Deputy Chief Medical Officer’s press conference about COVID-19 on 28 March 2020

Read the transcript of the 28 March 2020 press conference given by Professor Paul Kelly, Deputy Chief Medical Officer about coronavirus (COVID-19).

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I want to just first start with the current status, where we're at with the - with this issue within Australia. So sadly we now have 14 deaths, seven residents of New South Wales, two in Queensland, three residents of Victoria and two residents of WA. The median age remains 77 years, so it is mainly older people that are dying from this illness, as has been found in other countries throughout the world. The age range though is starting to get lower. There was a 68-year-old person who has passed away but most have been in their 80s and 90s.

In terms of hospitalisations, up to now – so this is from the very beginning of the first cases in Australia back in January – we have had 389 cases who have been hospitalised. So that represents just over 11 per cent of the total cases. And there have been 30 cases now that have been reported to be admitted into intensive care. That's throughout the whole epidemic.

In terms of cases we've had 3,400 cases of COVID-19 reported in Australia. And the median age there – so the total case is now not hospitalised or the ones that have died – but it's 48 years. But we've had a very wide range. The oldest person is 98 and we've had a couple of small babies that have also developed this disease.

Sixty-seven per cent of the confirmed cases, so two thirds of the cases, remain travel related. So these are people that have returned from overseas and that is the main reason why there will be enhanced measures at the airport that were announced by the Prime Minister yesterday.

We really need to get on top of the people that have returned from overseas from these other countries that have a much wider and worse epidemic of COVID-19 than we currently do here in Australia. So of those group – that group that have come from overseas – 496 of those have come from cruise ships. We have now almost 200 from the Ruby Princess and others from other cruise ships including as you recall early on the Diamond Princess in Australia – sorry in Japan – where there were some Australians that developed the disease here in Australia from that cruise ship and another 47 or so that developed and were hospitalised in Japan. So of those overseas cases other than the cruise ships, and the majority have come from the United States or the European region, particularly United Kingdom and Italy.

Of the locally acquired cases, and this is also very important, most of those have a very clear contact with a known case of COVID-19. This demonstrates that we are finding the cases we need to find, tracing their contacts and dealing with those issues so that they are isolated from the community and to decrease that transmission from person to person of this very infectious disease.

So they are the two measures that we are really concentrating on right now. One is turning off the tap of those people that are coming from overseas and from midnight tonight, in some cases even earlier than midnight tonight, but definitely from midnight tonight. Anyone – any Australian that comes back from overseas because they are the only ones that are allowed to enter the country right now. Any Australian that comes back from overseas will be taken to a hotel from the airport and they will stay in that hotel for 14 days.

Just to make that very clear. This is the announcement that was made by the Prime Minister yesterday supported by the very best medical evidence and supported by the data we know about this epidemic in Australia that I've just talked about. Because of this major issue of people coming from overseas countries. And supposedly – they are supposed to have been self-isolating themselves at home for the last 14 days. We are now strengthening that to make it 14 days in a hotel directly from the airport and that will be enforced. The force of law will be there to stop people leaving that hotel and there will be fines, even imprisonment depending on the state or territory where that arrival takes place. And those state and territory laws will be enforced by the local police officers. This is very important and it will be compulsory.

In terms of the contact tracing exercises, this is definitely our major role in public health right now to find cases as soon as possible, to find their contacts as soon as possible and to make sure they are also isolated from the community. This will decrease the transmission I believe radically in the next in the coming week or two to decrease the issue in Australia right now.

I want to also address the issue of intensive care beds and hospital beds – are we ­– and this question that keeps coming to us from various places: is Australia ready? Is the health care system ready? Well I can really assure people that the health care system in Australia is very adaptable. It is and is absolutely ready for this for this matter.

In terms of intensive care, they – we, have doubled the capacity there and there are beds available, right now, with ventilators, right now, to deal with people if they require it. It's a very small component of those now 3,400 cases in Australia. As I mentioned only 30 in total. And less than that currently. We have doubled the bed capacity in Australia, right now we are ready and well and truly ready. And we will not be seeing a peak on 10 April as has been reported in some places. That is not the case.

The other matter I would refer to just in terms of cruise ships, there is an emerging issue, I'm sure it's well known, off the coast of Western Australia at the moment in relation to several cruise ships. Two in particular; one is a local ship the Vasco De Gama which is, which has Australian and New Zealand passengers. The other one is the Artemis, which has people mainly from Germany. And we are working very… the Artania sorry is the name of that ship. There are people with COVID-19 on that ship. And we are working as a federal government with WA government very closely as well as with the German government to repatriate anyone who is fit to fly back to Germany and other places in Europe tomorrow. So these things, these matters are very much in hand. And will develop, be developing through the day.


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