of course research is continuing into all aspects of COVID-19 both here in Australia, and also overseas. And as we've seen with increasing numbers of people being infected with COVID-19 and then recovering from the acute infection, we have seen increasing numbers of people who have had very significant residual health effects following on from their initial infection. And this doesn't just include those who have been gravely unwell and have been in intensive care units and on ventilators. It also includes some of the people who have not become that unwell while they were acutely unwell with COVID-19 but are still having residual problems afterwards. So yes, there is continuing work underway and particularly looking at what are going to be the long-term healthcare needs of many of the people who have recovered from COVID-19, including rehabilitation needs and especially the needs of allied health providers supporting people in their ongoing recovery.

Matt is also on the phone.

QUESTION:

Hi Professor Kidd. Thank you for taking my question. I actually have two questions, they're a bit divergent but I might not get another chance so I apologise for throwing both of them at the same time.

MICHAEL KIDD:

It's okay. Do you want to ask one at a time Matt?

QUESTION:

First, just following on from what Dana was asking about staffing in aged care facilities, last night's Four Corners showed that there were significant concerns getting a new workforce into some of the aged care facilities in Melbourne. Given what we have seen in Sydney earlier on in this crisis with Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge, and now concerns that there have been a number of cases or potential cases in a Queensland aged care facility, what guarantee can you give the Australian community that those workforce issues have been addressed?

And my second and slightly different question, there is a parliamentary committee that's holding a hearing on site in the remote part of the Pilbara early next month with Indigenous traditional owners. There's going to be people travelling there from Canberra, Queensland and the Northern Territory. They are going to take a test for coronavirus on arrival but is there still going to be a risk that they could still be bringing COVID-19 into that vulnerable community?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thank you. So the first question was about ensuring the workforce for residential aged care moving ahead and particularly if and when we see further outbreaks occurring. So there is continuing work underway Matt, to ensure that we have surge workforce capacity available. And available in each of the states and territories. It is really important as you have all said that we continue to learn the lessons of what has been happening with COVID-19 and continue to apply those lessons as we continue to live with the pandemic.

The second question was about a group that will be visiting the Pilbara in remote areas in Western Australia, and concerns about potential transmission of COVID-19 into that area. Clearly, that group will be working with the authorities, the health authorities in Western Australia to make sure that any visit is going to be safe, that any risk to local Aboriginal people is going to be no risk at all, that people are being protected. We have been very successful in Australia to date in keeping COVID-19 out of remote communities, and particularly out of remote indigenous communities. And it is absolutely essential that that continues into the future.

We have one last question?

QUESTION:

I was just wondering if you know about the possible incident of a security guard at hotel quarantine in Sydney and whether you were alarmed by that?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Thank you. So a question about whether I know about a possible hotel security guard being infected in Sydney. I don't have any details about that but I'm sure that our colleagues New South Wales Health will be right onto that. And…

QUESTION:

Yeah, so [indistinct] wondering as we wait for a vaccination, what's the best people can do? Is it social distancing and if you're immune system [indistinct] as a GP?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So as a GP what can people do while we're waiting for a vaccine to come along for COVID-19? Look, we need to continue doing all the things that we have been doing. We're learning to live with COVID-19, we're learning all the measures that we need to take to protect ourselves, our families, and each other. But at the same time we need to be continuing - as I've said - in addressing all of our healthcare concerns. So I'm very concerned as GP to make sure that people are addressing all their healthcare concerns and making sure that nothing is being missed out. One of the consequences we've seen of past pandemics is if people do neglect other aspects of their healthcare, you can actually get worse long term affects coming from that then you get from the infectious agent itself. So it really underscores the importance of that continuity of care.

Thank you everybody and thank you to out interpreters. Thank you.

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