Date published: 
25 August 2020
Media event date: 
24 August 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

NICK COATSWORTH:

As of 12 noon today, there have been 121 new cases reported of COVID-19, taking our national total to 24,916. New South Wales reported three cases; two of those were overseas acquired, and one was a contact of a confirmed case. In Victoria, there were 116 cases reported; 29 were locally acquired, and 87 are still under investigation. In Queensland, one new case was reported, which is a contact of a confirmed case. There were 15 additional deaths from COVID-19 overnight, and 517 people have lost their lives to coronavirus disease in Australia during this pandemic. There are 659 people who have been hospitalised, and 38 of those are in intensive care units. We also note that the rate of growth in the past week of cases actually shows that things are indeed becoming under control in Victoria. With that in mind though, I think we all want to acknowledge how difficult it is for Victorians in Stage 4 restrictions and also the remainder of the state under Stage 3 restrictions. It is a light at the end of the tunnel that we're starting to see, of course, with those numbers at 116 cases. Like we always say, we've got to be careful because this is going to be a bumpy ride, and it may well be the case that those numbers come up a little bit over the coming days. But it is a substantial reassurance that the overall trend is clearly down. Clearly all the incredibly hard work that the Victorian community is doing is paying off, not just for Victoria, of course, but for the wider country as a whole. And I think we all have a duty to thank Victorians for what they're doing for the nation and in particular to pick up the phone or get on the internet, contact your friends, your family in Victoria, lend them your support because ultimately, what is going on down there is for the benefit of the entire nation. And I can take some questions.

QUESTION:

Just on federal lodgings, [indistinct]… a parliamentarian has gone home to get tested for COVID. [Indistinct]… she might have a connection with a COVID site. What would be the ramifications of that parliamentarian testing positive [indistinct]… while everyone's in Parliament House during this time?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I'm not aware of a parliamentarian being tested. Obviously, that's something that the ACT Chief Health Officer in conjunction with Parliament will be managing, and beyond that, I think it's probably important to wait for the test result before we speculate on exactly what might happen therein.

QUESTION:

Just on the potential COVID vaccine being developed by Oxford University, Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher has come out with concerns about its- and making use of a cell line cultured from an electively aborted human foetus with ethical implications. Why would we have ethical concerns about this?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I'm aware of those concerns being raised this morning, that the particular cell line that was produced for the vaccine was from an ethically aborted human foetus - that is the concern that was raised by the Archbishop. The reality for vaccines is that they need cell cultures in order for us to grow them. The human cell is really important part of their development, and clearly in the process for the Oxford vaccine, which is one of the leading candidates for COVID-19 vaccines, that was an important part of that process. There are strong ethical regulations surrounding the use of any human cell, particularly foetal human cells, and this is a very professional, highly powered research unit at Oxford University, one of the world's leading universities, so I think we can have every faith that the way they have manufactured the vaccine has been against the highest of ethical standards internationally.

QUESTION:

Is this type of cell line widely used to develop vaccines?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I'm not certain of that, I have to say, not being a vaccinologist, but nonetheless the answer is the same - that I'm confident that they will be taking the highest ethical standards possible.

QUESTION:

Scott Morrison on Friday said he hadn't asked WA to change any aspects of its border closure. There's been a change of tune to earlier this year. Have you- do you have the same opinion of border closures that you had early this year in the wake of second waves, what we're seeing in Victoria?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think- you know, there are- every fortnight there is a discussion on the nature of borders in National Cabinet, and that's an appropriate discussion that takes place between our Prime Minister and the first ministers. With regard to our position at the AHPPC, it's clear that in situations where there is significant community transmission such as in Victoria, the movement of people needs to be restricted. When and whether you use borders for that restriction purpose is up to the chief health officers. I think one of the positive things we've seen in recent weeks is where border closures have impacted, particularly on border communities, that has led to very high level discussions between health ministers and health ministers, between premiers and premiers, and equally between chief health officers, which was occurring previously of course, on minimising the impact that those border closures have.

QUESTION:

So, do you still think border closures should be used only to contain a current outbreak?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, we think as the AHPPC that any measure that's introduced by any government in Australia needs to be proportionate to the risk to their population, and therefore justified on those bases.

Andrew on the phone?

QUESTION:

Thank you Dr Coatsworth. In light of the comments on vaccines recently, I've seen the British Chief Medical Officer suggest it won't be ready until the winter of 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere. Should we be preparing that this could take at least a year?

NICK COATSWORTH:

It's such a challenge to know when a safe and effective vaccine is going to be available, and we have seen some very positive developments with vaccines going into the phase three of their trials, but that doesn't mean that we have any definite dates on their delivery and, you know, it is to an extent about expecta- managing our own expectations, but there again, it's about making sure that we don't stop our COVIDSafe behaviours in anticipation of a vaccine being on the horizon. So, our best defence at the moment remains physical distance, remains hand washing, remains great hand hygiene. And as I heard the chief health officers of Queensland and New South Wales just reiterate so clearly today in response to their cases, the importance of getting tested, even with the mildest of respiratory symptoms. So, the short answer to your question is it's entirely possible it may be 18 months away. Equally, we may see the vaccine sooner. There are so many unanswered questions about the vaccine. But we are very reassured though about the sheer amount of work that's going in around the world, all the resources that are going into produce what will be a safe and effective vaccine.

And Josh?

QUESTION:

Yeah, thank you Dr, I appreciate it. It's been reported in the US that American authorities could look to [inaudible]…

NICK COATSWORTH:

Go again, Josh.

QUESTION:

Sorry, I'll start again if you want. It's been reported in the US that American authorities could look to fast track the approval for the potential AstraZeneca and Oxford vaccine, giving approval for that vaccine before it goes through the normal amount of trials, the normal amount of volunteer test subjects, that sort of thing. Would Australia or is Australia considering, I guess, a similar fast tracking process for any vaccine that does prove to be a potentially viable candidate, or fast track it anyway? Or would we insist on such a vaccine going through the standard normal very large testing process as we would for any normal vaccine? I guess my question boils down to: will this be a normal process getting this vaccine approved or will it be kind of accelerated at the point where we get to that part of the argument, I guess?

NICK COATSWORTH:

I understand, Josh. So, at this stage, there are no plans to do anything other than our standard process with assessing the safety and efficacy of a vaccine. That is a very important message for Australians. If there is any adjustment at all to that process, it will be clearly communicated the reasons why. Noting of course that doing things quickly does not necessarily mean that corners are being cut. And I think that it would be an absolute requirement for us as health professionals, for our Australian Therapeutic Advisory Group on Immunisation, ATAGI, or the recently announced immunisation committee, which the acronym escapes me - I think it's [indistinct] that was announced by the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer. There will be no cutting of corners when it comes to safe- demonstrating the safety and efficacy of any COVID vaccine in Australia. Thanks, Josh.

And any final questions for today? Thank you very much.

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