Date published: 
8 July 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

NICK COATSWORTH:

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to today's coronavirus update. I can report that as of 1:30pm today, a total of 8886 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Australia, and tragically, 106 people have lost their lives to coronavirus disease. There have been 147 new cases to 1:30pm today. The percentage of overseas-acquired cases in the last seven days has dropped to 10 per cent. Of those 147 cases, 134 new cases emanating from Victoria, and of note, three new COVID-19 diagnoses made in the Australian Capital Territory today. There are 46 people hospitalised with COVID-19, of whom eight are in intensive care units, and five of those are being ventilated to support their breathing through coronavirus disease.

Today, I'd like to acknowledge in particular those residents of greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shire who return to Stage 3 restrictions. This is clearly harder the second time around, when only a short time ago we were lifting restrictions, when other parts of Australia are still lifting restrictions. It is a difficult thing to have to do the second time around. What I would say to people though in- down in Victoria, in those area, is that you did it the first time. We all did it the first time. We learnt new skills about how we were going to cope under Stage 3 restrictions. We reached out online. We can continue to do that. We can talk to people via telephone. We can maintain our distance. We can bring coronavirus disease under control again in the greater Melbourne region. In particular, for those who know of vulnerable people, either within your own family or friendship networks or your neighbours, make sure they're okay during these times; that was a particularly important thing that we all did during February and March. From the perspective of our mental health, all the anxiety and concern that occurred the first time around may well be coming back, may well for some people be coming back in an increased way, and so what we would encourage all people to do is seek advice from those organisations that are so well-known in Australia and that the Australian Government has funded specifically for this purpose - Beyond Blue, Lifeline, the Black Dog Institute, amongst others - and go to Head to Health on the web to be able to find out how you can best access mental health services.

This is not just a Victorian problem. It is a national problem and a shared problem. And because it's a national and shared problem, the Commonwealth and every single jurisdiction is supporting the Victorian health department, the public health physicians down there, Professor Brett Sutton and his colleagues, in bringing this under control. In light of the new cases that have been uncovered today in travellers from Victoria, we would strongly encourage anybody who has left Victoria and finds themselves in another jurisdiction, another state or territory, as soon as you feel at all unwell, please do not interact with other people. Please find your way to a testing facility, and if there is any- if you're in a new part of Australia, and you don't know where that testing facility is, you can go to health.gov.au, enter the postcode, and you will find the nearest GP respiratory clinic. I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION:

There's been 100 cases that have been linked to just one school outbreak in Victoria. Has the advice in schools changed at all? Is this something that you're looking at?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, we're aware of the outbreak in Al-Taqwa College. The behaviour of COVID-19 amongst school-aged children remains the same. They- school-aged children are less affected as a proportion of the population than are young adults or older Australians. The severity of disease remains less. The likelihood of developing severe disease remains less. The- but it is a timely reminder that in a variety of situations, COVID-19 can spread. We have provided advice from the AHPPC about exactly how schools can be kept safe, including adults not interacting in the school environment. In particular, we know from other outbreaks overseas, particularly in Israel, that older children- it's not just in the classroom that older children mingle - it's before school, it's after school. And equally, within the Al-Taqwa outbreak and other school outbreaks, this is a out- epidemic that has now changed in Australia. So, what we're seeing is far more households, households with young families, and so it is not a surprise that you would start to see cases introduced into the school environment.

QUESTION:

Should states like New South Wales and the ACT be looking at compulsory hotel quarantine for people returning from Victoria?

NICK COATSWORTH:

That will be a matter for the states and territories. The reality is at the moment that the borders are closed and that any exemptions have to go through the relevant state jurisdictions. So I'll actually leave the individual jurisdictions to answer that question.

QUESTION:

Since this is crossing jurisdictions, probably right to ask you. We've now seen some cases and some possible cases linked along the border across both sides - New South Wales and Victoria. Is the AHPPC providing further advice, especially to National Cabinet ahead of Friday, on what could be done across those two jurisdictions?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, the border between New South Wales and Victoria is obviously a very particular case that there is probably no border like it in terms of the number of towns, the number of people that rely on business or essential services across those borders. So we're aware certainly that it's an issue, but it's an issue that needs to be managed between the Victorian Government and the New South Welsh Government being primarily responsible for their citizens. But obviously they're aware of that being an issue. The importance of bringing that border closure in quickly was explained by Premier Berejiklian today, and some of the consequences of that for those citizens in cross-border towns are being managed in the coming days.

QUESTION:

How concerned are you about the spread of the virus from Victoria to other states? We've now seen it in the ACT and also New South Wales in Merimbula. Is this a concern for you, and are you looking at potentially slowing the easing of restrictions considering we've now seen this in three states linked to Victoria?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, it is clearly a concern when we see people who have recently travelled up from Melbourne and who have developed COVID-19 in other jurisdictions. We are all on very high alert; every public health unit across the eastern seaboard is on alert, and the most important thing is that we trace, we test, we isolate. In order to do that, we also need the help of Australians, of people - Victorians who have travelled in particular. The good news is that those people have done exactly the right thing. They've developed symptoms, they've recognised that they are at risk, and they've got tested, and the public health authorities can now manage things as we would expect. So, yes, it is a concern, but we are very vigilant for this to occur.

In terms of your second question, the restrictions, every state and territory looking at the outbreak in Victoria is considering, individually, their level of restrictions and where to move on that and they'll make their own announcement on that issue.

Now, I do have some calls on the phone, so I might just take Dana first.

QUESTION:

Thanks, Professor. Just if I can combine two questions into one. We've had a number of major outbreaks now. We've had the Tasmanian outbreak, we've had the Ruby Princess, Melbourne hotel quarantine. Is there a key learning that health authorities are deriving from those outbreaks in terms of how to avoid them coming going forward? And just on the World Health Organization confirming that the virus is airborne, what changes can we expect to see in regards to mask-use and the guidelines on that both for the public and in healthcare settings?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, thank you, Dana, and thanks for promoting me to professor, it's very kind of you. With regards to the World Health Organization, so the statement today regarding aerosolisation of the virus is in response to a letter that was signed by over 200 scientists commenting on increasing evidence that the COVID-19 virus is present in airborne particles and can potentially stay suspended for longer than we may have thought. The important thing to remember here is that the AHPPC, like the World Health Organization, like scientists around the world, actually pays close attention to this advice and determines whether - if at all - things need to be modified, the advice needs to be modified.

Let me just put a little word of caution on that particular comment of aerosolisation. We know that you can find virus in the air around someone who's infected, but those tests are largely done in laboratory conditions. We do not necessarily know the implication of that and how readily that means the virus is going to be spread beyond the 1.5 metres that we recommend people to socially distance. The- we've got to remember that the basic reproductive number is only 2.5, and that is more consistent with viruses that the primary mode of spread is contact and droplet, rather than airborne, highly infectious viruses like the chickenpox virus or like the measles virus.

So we will continue to maintain a watching brief on that, but there is no proposed change to the recommendations at the moment. And now that I've given that long answer, I'm just going to have to ask you to repeat the first question, please.

QUESTION:

Just about the just, sort of, general learnings taken from the outbreaks we have seen so far such as the Tasmanian outbreak, the quarantine hotels, Cedar Meats, Ruby Princess. Is there any common thread through them in terms of what we can learn going forward to avoid things like that happening again?

NICK COATSWORTH:

So, the question relates to the- any common learnings from Ruby Princess, Cedar Meats, North West Tasmania, that we could apply to Victoria at the moment. So, obviously we are constantly learning, but the real answer to that question, I think, is the demonstration that every outbreak is different. It's different in terms of how spread occurs, whether it's on a cruise ship, whether it's in a residential aged care facility, whether it's in a hospital. There's all individual learnings that can be had, and that is cumulative. In fact, this outbreak is markedly different to any of those, in that it has originated and emerged in households, in young families - large, culturally-diverse families - and is now within the community. And one of the things that we can see at the moment is that for the moment, fortunately, the hospitalisation rates are a lot lower because the age of the patients, the people who are suffering from COVID-19, is also lower. And we know that whilst severe disease can occur in young people, it's more likely to occur in the elderly.

Of course, when we think about residential aged care facilities and what we've learnt from Dorothy Henderson Lodge in Newmarch, that's led to new levels of vigilance amongst aged care providers, increased funding from the Government, amongst other things in the new code of conduct for aged care providers during COVID-19. So that is to say that yes, we do learn, but the cautionary tale - and something that all public health physicians will let you know - is that each outbreak has its own characteristics, and this one is no exception.

Now, who else is online there?

QUESTION: 

It's Jane at ABC here. Can I ask if you're concerned by the failure to screen passengers on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney last night?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Jane's posed the question, am I concerned about the failure to screen passengers on a flight from Melbourne to Sydney last night? Jane, there are a number of steps in place and processes that New South Wales have to make sure that people are safe coming from Melbourne to Sydney, and that they're not travelling from the hotspots. There's- that is going to be an issue for New South Wales Health to speak to, I'm afraid; I don't have the detail behind that. Obviously, it's important that when we have those travel restrictions in place that we do find out where people have travelled from, but I'll have to leave it at that. And a person online there.

QUESTION:

Hello. Felicity Davey in Sydney at SBS, Dr Coatsworth. A quick one: Raina McIntyre and others are saying that Victorians and anyone in Australia at risk of coronavirus should wear a mask in public. What would your response to that be?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Thank you, Felicity. So, the question is that some leading epidemiologists, including Professor McIntyre, have indicated that Victorians and any vulnerable person indeed in Australia should be wearing a mask. The AHPPC statement on masks has been absolutely clear and is now applicable in a Victorian context. And that is that in areas of increasing community transmission, where social distancing cannot be performed, that masks should be considered to be used by individuals - by individuals who cannot socially distance. So, what I want to emphasise on that point is that the primary protection to stop this virus from getting from one person to another is, has always been, and always will be, distance between one individual and another. In situations like we have in greater Melbourne at the moment, the most important thing is going to be adhering to Stage 3 restrictions. That is designed to decrease movement, decrease mixing, and increase distance between people. But if you are in those areas, and you find that you are unable to do that, then mask-wearing should be encouraged. With regard to the rest of Australia and whether vulnerable people should wear masks, I would simply say that there are vulnerable people around Australia who have very severe immune-suppress conditions that are wearing masks already - I treat a number of them in my practice - but for COVID-19 specifically, in areas where there is no community transmission, like Western Australia, like the Northern Territory, and like Queensland, and indeed most of the states and territories, there is no community transmission, that widespread community mask-use, it remains the position of the AHPPC that that is not indicated.

QUESTION:

Now, there's been plans that have been starting to be put in place for, I guess, a return for some international students to come back to Australia in ACT - the two universities there have put forward a plan for 350 students to be coming back for Semester Two. With everything that's going on, with community transmission putting pressure on systems, with this idea that we might be reducing the number of people returning from overseas, do you think it's likely that that will still actually be able to happen?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, I think you are correct to point out that the current outbreak, given the pressure it's putting on authorities down in Victoria - it's been clear that they've asked for no more international travellers - given the origin, at least the potential origin of the outbreaks down in Victoria through the hotel quarantine system, that other states have explicitly said that they would like to reduce the numbers of people coming into the country. Now, what I can also tell you from the Prime Minister's press conference today is that's going to be a matter for a National Cabinet discussion on Friday. It's not something that I can pre-empt, but obviously those first ministers who are looking to have international students coming into their states and territories will be discussing that with the Prime Minister as part of that, sort of, omnibus discussion about people coming into the country. I'll take one more question.

QUESTION:

But would your advice be that plans like that should be put off?

NICK COATSWORTH:

Well, that's a matter for National Cabinet, and we'll wait to see what they say on Friday afternoon. Thank you very much.

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