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26 Mar 2020

Transcript:   AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, ABC Radio, AM with Sabra Lane, Thursday, 26 March 2020

Subject:  Coronavirus, school closures

SABRA LANE:         Now the Australian Medical Association says stronger measures need to be put in place now to save lives. Dr Tony Bartone is the AMA's President.

Tony Bartone, you believe more lives can be saved with tighter restrictions, including closing schools now. How will you convince the Federal Government to do that?

TONY BARTONE:   We're in regular conversation with the Chief Medical Officer and his colleagues, in particular, on a daily basis, and we'll also continue to speak with the Minister. I think if we look at the issues in terms of the trajectory of our nation's curve, in terms of caseload, we can see that we are at an earlier stage compared to other countries, but there are signs that there have been an escalation in the numbers in recent days. The majority of those cases are either people who have returned back from overseas or direct contacts from people overseas. But we do know that there is community transmission occurring in pockets in some parts of the country.

We know that some jurisdictions around the world have not suspended classes and have managed to have lower and flatter curves than Australia. But we also know that they have had much more significant measures when it comes to social isolation and managing the community spread of COVID-19. And it's clear from all the data that we do need to - because of the lack of consistent messaging, because people have been flouting the earlier advice regarding social distancing measures - that we need to move further and more quickly to ensure that whatever we're seeing around the world doesn't mimic and occur in our front doors.

SABRA LANE:         Has it been a little confusing for the public too, with the different messages coming from different States about what they ought to be doing?

TONY BARTONE: We are in a very, very connected world nowadays with social media and with the media in general, and so we know what is happening in different parts of the country. And, of course, with 24/7 coverage, it does create that additional confusion when different parts of the country are undertaking different restrictions or enforcing different regulations.

SABRA LANE:         The Prime Minister, obviously, has been reticent to closing schools, but you have said that the AMA would support decisions of governments to enforce further closures right now and increased home isolation. Does that also include testing everyone to find all those who are carrying the virus, given that the World Health Organisation has said that should happen now?

TONY BARTONE: The more we can test, the more we'll identify cases, but also identify the natural mechanics of the spread of the virus in the community by identifying where it's not spreading, for example. And so that gives us a lot of information about the virus and its behaviour and its transmission through the community.

SABRA LANE:         Even with the physical distancing measures in place, how long will it be before Australians know if that's been successful or not in flattening the curve?

TONY BARTONE: I would imagine within the 14-day period from the implementation of those measures in a significantly adherent way, we'll see evidence. We might even see it a few days earlier than that in terms of the curve starting to flatten. But, as I say, as we approach that 14-day mark from those announcements, we'll get some really clear indication whether it's working or whether we have to actually additionally increase measures. And I know that there are a number of measures on the table, that both the Prime Minister and various State Premiers have signalled clearly that there are additional stages to social isolation. They are on the table, they are ready to go, and they will be monitoring the case numbers very carefully in the coming days.

SABRA LANE:         The Government says it's working hard to find and make more personal protective equipment. What do you want to see happen to ensure that there'll be enough equipment for all health staff to last as long as it's needed?

TONY BARTONE: I know the Governments has been working really hard to try and source and manage and achieve the appropriate levels required. But it seems that, as I've said, the virus has been always one step ahead of Government in terms of the demand and the requirements. Two million more masks were released into the primary care area yesterday or the day before - I'm sorry, days blur at the moment. And of course, there's 54 million additional masks being procured by early April. The problem is that we need to have an appropriate, clear, sustainable way of using a very scarce resource that’s not present in the world. And when you have that kind of situation, we need clear guidance, we need to have some clear understanding about how we can sustainably reduce the load on that, on the really scarce number of PPE that we've got. But we do need to be very mindful of the reason behind the social distancing measures, the reasons behind the testing regime, is also in the attempt to sustainably manage and in appropriate fashion, commit the limited resources that is the PPE that we've got

SABRA LANE:         Tony Bartone, thanks for talking to AM.

26 March 2020

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Published: 26 Mar 2020