Professor Paul Kelly's situation report
Transcript of Professor Paul Kelly's doorstop about COVID-19
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:
Thank you for your attention again for the daily situation in relation to COVID-19 here in Australia. We have had now 6,929 cases as a few minutes ago. And still, 97 deaths, so very unfortunate but remaining a very flat curve. Only 16 new cases in the last 24 hours. And four of those were related to the Cedar Meats cluster in western Melbourne. We are continuing doing a lot of testing, just under 800,000 tests and 38,000 tests yesterday with a very low positivity rate, under one per cent now.
In terms of where those around 900 people who are sick in Australia now with COVID-19 are currently situated, 51 are in hospital, 19 in intensive care and 15 are ventilated. So those figures are way less than what we were having even a couple of weeks ago and this is all very good news. We have had extraordinarily good uptake of the app, that we introduced, the COVIDSafe app, only two weeks ago today. And 5.4 million people have downloaded that app and I know that of yesterday, we have had almost all of the states and territories have signed up to be able to use this app for their contact tracing and so, from early next week that will be definitely available around Australia.
So that is the data. I think yesterday everyone knows, and it has been extensively covered in the media about what is a really a watershed moment for our response in Australia to this virus with the publication and announcement of the roadmap, that 3-step framework for us to restart the economy and our social life here in Australia, whilst being cautious about the virus which is still with us. So that roadmap is clear, it goes into many different sectors of our society and the economy and how that will be envisaged to open up over the coming months.
A couple of things about that. This is a roadmap, we are all on the same road across Australia, it is just that different states and territories have had different starting points and they will be using that same roadmap but at slightly different speeds. I want to really be clear there are no roadblocks in this roadmap. The only one that we will have, potentially, and this is why we are being cautious, about our restart of these various activities, is the virus itself. We know it is very infectious, we know that that infection increases the more that we interact with other people and so, we still need to remember those same general principles we have been talking about for many weeks now. That concept of social distancing, that concept of not gathering in large groups and so, whilst different states and territories have announced different things, they are going to be opening in the coming week or so, that same principle of not more than 10 people gathering is an important component of that. The reason is we don't want to have too many people interacting and thereby allowing the virus to spread quickly. Those are the same messages we have been saying for all of these last few weeks about hygiene, about cleaning, about washing your hands, about sneezing into your elbow, all of those things continue to apply. And, most crucially, if you are sick, stay-at-home unless you are needing to go and seek medical care.
The final point I will make before opening for questions is about elderly people. So we do know that people over the age of 70 and particularly those with chronic diseases are more at risk of these severe end of the virus and how it affects our health. And so, for people over the age of 70, I would just say be cautious over these next couple of weeks. Even if things are opening up and people are gathering, shops, cafes and so forth are now available. For people over the age of 70 I would just urge caution about your own health and consider that, including having people over to your house. So this has come to us in various ways through the Council of the Ageing and other peak groups as well as individuals who have asked us over the last 24 hours about what is the advice for older people and so that is why I am stressing that one today at this press conference.
So I am happy to take questions.
Professor, with the COVIDSafe app you say that almost all states and territories have signed up so which ones have not and why is that the case?
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:
i think it is just a timing thing and so as of yesterday afternoon I believe that eight out of the- seven out of the eight have signed and to be honest I cannot quite remember which one it was that had not. But I am sure that that will all be just a timing matter and by Monday everyone will have signed. So there's been a couple of steps to go through to allow the data to be used by the states and territories. First one was an agreement and essentially that about using it in a way in the manner it is meant to be used and the way that we have had our discussion with the Australian people about privacy, security and only using the data for the purpose for which it is being collected. The second one is a small training module which has been rolled out as well to all of the states and territories that have signed up. And that will be available to all, when they have signed.
The roadmap outline staged one, two and three. Three limits gatherings to 100 people, are you working on a stage four or five and when can we expect to see those?
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:
The National Cabinet, when they asked the Australian Health Protection Committee to work through this, and it was quite a process, I will say. There was a lot of discussion amongst my state and territory colleagues and some different opinions about what should be in stage one and stage two and so one. But we came to an agreement and that was presented to National Cabinet in draft on Tuesday and the final one yesterday. And they have agreed to those three steps. You are quite right; the third step is not quite back to normal as it was before COVID-19. And I think we have been quite open about this from the beginning, at the new normal, the COVID-safe normal for Australia may not be the normal we're used to January of this year. But there are a number of things in a kind of three plus stage which we felt would almost certainly not be in stage three. But when they may be able to be recommenced would be, it is too far in the future at this stage to consider an actual date. So there's no stage four as such but there are a number of things, for example the opening of borders for international travel, that is one that is so far into the future we were not really sure how it might actually happen yet. Other than, and this has been discussed already quite a lot between Prime Minister Ardern and Prime Minister Morrison about the so-called trans-Tasman bubble, and how that may also include some other parts of the Pacific if we were all relatively COVID free at some point in the future and so that concept at least appears in stage three.
Do you think realistically we could attend sporting matches by spring or summer or do you think we will have to wait until next year?
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLy:
There are some iconic moments in Australian sport coming up in that period, the last weekend in September is dear to many of us. So, look. I must admit I am doubtful that we will be able to fill the MCG by that time but let's see how we go on this road. We have a roadmap for the next few months and it is, it may be bumpy in terms of the virus. We have to really be very vigilant about that. And the testing regime is there for that purpose. Our contact tracing exercises are there for that purpose. The app is there for that purpose. And so we need to really keep considering where we are and stage two will only happen if the stage one lifting of restrictions is successful. And so, we're saying that that will happen in about a month. That is certainly the plan, because we need that amount of time to see what is the effect this first stage. And once we can see that and if we continue to see the flat curve, then we will move to the next step.
So that success, what does it actually look like? Is there a certain number of, for example, new coronavirus cases? Does it need to stay below a set figure in order for medical authorities to say yes, states and territories, you can proceed to stage two?
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:
So that is one of the components, yes, certainly if there was a large increase in cases over the next few weeks than that would be a concern.
What is large?
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:
I'm not going to go into an actual number, but certainly larger than it is now, about 20 a day, is very manageable. But more than the absolute number is where those cases are. If we were to see lots of cases around a dispersed geographical area then that would be more concerning, really, than a specific outbreak like we are seeing in western Melbourne at the moment. So that is a contained area, we know where it has come from and we have stopped, we have closed- that facility has been closed and all of the people that have been diagnosed are in self isolation, their contacts have been traced. And so, that, even though it is a relatively large number of cases, over 70 now, it is a specific point and so that would not be as concerning as finding a few cases in eastern Melbourne or central Melbourne and in Geelong and somewhere else. Not just picking on Victoria or anywhere in Australia. So it is the dispersing, it is the number and it would be an increase in terms of a percentage. The R-effective as we have talked about before is part of that process, to see whether on average one person leads to more than one person in a second infection. All of these things would be concerning. On the other hand, if there is very few cases or those cases are mainly coming from returning from overseas and are already in quarantine, even if it was a relatively large number, that wouldn't be as much of a concern to the wider society. There are other elements. We need to look at our capacity to respond to the outbreaks and so we are measuring how quickly people have been traced and again, the app is a very important component of that. We are also looking at a range of other measures in relation to our health services and so, with so few people in intensive care, way fewer than we thought may have happened at this time without the mitigation that we have had, but we will keep a close eye on that as well as our PPE supplies and so forth.
Just on mortality rates, looking across the world, why do you think it is that countries with the highest mortality rates are actually really wealthy countries?
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:
So I think it is, the mortality rates and the numbers of cases we need to consider the situation of the different countries so I think firstly, those richer countries with first-class health systems like our own are able to find people and to diagnose them correctly and so, those large numbers, you know, over 1 million people in the US, several European countries, these are enormous strains on a health system. Even there though, in the UK, would be an example of this, I do not think they are seeing the full extent of the epidemic there. Mainly testing people as they come into hospital. And so we know that once people are sick enough to come into hospital, their mortality rate is higher and it is often older people or people with chronic diseases. We are the same in Australia so if you end up in hospital, so sick to be in hospital, then your chances of survival are much less than if you are able to stay at home and that kind of makes sense. So I think for some countries they are not counting those ones that are at home, so much they are not getting as many tests out and certainly in the early stage of the epidemic and it has improved over the last few weeks with more laboratory testing available as has been the case here in Australia. So I think that is part of it. I think when you look at some of the other countries in Africa for example I'm sure they are completely underestimating their problem. Some countries in Asia are finding even higher mortality rates. Again, I think that is because they are only seeing the very severe end of the spectrum. So testing is a great help, but not everyone who is sick in the world or has been sick in the world have been tested. So those rates we have now, millions of people with the virus, it is probably even more than that actually that have suffered.
Just finally on Mother's Day, you talked earlier about older people, over 70. Is there specific advice whether you can hug your mum or not or if you do not live with her should you may be not go into her home and chat outside? What is your advice?
PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:
Individually people need to make that choice and it really depends on the age of your mum and whether she has other diseases that might make her more severely affected with COVID. I think absolutely if you are feeling sick yourself, do not go and visit your mum. Please don't. If you are feeling well and you really want to see your mum I'm sure it is fine, but for elderly mums, just be a little bit cautious and probably keep that 1.5 metres distance for now. I know it is hard and we all want to cuddle our mums on Mother's Day and a big shout out to all of the mums out there but let's just wait a little bit longer.
Thank you very much.
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