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

TOM CONNELL:

Paul Kelly, thanks for your time. Look, a big spike in deaths and cases in China, but crucially the severity of cases in the fatality rate is not changing in pattern?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yes. So we had confirmation overnight from the World Health Organization that there has been a change in their clinical case definition in Hubei province. So a lot of those 14,000 extra cases reported yesterday were, firstly, a backlog of cases, they weren't all diagnosed yesterday. And secondly, many of those were diagnosed - around 13,000 of them, in fact - were diagnosed clinically, so not with a lab test as had previously been the case. This is a very appropriate thing to do when faced with a large outbreak as they are in that province.

TOM CONNELL:

The Australian Government nonetheless has been pretty cautious, particularly with this China travel ban. According to the Chinese embassy, it's only Australia and a few other countries that are enforcing this, and they're disappointed. What's your response to that?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well look, it is a big decision to have a travel ban. It's something that wasn't taken lightly as a decision. We provided our medical advice in relation to keeping Australians safe, and we believe that that's the most appropriate thing to do at this time. We're not alone in the travel ban. The US has a very similar arrangement to us, and there are many other countries in the world, including New Zealand, who have a similar ban. So this is about protecting Australia's health, and it will be reviewed after a week.

TOM CONNELL:

So reviewed after a week. But given the cases still coming from China, and this still increasing, it's hard to see this being lifted while that's the case, right?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

The majority of the increase in cases is still in Hubei province, which remains essentially locked down in China. And so whilst it's terrible to see how many cases there are and people that are sick in hospital, and unfortunately even deaths in that province, there are cases throughout the rest of China, but they haven't been rising as fast as had been predicted so far. Its early days, and we have to be very cautious and watching that very closely.

TOM CONNELL:

But do you think there's a realistic chance this travel ban is lifted within a week or two weeks. Is it likely to be quite a lot longer?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well we'll be reviewing the situation actually daily, but by next week, as the Prime Minister announced last night, we will be providing our medical advice to the Government and they will make that decision.

TOM CONNELL:

But that advice, is there a realistic chance that could change within a week then? Is that what you're saying?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well as I say, things- a week is very long in this outbreak. So it's only been going since the beginning of the year [audio skips] fix and to see how much has changed in what we know about the virus, how it's spread, where it is, and the risk factors and so on. And a week is a long time in this sort of situation. And so we'll be looking at that every day, overnight as well, and then by next week we'll have new information for the Government. Whether that changes or not it's really a matter for them to consider.

TOM CONNELL:

The NOVID-19 [sic] coronavirus, as it's now been labelled, there's no vaccination quite possibly for 18 months. How far could it have spread by then? Is that a concern?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well, we're still hoping, and the whole world is hoping and supporting China in its efforts to keep it contained mostly in China. And when you look at the spread around the world, that has been much slower than was previously predicted on occasions. So other than the cruise ship in Yokohama, there really isn't a large number of cases anywhere in the world. Although it must be said that there are countries that have been minor-ly affected, as is Australia with our 15 cases.

TOM CONNELL:

Is there a risk still, though, that it could be- become ultimately something that's almost seasonal, whether that be in China or the rest of the world?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

There's a range of scenarios that are possible, but at the moment we're looking to contain it in China.

TOM CONNELL:    

Right. But the seasonal aspect, can you just talk to us briefly how or if that would happen? It would be- you know, you have influenza obviously has a seasonal aspect, whether the NOVID-19 [sic] coronavirus could be as well.

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Well we now have seven different types of coronavirus that affects humans, many more in other animals. But of the seven that affect humans, we have four that are essentially cold viruses. Then we have the SARS and MERS viruses, much more severe than this current one we're dealing with in COVID-19. Where that one ends up in that spectrum is speculation at this stage.

TOM CONNELL:

The aim for Australia [audio skips] essentially in zero deaths. Do you think that's something that's still looking quite likely in Australia, given how limited the spread has been?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So for the moment, we've had 15 cases. We haven't had one for some days now, and all of those cases have been mild. We're certainly hoping that that will continue to be the case. But as we've seen in China, there is a death rate and there is a severity rate of close to 20 per cent. So this is not a trivial illness. We need to be watching it very carefully and closely, and we hope for the best but plan for all sorts of scenarios.

TOM CONNELL:

And just finally, the fate of the Australians on that cruise ship off Japan. They're in a waiting game. Is the issue there we keep getting more infections, and at each point there's an infection the clock starts again on the quarantine?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So well that's an issue for the cruise liner itself and the Japanese authorities, but as announced last night by the Chief Medical Officer, we'll be looking to join the team of international experts who are helping with the issue. The quarantine seems to be holding in terms of no cases going off the ship. Everyone that's gone off the ship has been put into isolation, either in hospital or elsewhere. So that's working. But indeed it is a challenge in such an environment, on the ship, in terms of the spread of the virus.

TOM CONNELL:

Paul Kelly, a busy day for you. Appreciate your time. Thank you.

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