Date published: 
2 March 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

LEON BYNER:

Let's talk to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer who is going to give us a lot of good information about this coronavirus so you don't have to work on rumour - Paul Kelly.

Professor Paul Kelly, there are 28 coronavirus cases in Australia, one has deceased, and I see that Italy has recorded the largest 24-hour spike in coronavirus. They've had a 50 per cent increase virtually overnight. What can you tell us about this?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, good morning, Leon and good morning for your listeners. It's actually up to 29 now, we had another case overnight. So most recently one in Victoria and one in New South Wales, so 29 now. And yes, unfortunately that's terrible news about one of the returnees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who passed away in Perth over the weekend.

Large increases in Italy, also in South Korea there, and of course in Iran. They're probably our three hotspots at the moment. In Italy it's very much in the northern part of Italy, and in particular in 11 small towns spread across the north of Italy. In South Korea it's a couple of large outbreaks associated with a church, a particular church, in South Korea, at least initially. In Iran I think that the numbers that we're seeing in terms of reported cases are way, way underestimated when you look at the number of- the fact that we could see three people that had travelled to Iran who have come down with this illness over the weekend, I stress they're all very mildly affected at this stage. And one in New Zealand, and New Zealand hardly gets anyone travelling from Iran.

We've had these few cases over the weekend, they're the first that we- that weren't from very specific places. So, the first 15 that we had in Australia were directly from Wuhan, in Hubei province in China, and the next 10 we've had were all from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Again, we knew about them, they were specifically flown back to Australia and put into quarantine, so we've had very few cases in the community.

The point with facemasks, if you have the illness it can be quite a good way of stopping the spread. If you're a healthcare worker working with people with the illness, you're at higher risk and definitely need facemasks. We need to reserve our facemasks for those particular cases and the people looking after them. We can't be going around wasting facemasks, and please don't wear them.

LEON BYNER:

Look, the Queensland Health Officer, has said that she expects that in the next few months we will see an expansion of the incidence of the coronavirus. Do you agree with that and do you think this is inevitable?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, I think we're not immune to this issue, infectious diseases know no borders. We're a very globalised world and lots of people fly in and out of Australia every day, tens of thousands. So because of that connection and as we've seen with these cases over the weekend, yes, I think we're in for the next phase, Leon, so we will be getting more cases. How quickly that will go, not sure. But very importantly and as- and the case in Queensland is a very good example of this. That particular woman from Iran recognised she was sick and went immediately home, and then arranged to be checked, thereby stopping the spread of the virus. And that was an incredibly good thing that she's done.

This is an infectious disease; it can spread from person to person, particularly when people have symptoms. And so stopping that spread by self-isolating - and in that case, using masks - is the most crucial component of the next phase.

LEON BYNER:

I need to ask you about the business of touching your face and washing your hands, because I've read in so many reports - this comes up all the time - is making sure that you use those very grandmother-driven sanitary habits, washing your hands and not touching your face. How crucial is that in not spreading this, even to yourself?

PAUL KELLY:

Absolutely crucial. Just going back to masks again, if you wear masks wrongly and you're touching the mask as you're taking it off, you can actually bizarrely infect yourself, so, another good reason not to wear a mask.

Yeah, these are old things, Leon. So, quarantine was first talked about in the 12th century - so 800 years ago we were using quarantine because that was all we had to fight plague and other illnesses in Europe. So we've gone back to that, self-isolation, finding cases and their contacts, washing your hands, not touching your face. All of these things, yes, they're grandmother or even great grandmother or well beyond that messages. But in the absence of a vaccine, in the absence of a specific treatment, that's what we need to rely on. And they are effective, it's the message we've been putting out every flu season for at least 10 years, I think people get it now. The importance of washing your hands, the importance of sneezing and coughing into a tissue and immediately getting rid of that, or in the absence of a tissue into your elbow. All those things we wouldn't have remembered, you know, 10 years ago. But every year we've been making those same preparations for flu season and it's very similar for this particular respiratory virus.

LEON BYNER:

So given that there is a view that it is inevitable that we're going to see more of the coronavirus, what do you want the community to know and what do you want them to do?

PAUL KELLY:

Well, for the moment I think just getting that message across. If you've travelled, particularly to those countries that are on our expanding list now of countries that are affected - please, go home and then arrange to be tested and, if necessary, treated as soon as possible.

What we know from China is that in Hubei province, when they didn't really know, in Wuhan, they didn't really know what this virus was, it got out of control because people were not isolating, and because people were not being treated quickly enough. In the rest of China they have got onto that much more quickly, so instead of being up to two weeks between the start of symptoms and being treated, it's now just a few, a handful of days, two or three days. And so that's made a huge difference not only for the death rate and for the severity rate but also very importantly for the spread of the virus throughout China. So that's a really key lesson for us as it is in other countries.

LEON BYNER:

Thank you very much for talking with us today. Professor Paul Kelly. I suspect we'll talk again - this thing keeps changing every day or two, doesn't it?

PAUL KELLY:

It does and that's why we're meeting every day to give frank and fearless advice to the government on what they should do and also to coordinate our efforts in South Australia and other states and territories all around us, around Australia and it's a very important effort. And your Chief Health Officer, Chief Public Health Officer there, Nicola Spurrier is one of that group, and she's a fantastic advocate for getting things done. And so you're in good shape in South Australia.

LEON BYNER:

Professor Kelly, thank you.

PAUL KELLY:

You’re welcome.

LEON BYNER:

That's Professor Paul Kelly, the Deputy Medical Officer.

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