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

SABRA LANE:

The death toll has now reached more than 1300 people and almost 60,000 people are infected. Professor Paul Kelly is Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer and he joins us now. Good morning and welcome to the program.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Good morning, Sabra.

SABRA LANE:

The original ban was for a fortnight, that's now been extended by a week. What is the thinking behind another seven days and not 14?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well we certainly were asked to look at the risk for Australians' health, and we believe that nothing has really changed substantially from our first time that we gave that advice. But we thought for seven days- by the end of seven days we'll have further information and we'll be able to advise accordingly.

SABRA LANE:

All right. Given the reported tenfold increase infection rates in China yesterday, how realistic is it though that that ban will be lifted in a week?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well I think we need to be cautious in looking at daily figures coming out of China. The large rise yesterday, the majority of those cases we've been told overnight from the World Health Organization, who've confirmed this with China, where cases that had been previously diagnosed or diagnosed clinically rather than with a laboratory confirmatory test. So that's appropriate in this sort of situation, which is very difficult in Hubei province to move to a more rapid way of making the diagnosis, treating accordingly, and finding contacts.

SABRA LANE:

The White House says it's been disappointed in the lack of transparency from China and that its offer of experts has been rejected by Beijing. Australia also offered expertise through the World Health Organization. Has that been accepted?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well look, that decision is for the Chinese Government. They have a lot of expertise working on the ground in Hubei and the rest of China, and there has been many offers from international organisations and bilateral and through the World Health Organization. But really, that's a matter for the Chinese Government to decide.

SABRA LANE:

All right. But I take it though that the Australian offer's been rejected.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

I'm not aware of a direct offer that we- that has been made from the medical point of view, and I don't want comment on what might have been done from other parts of government.

SABRA LANE:

The Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said that an offer had been made.

PAUL KELLY:

Okay, well I'll be checking that with Professor Murphy. I know we have- we are looking to make an offer to the Japanese to assist with their work on the ground in relation to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and that's something we'll be working on today.

SABRA LANE:

Yeah. The Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy admitted that yesterday, that that ship can act as an incubator for the disease. And as you mentioned, Australia's sending its own public health experts to Yokohama. Are you considering the option of removing all those remaining Australians from the ship to help protect their health?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well certainly, it's a very difficult situation on that ship and they- in terms of quarantine to protect the Japanese public, it's worked very well. There haven't been any cases exported from the ship onto the Japanese mainland, although patients that have been diagnosed have been moved appropriately to isolation in hospital. And I understand overnight that they are actually now starting to take elderly patients and others with other illnesses off the ship. In terms of what the Australians may do, there are over 200 Australians still on that ship, and we're certainly looking at all sorts of options in terms of protecting their health, as well as the health of Australians.

SABRA LANE:

What else can you do for them if you can't get them off that ship?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

As Professor Murphy did say last night at the press conference there, we will be looking to join other international partners in assisting the Japanese Government in relation to those matters, and we'll be actively pursuing that today.

SABRA LANE:

The continuing travel ban is a big blow to the university and tourism sectors here. The tertiary sector had floated the idea of allowing students here but keeping them isolated. Is that under consideration?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well certainly, we are very conscious of the effect that the travel ban is having on many industries. But the university sector with its many, many students from China is a particular one, as is tourism, of course. So various options have been looked at. At the moment, there is no active option to bring students here. Just the sheer numbers is the problem there, over almost 100,000. We are aware as you had when you're speaking to one of- to Wayne in Thailand, that many have chosen to go to a third country. And I think he talked about that quite well. That's a possibility, and as Minister Tehan has said, 14 days outside of China would be fine and people would be able to come. But we are not actively suggesting that students do that because of the changing epidemiology of this disease. They could get stuck.

SABRA LANE:

All right. For those on Christmas Island, planning is underway for the first quarantine to be- first of those in quarantine to be released on Monday and fly home. What can you tell us about that?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY: Well so far, so good. We've been monitoring the situation on Christmas Island and in Howard Springs very closely. There have been a number of people that have been tested as a precaution for the virus, and so far they've all been negative. And so yes, you're quite right. Planning is underway for when that 14 days is completed, and there will be two days for that, of course. There was the first group on the Qantas plane, and then there was the other smaller group that came on Air New Zealand. So they'll be off the island as soon as they are free to travel.

SABRA LANE:

Professor Paul Murphy [sic], thanks for joining AM this morning.

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