Date published: 
28 May 2020
Media event date: 
17 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

I’m Paul Kelly, Deputy Chief Medical Officer here to talk about COVID-19. Just to start with the latest data. We have now 7,139 cases that have been diagnosed in Australia so that means 11 new cases in the last 24 hours. We’ve had 1 more death as well, in Queensland, and that makes 103 people that have died of this disease so far.

The good news is that there is now less than 500 cases that are active in Australia, so people that are still sick with this disease. That's continuing to drop that number — 30 people are in hospital, 6 in ICU and only 3 on ventilators. So that is all very good news. We are continuing to do a lot of testing now over 1.3 million tests done in Australia since the beginning of this pandemic and 35,000 tests in the last 24 hours. The positivity rate remains extremely low and this is a good sign that we are picking up cases if they are indeed there.

So the next thing I would like to just talk about briefly is flu vaccine. This is the time when we should be all getting our influenza vaccines. It is really important in this year, even though we haven't seen much flu yet, that that time may come and we certainly don't want to get into the situation of having 2 respiratory viruses causing sickness at the same time for individuals and also to put further pressure on our health care system. So the good news announced today by Minister Hunt was that we now have 18 million vaccines available in Australia and 7.3 million people have already had their vaccine, which is great news. That's a lot more than the 4.5 million that had had the vaccine by this time year-to-date last year. That 18 million, by the way, is an increase from just over 13 million vaccines that were made available in 2019.

So now is the time, if you haven't already had your flu shot to go and get that from your normal provider, whether that is a GP, a pharmacist or others, and really make sure — particularly if you're in those risk groups, which are the same for COVID-19 and for influenza, so people over the age of 65, people with certain chronic illnesses, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in particular — you should really be considering having your flu shot. So I'll open for questions now thanks.

QUESTION:

The man in Blackwater, what can you tell us about the connection with a Rockhampton nurse who tested positive?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, this is unfortunately the 30-year-old man who passed away yesterday— in the last 24 hours. So that's a terrible tragedy, my condolences go to his wife and other family and friends. It is by far our youngest death so far from COVID-19 and it is a reminder firstly that this is a serious illness and whilst it does affect the people that I listed just now, older people and people with chronic illness, it can affect anyone and it can affect people severely.

So, look, this man died suddenly, it is now a coroner's case and I will leave the coroner to decide about the circumstances of the death, but it certainly is COVID positive. How it came to be in Blackwater, quite an isolated area of inland from Rockhampton in Queensland, is a matter of conjecture. I know that the Queensland Health authorities are looking into that, and we will wait for their advice.

QUESTION:

How concerned are you though that a 30-year-old died of coronavirus prior to being diagnosed with the disease in a regional town, and there is no clear determination as to how he contracted it? Is that worrying for you and your colleagues?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

It certainly is a concern that we— any person who contracts COVID-19 without a clear link with a previous case or as is the case with still over two-thirds of the people that have contracted this virus in Australia, some link with overseas travel. Yes, that in itself is a concern because it shows that there is community transmission of some sort. Unusual that we haven't had many people in rural areas in any state and so at this point in the pandemic it is a concern. I understand that he had been sick for some weeks and I guess he hadn't assumed that it was COVID-19. It is another very strong reminder to all of us at this point if anyone has any symptoms that are of a respiratory virus, a cold, it might feel like a cold, it could be COVID and we really want to get that test done.

QUESTION:

What can you tell us about any other exacerbating factors that may have caused this death in someone so young? Do we know what his medical history is or can you reveal to us or was he healthy prior to contracting coronavirus?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

I understand he had some other medical issues, but again it is a coroner's case so I probably shouldn't talk too much about that.

QUESTION:

Why was he tested post-mortem? Was there some suspicion he's had COVID?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well, just as I mentioned, he's had 3 weeks of a respiratory illness prior to his death, and so in this time of COVID we really want to make sure that we either rule in or rule out that diagnosis and so the test was quite appropriately done.

QUESTION:

And I understand there's a second test being conducted, is that right, just to find out whether the first might have been a false positive?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So the test that was conducted was 1 of the rapid tests, a rapid PCR test, not the serology tests we have been talking about over the past few weeks. So it is known as the gene expert. It is part of a testing facility or testing capacity that we've rolled out to rural and remote areas particularly Aboriginal communities, over the past few weeks, for exactly— not for after people have died but to exactly get a very rapid test. It's very reliable but our general principle in relation to those point of care tests is where it's available to have a check. So this person will have that as part of their...

QUESTION:

[Interrupts] Is the second test a different type of test?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Correct, it will be done in a laboratory in Brisbane.

QUESTION:

And when do you expect that result back?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well this matter is for the coroner and I'm sure he or she will report that when it's available.

QUESTION:

On the sheep matter, the live export ship off Western Australia, when did the Federal Health Department find out firstly about the people with temperatures and secondly about the six cases on board?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, yes, the sheep ship with the 6 sailors is an issue which is being worked through very well by WA Health in conjunction with our Department of Agriculture who have the responsibility under the Biosecurity Act to look at sailors that are sick at sea. They were advised according to the protocols several days before the ship docked in Fremantle and that information was passed on to WA Health at this time.

QUESTION:

The Western Australia Premier has raised concerns about communication with federal authorities, do you share his concerns that there might have been some hiccups there?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Look, I understand that Mr McGowan has retracted partially that statement earlier today that he does understand that the case was that the appropriate people in his Government were informed at an appropriate time and so that's been resolved. The 6 sailors by the way are not severely unwell, they are in hotel quarantine, safely for them, safely for the public of WA and the other sailors on board are being monitored for their own health.

QUESTION:

Can the public have confidence in both state and federal governments that they have learned the lessons that the Ruby Princess debacle taught us and that communication is effectively happening on both levels, in regards to both passenger ships and export ships?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, in terms of cruise ships they remain banned from Australian waters so this is quite materially different from the Ruby Princess. We do, of course, want to continue trading with the rest of the world and that's really important. And so we do have a fairly large number of ships coming with rather small crews and no passengers into Australian waters and we have a process in relation to that which has worked well this time and I'm very confident with how that is working.

QUESTION:

What about the people who boarded the ship, the officials, do have you any concerns for their health? Have they been tested or quarantined?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Look, that is a matter that's being worked through with WA Health and I'm not sure who entered the ship under what circumstances but I'm sure that will be taken into account if there are any concerns.

QUESTION:

In New South Wales, there are 2 students that have tested positive to coronavirus, both at schools in Sydney's eastern suburbs. Are health authorities concerned that there may be an undetected cluster in Sydney's eastern suburbs?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well, there have previously been— has previously been community transmission in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. That's some weeks ago now. You will recall issues around Bondi and backpackers and so on. So, yes, that is a concern. As I said before, any unlinked case is a concern for us. But on a positive note, it demonstrates that we are actually picking up cases as we go through this process of reopening society, reopening the economy, the opening up of schools, for example. We do expect to see the occasional case and finding them quickly, taking the appropriate action, as has happened in those 2 schools, looking for contacts, checking whether they are related in some way, is all part of that process.

And so, look, people should not be concerned. I think exactly the appropriate things have been done in New South Wales, excellent public health authorities there under the leadership of Dr Kerry Chant and I'm sure that will be resolved quickly.

QUESTION:

Back on the case up in Queensland, are you confident that contact tracing and testing in Queensland by health authorities there is working efficiently and, as it should be, given this case that has been detected in a regional part of the state?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yeah, absolutely. In a sense, someone can't be found— tested or found if they don't present. And so, it's really— there's one side to make sure you've got the testing and people are being tested appropriately. But this is another reminder that if you do have flu or cold-like symptoms at this stage, you should not ignore them and you should actually seek out a test, be reassured or at least be diagnosed and so appropriate care can be given.

QUESTION:

On the NRL and the AFL, are you now confident all of their procedures are right for the matches to go ahead?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, I'm the chairperson of a committee that was set up by the National Cabinet to look at the reintroduction of sport, both at the elite level and the community level. And so, the AFL, the NRL, Football Federation, the netballers, we've had quite a large number of sports have come to us now to examine their plans and I must say that the sports themselves have really taken it on board the sort of things that they need to look at to make the reintroduction of sport, both at the elite level and the community level, as safe as possible both for people that are participating but for the wider public.

So, in terms of the AFL and the NRL, they have certainly done their due diligence in relation to that. Of course, it's not without risk. Both of those sports are very much contact sports, and so, keeping physical distance will not be possible of course. So they'll be following those plans that we've looked at, which is great, and I know they're going to be monitoring their players very closely. And we just have to wait and see.

QUESTION: 

Is there independent monitoring of that? Is the health authorities having an oversight of that separate to the sporting organisations?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

No, no. Look, they've given us their plans and if anything, it's kind of a little bit higher than we would have suggested they did in certain circumstances, but that's fine. And they've got those plans. As long as they follow those, they'll be fine. And the realise the consequences of not following them both from a reputational point of view — we're all watching closely — but second of all for the disruption it might make to the competitions if there was a positive case in a team, for example.

QUESTION:

Just on National Cabinet meets on Friday, I understand, are there particular health-related issues on the agenda for that? Any extra steps, extra plans to be put in place for that meeting?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, there's a number of reports that they have asked for in relation to where we are now and where we think we might be going in the future in terms of the pandemic. And as we— before we started to open up the economy and society into a new COVID safe way of living, there were several precedents that the Prime Minister talked about after a National Cabinet meeting in relation to the testing, the tracing, contact tracing, the reaction to cases or outbreaks and so forth. So we'll be giving an update on how we see that progressing. There was also a national surveillance plan looking at how we would be really looking at what's happening in the epidemic to advise the National Cabinet in relation to the steps towards a COVID safe society. And so we will be giving an update on that as well.

I think, Kirsten, you had some questions on the phone.

QUESTION:

Yes, I have a question. Can you hear me?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yes.

QUESTION:

So, my question was about testing. The testing numbers appear to be falling rather than increasing. There were 183,000 tests last week, which was an average, I think, of 26,000 a day, which is well down on the week before when it was close to 31,000 a day. Brendan Murphy mentioned wanting to do 40,000 to 50,000 tests a day. We haven't got anywhere near that yet. Are we testing enough?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, the questions about testing and are we testing enough. So, the issue with that, I think, from about 3, 4 weeks to 2 weeks ago was during the period where 3 jurisdictions were having a so-called blitz on testing. And so, that explains the higher figure. Yesterday, we did 35,000. So, again, not quite that 40 to 50 but it's a lot.

We're continuing to see a very low positivity rate amongst those tests, which is one of the demonstrations that we're testing enough. You can only test what you have in front of you so, again, it's a call to people who have symptoms to come — any concerns at all to come and be tested. You will be tested. We've recently reviewed our results from the COVID or respiratory clinics that are being funded by the Commonwealth — now over 100 of those right around Australia — and over 95 per cent of people that are coming to those clinics are being tested. So that's where a large number of the tests are being done.

QUESTION:

Can I ask one more question?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Sure.

QUESTION:

So, I'm just wondering if you are comfortable with the rate that the economy is opening in the various states at this stage?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, each of the state and territories have their own ways of going forward on this road. We've all got the same road map that's going at slightly different speeds. They are taking a step-by-step approach as per the national decision— National Cabinet, but not all exactly the same approach. And that's really their decision to make. They're the ones that know their local epidemiology and their local situation in those state and territories.

And so, look, in general terms, they're all heading in the same direction at about the same speed, just slightly differently. And I know it probably is somewhat confusing to people around Australia because there is such variation, but within each states, the state authorities have done their own explanations of those and so people should be looking to their own state premier, health officials, health minister and so on who are making those announcements, and all of them have very clear guidelines on their web pages as well.

Do you have another one, Kirsten?

QUESTION:

No, thank you.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Okay. One last question. Yeah. Thanks.

QUESTION:

Have you had any contact with your New Zealand counterparts? Have you had any preliminary discussions on how a bubble might work?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yes. The trans-Tasman bubble is certainly a possibility. We're both— if we look at the countries that are doing extremely well in the world in terms of controlling this COVID-19 problem, New Zealand is certainly, if anything, a bit better than us in terms of— they have very few cases now and they're releasing their restrictions in the same sort of way that we are and they're in about the same stage as us. So, for all those reasons actually, you can consider the possibility of international borders open between the 2 countries.

To answer your specific question, yes, we have had our preliminary discussions earlier this week. Myself and Professor Murphy had discussions with our counterparts in New Zealand and we're very pleased with their thoughts about how this might work and we'll be preparing advice on both sides of the ditch to—

QUESTION:

For Friday's meeting?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Not for Friday's meeting but certainly in the coming weeks, we'll be having those discussions.

QUESTION:

There are reports from New Zealand that some sort of trans-Tasman plan will be devised next month, is that [inaudible]?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well, that'll be a decision for National Cabinet on this side of the Tasman and for Prime Minister Ardern's team over there to decide that. But yeah, look, it would be a wonderful thing for us to have that if it goes forward and I think it's certainly feasible that we could do so in the not too distant future.

Okay. Thanks very much everyone.

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