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

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Tourists from China will have to wait another week before being allowed to travel to Australia after the Government's decision last night to extend the ban. The initial 14-day ban was set to expire on Saturday, tomorrow, and has now been extended on the advice of Australia's health authorities and the National Security Committee. We're joined now from Canberra by Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly.

Paul, good morning to you.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Why was this ban extended?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well, we looked at all the evidence yesterday in our committee - which is the Chief Medical Officer, myself and Chief Health Officers from across Australia, as well as some of our experts in these matters - and we believe nothing materially changed from the previous week. And so, our advice remained the same, that those travel bans should stay in place.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Does it underscore, though, concerns about how this virus is spreading in China?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well, certainly there was a large number of cases increase in the reporting yesterday, mostly from Hubei Province. We've found out overnight that that was, in fact, a catch-up of several weeks of cases, and a slight change to the case definition. However, there still is an ongoing epidemic, particularly in Hubei province. But several of the other provinces in China are also finding cases and transmission from people to people, and this is of concern.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. Let's talk about the Diamond Princess. It's been confirmed overnight the number of confirmed cases on board that ship has jumped to more than 200, 15 of them are Australians. It is now the largest COVID-19 cluster outside Hubei Province. What is the Australian Government doing to help those Australians on board?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

We're certainly monitoring that situation very carefully. The Australian Government consular staff are offering assistance. Also yesterday, we introduced very rapidly - it was announced the day before - but by yesterday morning, there was a mental health helpline that people could access from the ship to assist with what must be a very difficult situation.

Yesterday at the press conference with the Prime Minister, the Chief Medical Officer also announced that we would be sending some medical staff to assist with the investigation and help those passengers. We had a meeting the evening before last with our counterparts in Canada, the US, and other countries who are also sending people in. So, they will be assisting with the Japanese authorities who are doing a fantastic job. But this is a big outbreak on this cruise ship and quite difficult to work through.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

It is, indeed. Does it suggest to you - and I think Brendan Murphy, the Chief Medical Officer, alluded to this yesterday - that quarantine efforts on that ship were not as tight as they should be?

[Break in transmission] We seem to have lost Paul Kelly there. Our apologies for that. We'll try to get him back up on to the line shortly. But, yes, serious concern, as Paul just noted, about the spread of the virus in Hubei Province, and the Government being very cautious by extending this travel ban. We know universities and tourism businesses have extremely valid concerns about the impact this is going to have on their businesses and their income when you speak about universities. But what I was going to ask Paul Kelly, probably will when he gets back on, is there is a very serious public health concern, which has underscored the extension of this ban. So it's a difficult balancing act.

LISA MILLAR:

And I can understand why the universities are concerned, when you think that there are 100,000 Chinese students stranded outside Australia who want to be coming back in. And the point is made that if they go and make other arrangements, then they will not then change their mind to come back to Australia. If they decide that they will then go and study in America, that that decision is then made, which has a massive flow-on effect when you take that pool of students out of Australia.

We're just trying to get that interview back with Paul Kelly, because there's so many things that Michael still wants to ask him in regards to this, including the situation with the ship, where we learned that 218 people on board now have coronavirus, when there had been hopes that they were getting on top of that. What happens with that timeline for them getting off? And, of course, we know there are Australians there.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Yeah. And I think we do have Paul Kelly back with us now. Paul, apologies for that break in transmission. I was just asking you about the concern perhaps that quarantine on board- quarantine measures on board the Diamond Princess perhaps have not, to date, been as strong as they should have been?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well, I think there's two elements to quarantine. I think the main objective of the quarantine of this ship is that the virus does not spread to the wider community in Japan. And that's been enormously and totally successful. What's been happening on the ship, of course, is there's an ongoing number of cases. And so that's certainly the next challenge to try to work through.

I believe that the Japanese authorities have started to bring some of the more frail and elderly off the ship, and that's a good idea. Although, they'll have to be careful about that first objective, to make sure that those people are well, well cared for, and kept in their own self-isolation. I believe that's the plan.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Yeah, and on that front, Erica Crepny [*], a Melbourne woman, is concerned about her dad, Edgar, who is one of those people taken off the cruise ship. Do we have any information, who has been confirmed to have the virus, on his condition, his whereabouts this morning?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well certainly, we'll be following that up. There was quite some developments overnight with people being moved to different hospitals and so on. So, we'll certainly be following up on that, and the welfare of all of the Australians.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. What's the status of the 15 people on the Australian mainland confirmed to have the virus?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, as has previously been reported, no new cases. That's very good news from our point of view. And other than that small cluster of cases in Queensland that were all related to one tour group, we haven't had any new cases in Australia for quite some time. There are no serious cases there, most of the cases now have either shown signs of coming close to being well, or, indeed, are being cleared.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. Just before we go, Paul Kelly, universities are now doubly concerned about this, given the extension of the travel ban. Very valid concern by them. Even more valid concerns by the many, many businesses, tourism and otherwise, caught up in this, the ban on people travelling from China. I want to ask you, taking into account those concerns, serious though they are, what you'd say coming at it, Paul, from a public health perspective?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So, the committee that met yesterday, we were asked specifically to examine the medical and health aspects of this situation. Of course, we're conscious and very cognisant of the issues that you've raised there. This is not a decision that's taken lightly. It's on the basis of the very best advice to protect the health of Australians. And so for the next week, we'll- as we do, everyday be looking at this situation, and be able to offer further advice in a week's time.

MICHAEL ROWLAND:

Okay. Paul Kelly, really appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.

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