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

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Here is the update in Australia as of 3pm today, 6,948 people were diagnosed with COVID-19, tragically 97 people have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in Australia. Eight new cases have been reported in the past 24 hours with no additional deaths. There were no new cases reported in the ACT, the Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia, or Tasmania. 6179 people are reported to have recovered from COVID-19 in Australia. We currently have 49 people who are in hospital, 16 people in intensive care units, and 14 people on ventilators. As of 3pm today, there have been over 855,000 tests carried out right across Australia.

I would like to focus on four issues this afternoon. The first is about our professional responsibility to protect each other from COVID-19. This is not a time to become complacent. We have very serious risks if overcrowding starts to occur. COVID-19 is still out there in our country. On Friday, as you all know, the National Cabinet agreed to a cautious three-step approach to gradually remove some of the restrictions which have been in place. And under this plan, each state and territory is now determining its own pace as to which of the restrictions will be lifted over the days ahead. But underlying this, each of us needs to continue our strong commitment to maintaining physical distancing of 1.5 metres from other people whenever we are outside of our homes, and that means avoiding crowds whenever possible. If you see a crowd, please go in the other direction.

Secondly, we need to maintain our hand hygiene and, of course, our cough and our sneeze etiquette. Thirdly, and very importantly, if you experience any symptoms of fever, or symptoms of a respiratory tract infection, please stay at home, contact your GP, and arrange to get tested for COVID-19. This is absolutely essential if we’re going to continue to effectively tackle COVID-19 in Australia.

And finally, if you haven't done so already, please download the COVIDSafe app so that you can be doing your part in assisting with the contacting of people who may have been in contact with COVID-19.

Secondly, and very importantly, I want to talk about vulnerable people in our community. Even though some of the restrictions have been lifted a little over the last few days, we still need to continue to protect vulnerable people right across Australia. And this means that if you’re a vulnerable person, please continue to stay at home, please only go out for when you need to go shopping, or you need to attend your medical appointments. And if you have a vulnerable person in your family, please continue to protect their health and well-being. A reminder that vulnerable people include people aged 70 and older in Australia, people aged 65 and older who have a chronic medical problem which may put them at increased risk of serious illness if they were to contract COVID-19, people who are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, people who are aged 50 or over with one or more chronic condition, and people who are immune-compromised. We need to continue to be very cautious and careful in protecting the most vulnerable people in the community.

Thirdly, an update on the COVIDSafe app. To date, over 5.5 million people have registered and downloaded to use the app on their smart phones. The app is operational and working, so if you have the app on your phone, it will be recording the details of people who you’ve been in close contact with, encrypting those details and storing them on your phone. The National Cabinet on Friday agreed to national protocols, for the use of the information being stored on the app by the disease detectives in each of the states and territories, and training is being completed of our disease detectives today and we hope that the app will therefore start to be used by disease detectives over the next day or two across the country.

Finally, a very important reminder about influenza vaccination. The flu season is expected to begin in Australia over the next month or so. So please, if you haven't yet arranged to get your flu vaccine from your GP or from your pharmacist, please reach out and arrange to do that over the next few weeks. Particularly important that people who are at increased risk of influenza, this year make sure that they are immunised against influenza. And a reminder there is a free flu vaccine available for all people aged 65 years and over, for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged six months and over, for all children aged between six months and five years, for all people aged six months and over who have a chronic disease that puts them at increased risk if they get influenza, and for all pregnant woman.

Thank you, very happy to take any questions.

QUESTION:

Professor, should people over 70 stay away from work if they’re still working?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So, at the moment this is an issue for every individual, determining what they do with regard to returning to the workplace, but people over 70 are vulnerable and going into a crowded work place at this time would not be sensible.

QUESTION:

Professor, May 11 was set as a review date for some of the elective surgery restrictions. What’s the latest in regards to that, and have we seen almost the uptake that you would’ve expected, or what’s the latest?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, so elective surgery is up and running right across the country now, which is terrific. So, many of the hospitals which had stopped doing elective surgery have started again, and also, we’re seeing a number of the procedures beginning again in facilities across the country. This is absolutely critical because what we’ve seen is a return to a lot of the screening for cancer occurring across the country, and a lot of the operations which have been delayed for people, for example, with chronic pain. These are now starting to happen again, which is really good.

QUESTION:

Professor, just on that, so we’ve only got 25 per cent restarting elective surgery. What’s your advice to National Cabinet on the next stage would be increased to 50 per cent, and will there be other types of surgery that will be prioritised, you mentioned cancer.

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So, cancer is already a priority, and that's part of the measures which are currently in place. National Cabinet will consider what's been happening with the rollout of surgery, and particularly how successful that has been across the country, and we’ll then look at additional possibilities over the weeks ahead.

QUESTION:

Professor, New Zealand is now opening its economy back up quicker than Australia, allowing domestic travel and gyms to reopen, that sort of thing. If they’re able to do it, why can't we?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So, the epidemic is different in every country, and so every country needs to determine its own pace as to what restrictions will be lifted and at what stage. And similarly, in Australia, with our stepped approach, we’re seeing each state and territory making determinations based on the local epidemiology of the virus and doing what's appropriate in their particular setting.

QUESTION:

Professor, a nuts and bolts question for you, how should organisations manage lifts? Are signs saying a certain number of people in the lift at a time mean that there might be queuing as people come back to work in foyers and that sort of stuff? Is there a concern that that moment could be a time for germs to spread?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So it’s very important that each employer have their own risk mitigation strategy on how they’re going to protect their workforce and how they’re going to protect their customers or their clients who are coming into their facilities. Clearly this also applies to the people who are running buildings, where there are elevators and where there may be large numbers of people coming in and out. One of the mechanisms which many employers are looking at is firstly continuing to have many of their staff working from home, where that is appropriate, which reduces crowding. Secondly, looking at staggering work times so not everybody is starting or finishing at the same time, and this reduces the risk of crowding as well. But it is also very important that people as part of their own personal responsibility, look at a lift and say can I get into this lift and is it going to be safe? Are the numbers in there already too many? And I will wait for the next lift.

QUESTION:

Professor, Australia's Chief scientist says the possible long-term health impacts of surviving a severe case of coronavirus haven't yet been canvassed by the rapid response information forum, is that concerning? And how do we know about the long-term health impacts of surviving a severe case?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes. So of course we have only been living with COVID-19 in Australia for a small number of months, and we are still learning a great deal. And what we are continuing to learn is what the impacts are on individuals, who have been very unwell. And who have for example required intensive care unit admission or have been on ventilators during the course of the treatment of their illness. We do know that many people who have been very unwell are taking quite a long period of time to recover. And clearly, as more and more people around the world are treated and recover, we will obviously know more and more about how this disease works.

QUESTION:

Professor, many- there have been some reports that some tests come up with false negatives, not false positives but false negatives, what is the Australian experience with this?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, so most tests have a rate of false negative results, and this means that someone may be infected, in this case with Covid-19, but you do a test and you don't get a positive result at that time. There are a number of reasons why this can occur, this can occur because we are testing very early, after someone has just been infected and they may not be having enough of the virus in their system to be able to pick it up through the test. Or the test may not have been carried out quite adequately. As you know, the swabs have to be put in quite a long way in people's throat and nose in order to get the specimen which we need. Certainly if people have symptoms which are highly suggestive of COVID-19, and they come back with a negative result, very often they’re treating doctors will be doing do a repeat test just in case that has been a false result.

QUESTION:

Professor, many Australian universities and experts have been involved with coronavirus research into its origins, mapping it’s genomes et cetera, are you concerned or is there any concern in the Australian Medical community of the involvement and collaboration with experts from China for example who, some would say, have invested interest in some of the findings, particularly into the origins of the disease?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So Australian researchers are working very hard with researchers from all over the world to try and understand many different aspects of COVID-19. And much of the research which we are carrying out is being carried out and being informed by the experience in China, and sometimes working with very longstanding research partnerships with people and institutions in China. So this is building on great relationships which people have had in the past.

QUESTION:

Professor, with restrictions easing, we could see a surge in cases in hospitals preparing ICU capacity, we’ve doubled the number of ventilators, but we still have shortages of some medicines such as propofol used to intubate patients and other COVID treatments. Are you concerned about those shortages?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So a fantastic job has been done by hospitals all around Australia to build capacity, to train up the surge workforce of nurses and doctors and others, in order, if we do get a significant number of cases, of increasing the number of ICU beds, increasing the number of ventilators which we have available and increasing access to essential medicines. At the moment, fortunately, we have – as I’ve mentioned – very small numbers of people who have been hospitalised, and even smaller numbers of people requiring access to intensive care, so at the moment we have the capacity that we need. But we have that surge capacity available if we happen to need it in the future.

QUESTION:

Is there any link between the issues around ICU capacity and the fact that we have made the announcement about increasing elective surgeries today?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

Certainly some elective surgery will result in patients who, after surgery require care, either in a high dependency unit, or in an intensive care bed. And the initial pullback on elective surgery was related to making sure that our hospitals were not overwhelmed at the start of the pandemic when we didn't know how things were necessarily going to go in Australia. Now we have that capacity in our intensive care units if it is needed for people having elective surgery so things are a lot safer now.

QUESTION:

Professor, is there concern with the colder weather approaching or it has arrived in parts of the country, that that really will be a bigger transmitter of this virus as we have perhaps seen in the northern hemisphere in earlier months?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So we don't understand exactly what the impact of the weather has on transmission rates for COVID-19. Clearly, as the weather gets colder people tend to crowd more, and we may get more crowding for example on public transport, or inside in venues. Clearly the mechanisms which have been put in place to maintain physical distancing, to reduce the number of people, per four square metres in each venue, is incredibly important in helping to prevent any seasonal increase in COVID-19 cases.

QUESTION:

Professor, in terms of the role of the AHPCC going forward in this pandemic, as more states ease their restrictions, is it possible that that national body could recommend to an individual state that they slow down if there are dramatic changes to their curve? Or would it be up to the individual chief health officer of that state?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So each state and territory sets its own pace for how the easing of any restrictions is taking place. The AHPCC involves the Chief Medical Officer and the chief health officers of each of the states and territories, meeting each day and talking about what is happening in each of the states and territories, so there is a lot of communication about decisions which are being made, and a lot of discussion about the pace of change which occurs in each state and territory.

QUESTION:

But to clarify the hierarchy, the state officer would have the final say on slowing or speeding up the easing of restrictions?

PROFESSOR MICHAEL KIDD:

So it's up to the premier or the chief minister in each of the states and territories, as to what happens with each of the restrictions, and obviously they do that in partnership and in discussion with their own chief health officers.

Great, thank you, everybody. Thank you for today and also thank you to our interpreters. Thank you.

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