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

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

[I’m the] deputy chief medical officer, happy to give an update today at the coronavirus situation. So as of today the latest figures are over 34,000 cases, 34,865 with 724 deaths. Most of those remain in China and most of the Chinese cases remain in Hubei province including the city of Wuhan where the virus was first found about a month ago.

In terms of Australia - in terms of outside of Chin - 319 cases in 27 places including: Macao, Hong Kong, Taiwan and in other nation states. There are 15 cases in Australia. So no update on that in recent times. None of those are serious and several of the patients have returned home and are now no longer infectious.

In terms of the travel restrictions that were put in place a week ago by the Prime Minister, they remain in force. So anyone who's been in or transited through China since the 1st of February, if they are Australian residents, Australian citizens, permanent residents or their close family, they are allowed to come. But when they arrive they will be here- they will be required to be in self-isolation. Other nationalities will not be coming to Australia and that's for a 14-day period. So halfway through that travel restriction time.

We have had two flights that have arrived with returnees from Wuhan into Australia. One an Australian flight which arrived in Christmas Island with 242 passengers and another one which was where 36 passengers on an Air New Zealand flight a couple of days later. They remain in isolation in quarantine on Christmas Island.

We are also at the moment working closely with Chinese authorities around another return - assisted return - of Australian citizens from Wuhan. And that will be arriving into Darwin as soon as possible. Those passengers will be housed in a facility in Howard Springs just south of Darwin. And that's because the quarantine aspect of Christmas Island is full for the time being with those other patients, the other people I mentioned.

The final point is to say that we are aware, the Australian Government is aware, of three cruise ships that are affected by coronavirus. Of the first two, the Diamond Princess, which is in Yokohama at the moment, has 3,700 people on board of which 219 are Australians who are well. They are being kept on the ship in terms of quarantine situation because of the presence of coronavirus on that ship. There are seven Australians out of 64 people that have tested positive for the virus and they are currently being cared for in hospital.

There is a second cruise ship that we know of in Hong Kong. There are 16 Australians on board. We do know that there is coronavirus on that ship. We are not aware at this point that any Australians are affected.

There is a third cruise ship that we have become aware of it just today known as the Westerdam and there is no official information in relation to that ship or indeed if there are Australians on that ship. So I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION:

Where is that third ship located?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

It is somewhere between Japan and Guam. So that's as far as we know. So in the Pacific.

QUESTION:

Are we likely to become aware of more cruise ships, it seems like coming out of the woodwork. No. What's the process there?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So cruise ships are a place where infections can spread quite quickly. We know this from many times before in relation to norovirus for example. Of course the diarrhoea that happens from time to time on cruise ships. Anywhere where you have a large number of people in close quarters and mixing very closely that does increase the chances of infection. Of course someone would need to come onto the ship from- with the infection to allow that to happen. And that appears to have been a case with the cruise ships I've mentioned.

The cruise ship, the international cruise ship organisation yesterday did suggest that people should not be able to get onto cruise ships from the areas which are mostly affected by the virus at the moment. So that should help to decrease that problem.

QUESTION:

Do you have any more detail around that third ship in terms of when it left port, when the last people got onto that onto the boat? When the chances of infection were [indistinct].

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

No the third ship is just breaking news really. We don't have any further information but will- as we get that information we’ll provide that.

QUESTION:

There have been reports today, Professor Kelly, that there might be a case or a suspected case of coronavirus in the Christmas Island quarantine facility. Are you able to give us any information about that?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yes. I can confirm that one out of that almost 300 group has developed an illness which could, stress could, it could be all sorts of other things we don't have a test positive at this point. But there is a young woman who is a child in fact that has developed symptoms that could be coronavirus. The appropriate testing has been done and that will be done in Perth.

QUESTION:

So it's a child that's tested?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY: 

It's a child. Yes.

QUESTION: 

Are you able to say how old the child is?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

I won't go into details for privacy reasons obviously. But the person is well, it's certainly not a serious illness at this stage. They have been further isolated from the other people that are on the island and the appropriate steps in infection control and indeed clinical care are being taken.

QUESTION:

Are you able to give us any further update on this flight out of Wuhan. It's supposed to go ahead tonight. There's obviously some uncertainty about that. What's your best understanding of whether or not this flight will actually go ahead around midnight tonight to Australia?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So all the preparations have been made and we're certainly ready to go. We're working very closely with Chinese authorities who of course have the final say as to whether the flight can go ahead and when that might happen. But we certainly, as soon as possible, that flight will be arriving in Darwin.

QUESTION:

So is it correct that at the moment we don't have the approval of the Chinese government for that flight to leave?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

We're working through that at the moment. There's multiple things we've had to do to prepare, the flight is ready to go, the plane is in Hong Kong with all the staff and crew that are required. And as soon as we have that that confirmation we'll be back [indistinct].

QUESTION:

Are you confident that we'll get the approval?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yes, I'm confident. But I can't absolutely guarantee it. Because it is indeed Chinese soil and the Chinese have been fantastically cooperative and helpful in relation to not only Australian flights but many other countries that have been wanting to repatriate their citizens.

QUESTION:

How many people are you expecting to arrive on that flight?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So that will be confirmed once the once the flights in the air.

QUESTION:

And has the holdup been more logistical one or a political one, are you able to give any further detail on why there has been this holdup from the Chinese end?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

No. I won't go into any further details at the moment.

QUESTION:

Can I also ask; what planning is underway here in Australia if the virus spreads? It seems like it's being contained quite well at this point. But what planning is underway if the number of cases starts to rapidly increase?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So we have very well developed plans in relation to this type of event. We've certainly done planning over many years in relation to pandemic influenza. And what sort of things can be done at the border and beyond the border. And if the virus was to come to Australia, we certainly have plans in place based on that work that we've done, very detailed work in relation to how viruses spread. This coronavirus is not flu. But there are very many elements of it that similar to flu; spread in the same way, it's around about as infectious as flu perhaps a little bit more infectious, it can cause serious illness but mostly doesn't. So we know a lot about this type of virus and how it spreads and how you can stop it spreading and the kind of consequences that may happen to health services for example.

QUESTION:

Are you able to give us any detail about things that you could enact or plans that you could put in place if it did start to spread?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yes, so that pandemic plan is a publicly available document. It's on our website and we're at the moment working through any subtle differences that may need to be done for this particular virus. But as I say, essentially it's the same. So the first things are to try and keep the virus out of Australia. So the things we've done so far are absolutely in line with that plan in terms of travel restrictions and so on. Self-isolation and quarantine are secondary efforts. So we do have people that have been at risk and have arrived or indeed the 15 that have been sick. Those plans have been taken into account.

We've been looking and indeed today we met as we're meeting every day with our scientific expert committees as well as our Australian Health Protection Committee which has representatives from every state and territory, as well as the Commonwealth and some experts into those plans. And seeing what is the next step; where are we in terms of laboratory testing, surveillance and clinical care and so on.

QUESTION:

And getting back to a young woman who is being tested for the virus. In the worst case scenario if she does test positive, what are the next steps in dealing with that on Christmas Island.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well certainly if she's positive then we'd have to look at who she'd been in close contact with and to see what the consequences of that might be in terms of the quarantine time. But most importantly and this would be regardless of whether she has carried a virus or not, to make sure that the best clinical care is available. We have our AUSMAT team, that's a medical expert team, 24 people on the island exactly for this reason.

So we have a tent which is essentially a tent hospital, that has been set up within that facility where all the passengers are. And that's there exactly for this reason, to assist people if they're sick from whatever cause, including those sick with the coronavirus infection.

QUESTION:

15 cases in Australia. Is that a relatively good number for Australia at the moment, given other cases world-wide. And connections to China, are authorities fairly comfortable with where we are at the moment?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well we're certainly at a state of alert and to make sure that we are looking to pick up any further cases if they actually exist. So those 15 - all of them have had very close and direct association with Wuhan or from someone, with someone from Wuhan. So there's that group in Queensland, which are all from the same tour group for example. We've had no cases in the general community. We've had no positive tests of all the people that we've looked at that have been coming across the border since 1 February. We've had no positive tests from anywhere else in the community. And we're looking closely. Different States are doing that slightly differently in terms of their testing regimes. But many, many people are being tested and so far they're all negative.

Thanks. Thank you.

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