Date published: 
3 May 2020
Media event date: 
2 May 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

MICHAEL KIDD:

My name is Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Principal Medical Advisor with the Department of Health in Canberra. Here’s todays update as of 3pm there are 6, 783 people in Australia who have been diagnosed as COVID-19 positive. Tragically, 93 people have lost their lives to COVID-19. There were 16 new cases in the previous 24 hours. At the moment we have 84 people in hospital, 28 people in intensive care units and 21 people on ventilators. It's important to note that 5,755 people in Australia are reported to have recovered from COVID-19 and at the moment we have just over 900 people who are diagnosed and actively infected.

We want to provide a brief update on four items. I want to talk about the COVIDsafe app. I want to talk about testing. I want to talk about what happening with Telehealth. And I want to reemphasise the importance of people looking after their own health.

First an update on the app. To date over 4 million people across Australia have downloaded the app onto their smart-phones. If you've been putting off downloading the app, please do it today. As we all know it's very important that as many people as possible right across Australia download the app so that we can use this as part of our efforts to improve contact tracing right across the country.

Secondly around testing, we've had 611,000 tests carried out in Australia to date. As you know, we're one of the countries which has carried out the highest rates of testing all around the world. I do want to talk a little bit about testing though. As of Friday last week, we've opened up the criteria for testing. And now testing is available to anyone who has symptoms of a respiratory tract infection or to anyone who has symptoms of fever. This is really important. So anybody who has even the slightest sniffle, or scratchy throat, or cough, or sweating at night time. Please contact your GP or contact the Health Direct phone line, to make sure that you get tested and by doing so we'll make sure that we pick up any case of COVID-19 as early as possible and then prevent further transmission.

Telehealth - Telehealth was introduced into Australia in the middle of March and to date there have been over 7.2 million consultations between Australians and their chosen healthcare providers using Telehealth. This is an extraordinary change in the way that we're delivering healthcare in Australia. It's very important that everybody knows that Telehealth is available to all Australians and that it doesn't just require a video consultation it can also be carried out using a regular telephone. So please if you do have health care concerns, reach out to your GP and see if you can arrange a consultation using Telehealth or whether a face to face consultation is required.

And this brings me to my final point, which is about the importance of looking after our own health at the time of the pandemic. We do know that many people have been afraid to leave their own homes and may have experienced new symptoms which may indicate serious underlying disease or may have continuing chronic health problems or mental health concerns and have not been reaching out to their regular health care providers. So it's absolutely essential that everybody continues to receive the health care that they need at this time.

So please if you're due to go for an appointment to see your GP or a specialist, please ring up, see if that appointment still needs to be done face to face or can be done by Telehealth. If you need to have a blood test done, it's safe to go to the pathology collection centre to have your blood tested. If you need to have an x-ray, it's safe to go to the radiology clinics to have those tests as well. If you have a child who is due to have an immunisation, please take your child to get their regular childhood immunisations. If you need to have a test to exclude cancer, breast screening, cervical screening, bowel cancer screening, please continue to do this as you normally would. It's really important that we don't put off regular health care at this time. That we make sure that we're continuing to get the care that we need.

Finally, I'd just like to finish for a word of thanks to my peers and colleagues all around Australia. Thank you to the health care workers of Australia. To the people working in aged care, in disability care, in home care and providing other services to look after the most vulnerable people in our country during these challenging times.

Thank you. Happy to take any question that we have.

QUESTION:

Can health officials access the data from the COVIDsafe app at the moment?

MICHAEL KIDD:

The health officials- so the only people who will be able to access the data, will be the contact tracer officials in each of the states and territories. That facility is still to go live, that will be happening during the current week. But the important thing is, if people have downloaded the app and have it running in the background on their phone, it's already gathering details of people who you've been in close contact with. So once it gets access by a contact tracer, they'll be able to access details from when you downloaded the app.

QUESTION:

So can you explain then for example, if I tested positive to coronavirus today, right here. Would those contact tracers, say next week, be able to go back over my data and then start making the calls?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes that what will happen.

QUESTION:

That's another delay of a week though, getting in touch will people.

MICHAEL KIDD:

There's a delay from now until when the contact tracer in the state or territory where you're based has activated the system. So they're able to contact you, as a person who's been diagnosed and invite you to share that data with the contact tracer and then people will be able to be contacted through that. But yes there is a delay as we're getting this set up of a few days.

QUESTION:

Then why isn't it set up yet. We're being told to download this app but it can't actually be used yet by the contact tracer.

MICHAEL KIDD:

So this was implemented very quickly. And what we're doing is making sure that the operations are going to work appropriately and safely. But also to make sure that the people in the contact tracing facilities in the states and territories are trained on how to use the app and how to use it appropriately.

QUESTION:

What's the thinking behind the blood thinning drug? Is it Heparin, I hope I've pronounced that right?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Heparin, yes.

QUESTION:

Heparin, being trialled with COVID-19 patients. What is the benefits of that, that people are looking into?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So there a lot of different treatments being looked at as potential treatments for people who become seriously unwell with COVID-19. And I think each day we're seeing reports from different parts of the world about either existing drugs which may have some utility or drugs which are being developed over time. And one of the drugs which had reports over the last 24 hours is Heparin, which is a blood thinning drug. It's been widely used for many, many years. One of the features of COVID-19 in people who become very seriously unwell appears to be challenges with the vessels. We don't know whether this is inflammation of the vessels or whether there is clotting occurring. We've had some reports over the past week of reasonably young people who have had strokes which appear to have been related to blood clots. So therefore people are looking to see if some of these anti-coagulant drugs like Heparin have a place in the treatment of this disease.

QUESTION:

Just back on the app sorry. That 15-point checklist was issued yesterday and the idea behind that is once all of those can be ticked off, restrictions can be relaxed. So what figure do the app downloads have to get up to in order for that point on the checklist to be ticked off?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So really we need as many people as possible to download the app for it to be as widespread as possible so that we can benefit as much as we can. Having 4 million people who have already downloaded it in 6 days provides a fantastic base line for us to start working from. But clearly more and more people- more people who do it that better it's going to be. There's no absolute number which will tell us that this is helping. Because every person who downloads is making a contribution.

QUESTION:

What is the ideal number though? What do you have to get to at least for it to be really effective in curbing the spread of corona?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well 4 million is pretty amazing when you think about it in a country of our size and considering the number of people that are carrying mobile phones with them. But obviously the Prime Minister is very keen to get that number up a lot further.

QUESTION:

The Warriors, obviously we've heard today that Border Force has approved the NRL team to fly from New Zealand to Australia. That was based on medical advice from the Chief Medical Officer. What reassurances can you provide the Australian community that it's okay to let this team into the country?

MICHAEL KIDD:

So this is a team coming from New Zealand. So of course, New Zealand is a country which, like Australia acted very quickly to close its borders and has introduced restrictions like we have in Australia to protect the public. And has been very successful like Australia in reducing community transmission. So this will be a decision obviously for the Border Forces and for the Prime Minister, about whether to allow the opening up with New Zealand of people coming in from that country. We obviously have Australians coming in from New Zealand at the moment, returning home and that'll be a decision that Border Forces will need to make.

QUESTION:

Can I ask another question on the app sorry.

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, I think so, but I also have some questions on the phone here.

QUESTION:

While the government investigates the potential interference between its COVIDsafe app and CGM diabetes apps. What is the advice from the government or from you about what diabetes patients with that CGM app should do? Should they keep the COVIDsafe app on, should they take it off?

MICHAEL KIDD:

I think the really most important issue here for people with diabetes who are relying on the app to assist them to maintain safe levels of blood sugar and to assist them with the use of their medications. To make sure that they're going to stay safe and well, that is the number one priority for those people with diabetes. So while we sort out between the two different apps, whether there is any clash, most important that people are managing their diabetes and doing so safely.

QUESTION:

Just a report in the media today suggests that a lack of transparency about the origin of the virus and the spread cost tens of thousands of lives unnecessarily. Is that the medical community’s thoughts on that?

MICHAEL KIDD:

I haven't seen that report. But what do we know about the origins of the virus. Now we only know, as far as we know been sharing the planet with the virus for the last four months. It's been very short time, huge amount of research into the virus and looking at- trying to help us to understand transmission, understand what having been infected means. And what are the post viral issues associated as well. I think that what we saw very early on, was reports coming out of China about the identification of the virus and that of course allowed Australia to act quickly in closing our borders to travellers from China at that time and then to extend the other measures which we have. I think that having had that information early on in the initial development of what was an epidemic and then became the pandemic has actually help save many lives.

Can we go to the questions from the phone?

QUESTION:

I just wanted to ask, do you think it's realistic that we will get millions more people downloading the app before Friday?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes I think that is realistic. I think that having seen 4 million people download the app in just 6 days is pretty extraordinary. Now that it's the weekend, if people have been putting off downloading the app till the weekend when you've got more time, please do it today.

QUESTION:

I wanted to- I've got three questions if you don't mind. So some people have complained that the deadline feels like pressure to do something that they may not feel comfortable with, what would you say to that?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Yes, I don't think anyone should feel pressured into downloading the app. This is totally voluntary and we're inviting people to do this. But by doing this you are potentially helping to protect your own health, to protect the health of your family members and to protect the health of the wider community. So this is something that we can all do at a time when many of us are feeling, what can we do, in the face of this pandemic. This is something very positive and constructive, each of us can do.

QUESTION:

Just the last one, and excuse in advance my pronunciation that's coming up here. Are you concerned about people including Clive Palmer are pushing Hydroxychloroquine? Do you advise caution there?

MICHAEL KIDD:

Well Hydroxychloroquine is a drug which is used in the treatment of a number of conditions in Australia including Lupus. So it is a very useful drug. There are trials underway including in Australia, to look at the use of Hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of people with COVID-19. And as we start to understand more about the different patterns of illness that COVID-19 causes, to see where it will be most useful and with which patients. At the moment the drug is in trial both in Australia and in many centres around the world. I think it's very useful having adequate stocks of the drug both for those people who need to take it as part of the management of their chronic conditions and also for these research trials to see how useful it's going to be in ongoing care.

QUESTION:

Professor, when can we expect to hug people again?

MICHAEL KIDD:

That is a lovely question, especially with Mother's Day coming up, so thank you for asking it. The moment the physical distancing recommendations stay in place. Obviously we can hug the members of our immediate household who we are sharing our homes with but we are restricted with others. I think it's really important that we continue specially to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, in our community. And for many of us that includes our mums and other people. So let's hope that it won't be too long.

Thanks everybody. Thanks a lot.

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