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

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

There continues to be a growth - much slower but a growth of cases outside of China. Now over 600. In terms of deaths there are over 1,300 people who have died of this virus, again mostly in China with very few outside of China.

People would be aware of one of the major issues in terms of increased numbers of cases outside of China is the cruise ship in Yokohama, which is causing some concern, including for the over 200 Australians that are on board. And we are looking very closely at what we can do to support Australians on that ship, including sending a infectious diseases public health expert from Australia. He'll be travelling tonight to join the other countries that are assisting the Japanese authorities in this difficult matter. So we will have someone on the ground as early as tomorrow morning and working through the issue on the cruise ship. So I think that's all for now, I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION:

And that Australian expert when will they be on the ground in Japan and what would be some of the work that they'll doing?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So they should arrive tomorrow is the plan, tomorrow morning. They'll be met by our consular staff who have already for some time been offering assistance to those on board. He'll be looking - he'll be joining others' international group. So I spoke with the coordinator in the in the US CDC in Atlanta this morning. They have had a group on the ground there for the last few days and they're reinforcing that tonight and they're looking to see how they can assist the US people on board, substantially more than the Australians on board this ship. And we'll be looking to coordinate our efforts with those, as well as with the Japanese authorities.

QUESTION:

And our official will actually be on the ship itself?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

I'll leave that to him there's probably no reason, we want to protect his health as well of course. But definitely gathering information about the Australians that are on there. We know for example that there are a number of elderly people in that group and so that poses particular risks and issues for them. He'll be looking at the health and welfare of that group and what might be best done with a view to getting them off the ship.

QUESTION:

Because that there is a move to get some elderly people off that ship sooner rather than later. Do you know if that will also apply to some of the elderly Australians on board?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

That's certainly an option which we'll be looking at, once we have our man on the ground. However, we do know that I believe 11 people were evacuated from the ship, I'm not sure from which nationality but I understand mostly from the US overnight and assisted to more suitable accommodation.

QUESTION:

This report from The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. might evacuate its citizens off the ship on board two flights taking nearly 400 people from Japan to the U.S. Is something along those lines in the mix in terms of considerations that you're making and the Australian Government's making?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So we are aware of the United States’ plans and indeed that was the basis of my call to Atlanta this morning. And so we will wait for our expert to be on the ground to assess what is the best option for those Australians and you know just to reiterate where we are. Put it out to them, this has been a very difficult situation to be stuck on that ship for so long. And we certainly want to make the best options available to our own citizens.

QUESTION:

And those U.S flights and U.S citizens coming off the ship, do you have any indication of when that will be taking place?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So that would be for the U.S to say but I understand that they are planning the next few days to actually carry this out. But that's a matter for the US to discuss.

QUESTION:

And I believe you had a meeting this afternoon with your state and territory counterparts. Any updates out of that meeting that we should know about?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

Yes, so we're meeting daily. The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which has been providing expert medical advice to the Australian Government in relation to this matter. And so that's with the senior Chief Health Officers within health departments in all the jurisdictions and some invited experts in infectious diseases.

We consider all matters related to destroying the virus at the moment. So that matters we discussed was - the highlight was indeed the cruise ship and what should have could be done there and to guide our man who's going there in his deliberations.

We also talked about the issues of returning university students that may be happening in the coming weeks in terms of people that may have spent more than two weeks outside of China.

And therefore are able to come back and we understand that there are a number of people that have done that. So just thinking through that over the next few weeks that was the two main topics amongst others.

QUESTION:

Any update on the university situation at all?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

So university students, as with anyone who is currently in China and has been there for the last 14 days, are not able to travel. That was the renewed travel restrictions that were announced by the Prime Minister on Thursday. So that remains in place for seven days from that time. But we are aware in our frequent discussions with the university sector that this is a major concern for them that the university students cannot return, the ones that are in China. So we understand that some have taken the decision to go to other countries and spend, essentially their own quarantine period in those third countries. That 14 days will start to come up after this weekend, and we're expecting that some will be able to come back and resume their studies.

QUESTION:

And in terms of the advice for government travel bans should continue for some time. Can you give us a sense how were the strong medical experts in their view that, that ban did need to be continued?

PROFESSOR PAUL KELLY:

We were very strong and certainly the issue in Hubei province as we see by the figures of announced again today, it continues to be a major concern. And now Hubei province, the Chinese have done an extraordinary effort in there in terms of caring for their own citizens and for others in Hubei province and essentially to shut that province down.

People are free to move throughout the rest of China though and there have been, and continue to be cases in other provinces. And so we looked at all sorts of options that we could do in terms of relaxing the travel restrictions.

But realistically when we put the health of Australians as the first priority, we couldn't see a way forward that we could advise that those should be lifted at this time. Of course we're looking at the information that we know about the virus itself, how it's spreading how quickly it's spreading, how serious it is all the time.

That's a continuous thing here in the National Incident Room. We have staff throughout the day and the evening and into the night looking at these matters. But at the moment we were absolutely unanimous that the advice to government was, keep those travel restrictions in place and we will assist in reviewing that in that week period.

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