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

PAUL KELLY:

I've never had an Auslan interpreter and I'm really glad to have that. It's very important that we're reaching our disabled community as well as everyone else.

So I'm here to give the daily information about where we're up to with the COVID-19 epidemic, or pandemic. So we've had further cases both internationally and in Australia over the last 24 hours. The latest statistics as of, as of just a few minutes ago internationally is 214,000 cases and over 8,000 deaths in relation to this virus. In Australia, this is the figure from this morning, but it will be changing throughout the day as more cases are diagnosed in each of our states, 565 cases, with 6 deaths.

Now, that is going up quickly but it is being still mostly driven by international travel which is, as people know, starting to decrease very quickly. So it's not surprising that we have had an increase in cases, but so far there are only 100 that are confirmed to be locally acquired out of that 565, so most of those cases are still travel from international destinations.

I want to talk specifically about some things, some practical things people can be doing. I realise that this is a very fearful moment for Australians – it's something we haven't coped with before, or certainly not for a very long time and people are really wanting to know what they can practically do to protect their own health, the health of their families and the health of the whole community. I know that that's how Australians think.

So I want to give five practical things, just five practical things that everyone should be doing all of the time.

These are simple things.

Wash your hands, do it often and do it properly.

Second of all when you cough or sneeze, sneeze into your elbow.

The third thing – don't touch your face, get used to not touching your face, even if it itches, please do not touch your face. If you need to touch your face, wash your hands first. That's three.

The fourth one – if you are out, and I'm very glad to see the press gallery doing this now, having social distancing, 1.5 metres away from everyone whenever that is possible.

And a fifth thing – if you're sick, stay at home. If you're sick, stay at home. We want people who are also have been in contact and been known to be in contact with a positive case to stay at home for 14 days. People that have come back from overseas travel, stay at home for 14 days. This is the way we are going to help each other to decrease the rapidity of the infection to flatten the curve.

The [third] thing I'd like to say is a very practical thing around schools. There's questions about school closure, children being kept home from school and so forth. My sister is a teacher; I've heard from her this morning some very disturbing things about being abused by parents. We're all in this together, teachers are doing their very best to protect themselves, to protect the kids and to carry on in their normal circumstances.

It is not okay to be abusing people who are teaching our kids. It is not okay to be abusing people and being angry at people at Woolworths and Coles supermarkets. It is not okay to be angry at people who are trying to give their, do their best in healthcare. This is a time for us to be working together and to be the best people we can in Australia. I know we can all do this. We're all in it together. We need to assist.

We are not closing schools because we are looking for a proportionate response which is sustainable through several months and is possibly scalable into the future, depending on circumstances. At the moment our circumstances are very different, for example, from the UK. So the UK have closed schools – not all of them, but many of them, overnight. They have many more cases of COVID-19 than we do - 2600 at last count and over 71 deaths. This is very different to our current circumstances in Australia. They are making decisions on the basis of their own circumstances which is appropriate for them. But they are still looking to do the same thing as us – to flatten the curve, to save lives through saving beds and taking the pressure off our healthcare system.

At the moment for us, that is not necessary in relation to schools. We know from where the virus has broken out, very few kids get the illness. Those that get the illness are mainly mild, they don't appear to be transmitting between children – in fact, it's more likely that children will get it from their own parents and other people in their households. And closing schools, we know, does cause a major disruption to society and to families in particular. So that's why we're not closing schools.

The third thing and the last thing really I want to say today is about medicines. There has been some discussion in the media and some questions about medicines, in particular Ventolin or salbutamol puffers for asthma, and paracetamol or Panadol, particularly that related to children, the syrup.

There have been some reports of people buying large quantities of these medications over the last few days. And I recognise again that people are fearful about issues, particularly those that might affect their own families, but I say again, as the Prime Minister said yesterday about panic buying: please do not buy more than you need. I will repeat that: please do not buy more than you need for anything. Whether that's food, and particularly medicines. We have a very good system of knowing about medicine shortages in Australia and, in fact, it is incumbent on all medicine suppliers that they must tell us if there is a shortage now or shortly into the future. And we have not had that from any suppliers.

It appears local supply shortages have happened in particular pharmacies, and for that reason we've been working today very closely with the Pharmaceutical Guild and the PSA to make sure that that matter is dealt with. And so we have today worked through with pharmacists that they will be required to limit dispensing of certain prescription products to one month's supply at the prescribed dose. And sales of certain over-the-counter medicines – so this is particularly Ventolin or other salbutamol puffers, and paracetamol – to a maximum of one unit per purchase.

In addition, pharmacists will be strongly encouraged to limit dispensing of and sales of all other medicines to one month's supply or unit. And pharmacists in addition will be required to place children's paracetamol formulations – so that's Panadol syrup and the like – behind the counter to assist in allocating supply equitably. This is very important and a very strong message and it's something we can do as a national government and so we've done that today.

So I think I'll leave it there and ask for questions.

QUESTION:

Professor, on the school closure issue, you talked about the circumstances in the UK being different to Australia. What is the threshold in Australia for where we would have to close schools? Is it a certain level of infections? Is it proportionate to the population? What exactly is the threshold that would trigger school closures?

PAUL KELLY:

So, there would be a range of them. The two that you've mentioned - how many cases we're seeing, particularly the effect of that, on our healthcare services. As I've said before, about 80 per cent of patients have a mild illness and in children it's almost all children have a mild illness. So, the number of cases, the effect on healthcare services would be certainly part of that process. But there would be a range of things. I'm not going to give you a magic number. We are looking at the situation throughout society and including those things you've mentioned every day and we will take that into account if we need to scale up.

QUESTION:

Is it inevitable that schools will be closed though? I mean, you talk about the UK sort of having, I think, 2500 infections and 71 deaths. I mean if we hit that sort of level, I mean, is that the sort of-?

PAUL KELLY:

Look, the issue with the UK is for the UK to say. They've made their decision based on their own circumstances. I'm not privy to all of those circumstances. I do know that we're testing a lot more than the UK has done up to now. I suspect with that level of deaths, that they probably have many more cases than 2600. But we'll be making our decisions based on our own data.

QUESTION:

But Professor, parents seem to now understand [indistinct] of their children won't necessarily have some of the more serious symptoms if they do contract the virus, but they're worried about their children bringing it home. There's been some talk that potentially if they are carrying a mild version of the virus, that they will only pass on a mild version. Is there any merit to that?

PAUL KELLY:

No, because every person that gets this virus will have a different reaction to it. And so because someone has a mild case it doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be passing on a mild case. It's the virus itself.

QUESTION:

So how can you reassure parents then, who obviously are worried about that, more so than maybe their own child, becoming seriously ill?

PAUL KELLY:

Well I'd say, as I said at the beginning, there are five practical things people should be doing. Children should be trying to do this at school. And I know the parents- teachers are working with children in relation to explaining these things like keeping your distance, explaining things that we all should know about it, about hand hygiene, how to cough properly and so forth. I put that back onto parents to say, if the children are sick, keep them at home. It's those same messages for everybody, and where possible, keep your distance. In terms of bringing things back into the home, parents themselves need to keep their distance in their own lives, including from their [sick] children.

QUESTION:

Just on schools, sorry, we're just hearing reports that there are some schools that are running out of toilet paper and soap, those emergency supplies, teachers can't get more because the shelves have been stripped. What is your response to that news? We're still being told to send children to school, but what if they can't be hygienic there?

PAUL KELLY:

Yes, and I've heard the same thing in relation to hand sanitiser. So, these things are again, is the same message about panic buying. These are the effects of people storing too much of stuff in their own homes. You are affecting children's, potentially children's health, not so much from COVID but from other diseases that we know can occur – so please, do not buy reams and reams of toilet paper. Please just take what you need. And we'll work with our state and territory colleagues in relation to these shortages.

QUESTION:

On the issue of testing – there's reports today that an Italian town has succeeded by doing mass testing to identify asymptomatic cases, you might have heard – 3000 tests, and they found the people who had the disease, they quarantined them and they say they effectively got rid of it. Accepting that Australia does have limits on the number of tests, if we did have the test, do you accept that is the best way to control and eradicate this disease?

PAUL KELLY:

So, the head of the World Health Organization made that statement in recent days about test, test, test and that's exactly what we're doing. We're still on that trajectory to the best way to decrease this curve of infection is to find people that are sick, isolate them, and identify their contacts, close contacts, and isolate them. We've put in a further range of measures, as was announced by the Prime Minister yesterday, in relation to people coming back from overseas and 14 days' quarantine. Again, isolating, decreasing the infection that way. So all of these things are working. Crucial to many of those things I just said is laboratory testing. And so we're using our laboratory testing in the best way possible to identify cases. In terms of asymptomatic carriage and so forth, if we had unlimited amounts of tests, we could do other things but at the moment we're really focusing that testing on where we think the most likely positives are, so we can take that public health action.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] testing people who have, I'm sorry, people who have colds and flus, in the normal course of events. If you tested those people and they were discovered to have had COVID-19, it's fair to say they might quarantine themselves with more rigour than otherwise. Is that not a strategy that could be pursued?

PAUL KELLY:

It could be pursued. But our general message – remember the fifth of my five points – is if you're sick, stay at home and so that would cover all of those people.

QUESTION:

Professor Kelly, can you explain why the rule against 100 people in enclosed spaces was not adopted when it was first proposed at AHPPC on Friday?

PAUL KELLY:

So we've given advice to Government over many weeks now and I'm pleased to say that they listened to the advice very carefully. But of course governments need to make their decisions and governments particularly need to take in other issues other than the health advice, specifically in relation to the 100, 500 thing. We did put that to Government. They asked us to go back and do more thinking so we could give much more detailed information to internal venues and so forth so that they could practically do it and implement it. So that's what we've done and we're continuing to do that to give more information to businesses, and indeed to people that are organising small events in their own houses.

QUESTION:

So you did recommend that to have the National Cabinet on Friday and they didn't accept it. They sent it back for more work? Is that what you're saying?

PAUL KELLY:

We recommended there should be limitations on mass gatherings, both internal and external. We settled on 500 initially and then more work to be specifically looking at internal matters. So that will leave it at that.

QUESTION:

Professor John Fraser and a small team of Brisbane researchers are co-ordinating the world's only data pool for clinicians on the front-line dealing with COVID-19. They're begging for Federal Government funding. Is that something that will be considered?

PAUL KELLY:

So I'm I aware of Professor Fraser's ideas. I would dispute that he's the only one doing it. There are many groups that have long standing surveillance, both in hospitals and intensive care units in Australia, and many of those are linked with international collaborations.

We of course look at all sorts of ideas. I get emails every day about the, about many ideas, some of them are very worthwhile, but they have to be judged with the other ideas that have come forth and, indeed, when someone is asking for a large amount of money, we need to do our due diligence about whether that's the best way to spend it.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] a schoolteacher being abused at the beginning of this – what were they being abused about?

PAUL KELLY:

This is my sister actually, so it's quite close to home. They were being abused about their hand hygiene and so forth and why weren't the kids, why wasn't the school being closed, and why weren't they being sent home?

So again, I'd say, guys, we're in this together. We need to work well together and make sure that the people that are on the front-line and are doing the work that they need to do every day, are allowed to do it in the best way possible. They are trying their best.

QUESTION:

I'm still confused about the status of the 100 rule on Friday. Was that adopted as a recommendation by AHPPC?

PAUL KELLY:

I'm not going to go into that anymore. Thanks.

QUESTION:

Just on the gathering size. What about gatherings lower than 100 people? Is the AHPPC considering further restrictions and when will they be implemented?

PAUL KELLY:

So when we put information to the National Cabinet meeting earlier this week, they asked us to do further work in relation to that. And I've had meetings with businesses, with hospitality, and so forth, and many of my colleagues have also been meeting with them. It's about the practicality of how you set up a room, the size of the room, but we've got general principles.

They were adopted by the Cabinet when they met. Days are a little bit fuzzy at the moment. I think it was Wednesday night- Tuesday night. So they met for a long period of Tuesday night and it was announced yesterday by the Prime Minister. His written statement is up on the website, very transparently. The AHPPC statement that informed the National Cabinet discussions is also on the website. I encourage everyone to read it.

QUESTION:

Professor, has the AHPPC proposed any further restrictions on the number of people? So they have already gone to Cabinet and said it should be less than 100 people?

PAUL KELLY:

So what we've got is a density amount. It's about how many people can fit in a room, and there'll be further details about that going to Cabinet later this week and there'll be announcements about that at that time.

QUESTION: 

With regards to transparency, can you let us know what the Public Health Officer's recommendation was?

PAUL KELLY:

Yeah. So it was four metres – four square metres per person. So that's a hard concept to actually- to announce. It's easy for me to spin around but I'm told I would look silly. So I won't do that.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] the limits on ten people, what does that look like?

PAUL KELLY: So it depends on the size of the room, and it depends on how the room is being used. So, we will come through with further details which will go to the Cabinet, as I said, later this week. And there will be some very practical advice to restaurants and to other internal venues – to cinemas and so forth.  Look, I just- I'm going to take one more question. But just to- I'll take one question.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] flu vaccine – can you update us on what is being done to ensure we have sufficient supplies and to ensure an orderly rollout and a date that you expect that to be in Australia?

PAUL KELLY:

So the flu vaccine is in Australia. It's being rolled out now and it's being delivered as we speak. We deliberately over-ordered flu vaccine this year, well before the COVID issue, and particularly for the most vulnerable people. We have ample supplies for vulnerable people in particular.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] go out and get the flu vaccine now and they should?

PAUL KELLY:

So, I believe that the private supplies are available, if not they will be very soon, and by the end of the month, there will be supplies in our GPs in the National Immunisation Program.

QUESTION:

Just on the total number of cases confirmed in Australia, are you able to give some detail around how many or a percentage that are in ICU, for example? How many are in hospital? What is the spread of the seriousness of cases?

PAUL KELLY:

So, I don't have that right in front of me but I can say that we're fairly similar to the rest of the world. The majority of cases have been mild. We've had those six deaths unfortunately, all in older people. We've had some people in ICU, but it's a very small number.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] sorry- can we know in figures how many people- Australians are currently in an ICU?

PAUL KELLY:

I'm not going to go into that. No, I think that's the end of the questions. Thank you.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] on the trajectory of the virus, do you think we actually have a- are we heading in the same direction as other countries? When will we actually know if we have flattened the curve?

PAUL KELLY:

So, yeah. So I've seen some graphs on various news channels today. As I said, right at the beginning, it's not surprising at the moment, given that almost all of our cases still have come from overseas, that we're following a similar curve to those overseas countries.

Now, that there is that 14-days quarantine, that means stay at home: quarantine means stay at home – just be very clear and careful about that. They're staying at home. That will decrease the spread of the virus from that group and all of these other measures we've introduced over the past week will also start to decrease that curve.

I'm very confident that will happen. When it will actually start to decrease like that is- I don't have a crystal ball, so we'll be working with that. But in the meantime, we're looking to find our cases, get them to stay at home, to find their contacts, get them to stay at home, and to flatten the curve.

Thank you very much.

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