VICTORIA NOT ALONE IN LATEST COVID-19 RESPONSE: Chief Medical Officer

We all remain concerned about the COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria and the cases of community transmission. 

As the nation’s Acting Chief Medical Officer, and Chair of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) comprising all state and territory Chief Health Officers, I can say unequivocally that the Commonwealth supports the actions being taken by the Victorian Government to chase the virus down. We continue to meet daily and strongly support what Victoria is doing.

The Victorian response – involving the three pronged approach of test, trace and isolate, plus physical distancing and movement restrictions – is precisely the approach we have been taking at the national level.  And, as we all know, it works. It is why, compared to any country, Australia has done so remarkably well in this pandemic so far. Nationally, our approach was to go hard, go early – and that’s what is happening now in the Victorian situation.

Outbreaks like Victoria’s were expected, though we hoped they wouldn’t happen. As an epidemiologist with 30 years’ experience around the world across a range of infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and influenza, I know that we are dealing with a highly infectious disease. COVID‑19 needs only the slightest encouragement to take off, and can rapidly get out of control, so we need to be nimble and flexible in our response. And be completely vigilant.

That there will be outbreaks from time to time has been in our response plan all along. So we know what needs to be done. We know where most of the Melbourne cases are and hence where we need to focus our efforts.  There is an extraordinarily large testing process going on. The aim is to shut the outbreak down as quickly as possible to stop the spread. That’s what the Tasmanians did successfully in the North West of their state. And it’s what the Victorian team is doing now.

Implementing the North West Tasmania model in an urban setting has challenges but the action being taken by Victoria is appropriate and proportionate. It’s led by the science. It is based on real time data and good public health practice, and it will protect and save lives.

Let’s not lose sight of the many positives. It remains the undisputable fact that Australia has – as I referenced earlier – done remarkably well in this pandemic, and Victoria shares in that success. Thanks to the very clear strategic framework of containment and capacity put in place by the medical experts and political leaders across the Commonwealth, coupled with the Australian community’s engagement and commitment, we have been able to flatten the coronavirus curve across the nation. The size of the Victorian outbreak is still very small when compared to the size of outbreaks around the world. But we need to, and have, acted quickly to prevent further spread.

With restrictions now reimposed, I ask Victorians to be patient. And to be responsible in their own interests, their state’s interest, and the nation’s interest. The effectiveness of the restrictions depends on the community’s adherence to the public health recommendations. We are relying on you.

This latest outbreak is not a Victorian problem. It is a national problem. It is everyone’s problem. Support is being provided by the Commonwealth and other states and territories – several hundred clinical and other staff are helping with testing, contact tracing and public engagement. I am very heartened – and, I might say, not the least surprised – by this national response to get on top of the virus. Importantly, while we have already done a lot of work with multicultural communities, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure we get the right messages out to this very multicultural part of Melbourne.

I want all Victorians to know that I and my colleagues on the AHPPC – the nation’s health and medical experts who have guided Australia’s COVID-19 response from the start, are with you every step of the way – as, I believe, your fellow Australians are too. We are in this together and we will come through it together. This is a national effort. It has always been a national effort. Getting on top of the virus will protect Victorians, it will protect all of us.

Professor Paul Kelly

Acting Chief Medical Officer