Deputy Chief Medical Officer press conference about COVID-19 on 3 June 2020

Read the transcript of the press conference given by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly about coronavirus (COVID-19) on 3 June 2020.

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So the number of cases continuing to rise, very slowly in Australia. We now have seven thousand two hundred and twenty-nine cases. Only eight newly confirmed in the last 24 hours, and we remain on a death number of 102 which hasn't risen for some days. Most of those cases have recovered, so less than 500 cases in Australia have active COVID-19 disease. There are less than 30 people now in hospital, 25 in fact, five in intensive care and only two of those on ventilators. So again, we are really making great progress there in terms of the illness here in Australia.

Lots of tests, yesterday over 22,000 tests were done for COVID-19, and that means we've reached the milestone of 1.5 million tests done in Australia since the beginning of this pandemic. Most of those cases we've had in the last week, and including in the last 24 hours, have arrived from overseas and gone straight into hotel quarantine. The only exception to that rule is in Victoria, where there is a smaller outbreak now of people that have been part of the security guards in the hotels that have been looking after those people coming into quarantine from overseas. Other than that, it's really just overseas entrants in several states that have been adding to the numbers in recent days.

The second point I want to talk about briefly, there's been a lot of commentary about the issue of this, unfortunately this young man that died in central Queensland and deciding that it was not COVID, a COVID-related death, although the initial test was positive for that man.

So firstly, my condolences again to the family for that unfortunate incident. But what happened after that was entirely appropriate. And I'd just like to really stress that what was done in Blackwater in relation to the testing very quickly that was arranged and the checking of close contacts and then the voluntary testing throughout the town itself. My understanding is that over 10 per cent of people within that community turned up for testing, over 600 people. They were all negative, which is obviously a very reassuring thing, not only for the town and for the residents of the town, but for Queensland and Queensland Health. So that's good news, but it does demonstrate something that we do need to know that in our surveillance plan, we're not going to be testing a lot of people randomly, it's only this sort of approach. So we thought there was a case there, or Queensland Health believed there was a case, and then they very appropriately did the contact tracing in that community and amongst close contacts to check whether that had spread. And so that is going to be the way we'll be looking to handle the virus in the coming days and weeks and probably months ahead.

The final thing I'd like to just touch on is there's been some commentary also in the media about the reopening of stadiums and arenas, and whether we would be considering that for example, for some of our professional football codes. Of course, this will be considered at the appropriate time. At the moment it would be something beyond our three step plan that was announced a few weeks ago now by the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet. The reason is that as we- we have some general principles that we're following in relation to those steps. It's slowly opening up the economy and society in a way that balances the risk of increasing cases of COVID-19 and spread of COVID-19 through the community, with a need to get back to some sort of COVID-safe normal. If you think of a large crowd at a football match, for example, with a lot of interactions between the people in close proximity to each other, that starts to become a rather large risk event for those individuals, not only for themselves, but the risk of spreading that virus back out into the community for us to have multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 that we need to cope with, and the potential for having to pull back from some of these things that we have opened up.

So yes, we're going to try and get back to as much normality as we can and I would join many people in wanting to go and watch a football match. But we need to do this in a staged fashion and there is that plan. And once we get to stage three as indeed a couple of states will be doing very shortly - WA and NT are ahead of some of the other states for example - then these other things will be considered. And on Friday, the AHPPC will be starting to consider those next steps beyond stage three and to really nut out that risk and benefits equation so that we can make some plans for the future.

 So happy to take questions. Matt, I think you're the only one.


I am the only one here so it will be from me today. Professor Kelly, you mentioned there that the bulk of the cases are new cases are people that are coming in from overseas and so in that way you know where they've contracted coronavirus in a sense. We have also seen another cluster in a packing facility in Melbourne. Is this the sort of trend that we're likely to see going forward? That they are these clusters as opposed to wider transmission?


Yeah, look, our hope is that we won't be seeing any at all but we do need to remember that overseas in almost every other country of the world other than ourselves, New Zealand, some of the Pacific islands, a few other places, this virus is still out of control. There is large epidemics, large numbers of cases and deaths happening every day. So we have to keep that vigilance going around people coming from overseas. Here in Australia we have seen very few cases, we have definitely flattened that curve well and truly. And so what we hope is that we won't see any. But if we do see them I suspect we will be seeing this ripple effect of small numbers, isolated outbreaks very quickly recognised through our test, trace and respond way of dealing with these, and brought under control. And that is what we have seen in the Cedar Meats outbreak in Melbourne, in the couple of aged care facility outbreaks, much more difficult in fact in those settings but again being recognised and brought under control. And these things will happen from time to time, hopefully becoming less and less frequent over the period whilst we have the external boarders to Australia closed. I think once we start to think about allowing people to cross our borders again, then that will- that may be another phase to think of.


Picking up on what you were saying about sporting stadiums just earlier, can you paint - and I know that this is a moveable feast and nothing is sort of set in stone - but can you paint a picture for people at home listening or watching as to what a stadium might look like when crowds are able to start going into watch their favourite footy match? Is it going to be every third seat and every second row or what sort of- what might it look like?


So I think that we would certainly take into some of those issues that we have taken into all of the opening up that we have done so far. It is about physical distancing, it is about density within a certain area, taking into account whether it's an internal or external crowd. So a basketball stadium for example versus an NRL game may have slightly different ways of looking at things. And then it would be the sheer number. So all of these things would be taken into account and I don't want to pre-empt what the National Cabinet may decide in relation to that, nor indeed my discussion with colleagues on Friday but they'd be the general principles we'd take into play and then- yeah, so it could, for example, be a smaller than usual capacity situation as we have seen with pubs and clubs opening for example so far.


Have the leagues themselves, NRL, AFL put forward any sort of proposals to you?


I have certainly read comments from the NRL in the media but we haven't had any direct approach. I'm the Chair of the COVID-19 Sports and Health Committee, which- and we are again meeting today to look through some proposals from a couple of the community sport organisations and so, so far that has been about the organisation of the sports themselves in terms of training and playing and a timetable for doing that safely. The issue of crowds has not been formally assessed.


There's been a lot of discussion in recent months about this idea of a trans-Tasman travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand. What would need to be put in place at both sides - on either side of the Tasman - for that to be a reality? Are we talking about extra testing at airports or things like that?


Well, certainly. We've heard both Prime Minister Ardern and Prime Minister Morrison speak about this on a couple of occasions now, so there's certainly, at that highest level, a willingness to consider having such an arrangement. And when you look at the epidemiology of the COVID-19 issue in both- on both sides of the Tasman, we're at quite a similar stage. Not only in the number of current cases and our flattening of the epidemic curve, but also in our response. So, New Zealand is looking to open up a bit more now having closed down a bit further than we did, so we're at a similar stage.

When we get to that point and we're absolutely sure that we're both pretty much have the problem under control, then there'll be an arrangement, I'm very certain, to allow such a travel bubble to occur. It's about the timing of that, and what, if any, extra tests or screening and so forth would need to happen either prior to boarding or after arrival is a matter for discussion between the two countries, and those discussions are happening right now.


On the issue of the overseas caseloads, I remember very early on in this crisis, in this building I think it was, we were standing there having a press conference with you and the Johns Hopkins dashboard was off to the side showing the hot spots of cases - this was of course a long time before we were talking about closing our borders, the situation is now vastly different. But at the time you were pointing to the spread of the infection in Iran, in parts of Europe, of considerable concern for health authorities here. What parts of the world now are you most concerned about seeing those reports from?


So we are getting very solid reports which are of great concern from Brazil, from Russia. Those are the two leaders in terms of the large numbers of increasing cases over the last couple of weeks, but many parts of Europe, including the UK and North America, are also a problem, as is other parts of South America. Then there are a large number of countries in the world which don't have the same sophistication of surveillance and public health infrastructure that the ones I have just mentioned do, and they are also a concern. We don't know exactly how many cases there are - indeed, how many people may be dying from this disease. But we suspect that it's pretty much everywhere. Only the Pacific has been spared. And of most of the countries that have had some cases, they've gone on to develop very large outbreaks. Some of those are starting to decrease in their numbers - throughout Europe, for example, which is a very good thing. And then there are other countries that have not had a large outbreak so far, such as Taiwan. But most countries in the world continue to be affected in a much worse way than Australia is.


Just finally- just jumping back, sorry, to New Zealand, one point I didn't ask. Do you foresee, given the fact that some of the states and territories here have still got their borders closed - and no doubt you have had discussions with that with some of your state and territory colleagues - do you foresee a situation where Australians might be travelling to New Zealand before they're travelling, say, from Canberra to- or from Sydney to Perth?


Well, we have heard talk, and I myself have talked about the borders and the hope that they will open up, but that's really a matter for the states and territories themselves to decide when they would feel safe to do that. And we hope that that won't be too long into the future. How that fits with the trans-Tasman bubble if that occurs, then I can't really speculate. I don't really know about that timing. But certainly, the trans-Tasman thing is a very exciting possibility and could happen sooner than later, in which case we hope that the states will also be opening up.

Thanks very much.


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