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

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Let's just go back to the coronavirus. We're joined now by Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly.

Professor Kelly, thank you very much for joining us. We've just heard the Prime Minister there just talk about how well prepared Australia is for the coronavirus. How many potential cases do you think that we could see if Australia?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

I'm not going to speculate on how many cases there'll be. And in fact, it's not so much the number of cases, but the rapidity that those cases must come. That is why we're planning and why the plan was activated yesterday. We need to find the cases as they come, isolate them from the community, where possible, and also to find whoever they've been in contact with so that that virus spread will be slowed.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Okay. So is there a number of infections that we would need for that plan to actually kick in? And if so, what is that number?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So it's not so much the number. And I'll stress that the plan is very flexible, and adaptable, and scalable. So the trigger for many of the things that we've talked about in the plan is if we were to find cases in the community that were spreading from person to person within Australia. That would be a next step that we're hoping won't happen but if it does, that is why we're preparing for increasing in that case, finding and contact tracing, but then also looking at our health services and looking at plans that they can do to surge, to look after more people.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Okay. And will those plans include cancelling leave potentially for doctors, nurses, people involved?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well certainly, there's a range of things that we do and in fact every winter in relation to the flu season like that. Of course we don't want to interfere with our health workers' lives like that but we need to look at all sorts of ways that we can surge staff, we can find places within our hospitals to carefully and safely care for people, supplies of personal protective equipment and other supplies - all these are part of the plan and the Minister for Health, Minister Hunt, is meeting with his counterparts in the states and territories to discuss that very thing this morning.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

On the front page of The Australian today, respected virologist Professor Ian Mackay from UQ has said that everyone is eventually going to get COVID-19, but for most people it will be mild. Is that your view? Is he right?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Look, there is a range of possibilities that might happen. We've had the very best modellers in Australia trying to predict what might happen, and it ranges from not coming to Australia all the way to everyone getting it and we're looking to prepare for all of those possibilities.

In terms of the mildness of the disease, that's true. What we know about this disease, and we know more things every day, but most of it comes from China and in China, about 80 per cent of the cases - and there's over 70,000 of them now - have been mild or even no symptoms at all. But there is that severe end of the spectrum, people that end up extremely sick, requiring intensive care and unfortunately, as has been widely reported, over 2,000 people have died so far, including in countries like our own.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Yeah. And just really briefly, we heard the Prime Minister there saying that people should go about their daily business, go to the footy, do everything as you normally would. But for people watching are there things they should be planning towards? Concrete steps they should be taking to try and prepare themselves and protect themselves?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Absolutely. Go to the footy, go to the Mardi Gras - whatever is on at the moment, that's perfectly safe in Australia. We've done lots of testing, we haven't found a single case other than those directly from Wuhan - that group of 15 early on, and most recently the eight from the Diamond Princess. We haven't found a single other case so far and we're watching very closely.

In terms of preparing, it's the same messages that we have had throughout the flu season every year. It's about washing your hands, coughing and sneezing safely, and if you are feeling sick you can look to see whether it could be this problem but at the moment that would be a very rare event.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Okay.​​​​​​​

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

We are watching closely and preparing for the future.

MADELEINE MORRIS:

Okay, Professor Paul Kelly, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Thank you.

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