Politics with Michelle Grattan

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on COVID-19

March 10, 2020

With 100 domestic cases as of March 10, federal and state governments and health authorities face daunting challenges posed by COVID-19 in coming weeks and months - securing a workforce of nurses and doctors to treat the sick, ensuring enough testing facilities to meet a rapidly growing demand, and stemming the spread of the virus, to the maximum extent possible.

As Chief Medical Officer for the federal government, Professor Brendan Murphy is confident about maintaining enough health staff, including in nursing homes.

“You can find a health workforce if you look hard enough, and if you can fund the surge. So I think we will find them.”

Murphy is also optimistic the present self-isolation period of 14 days can be shortened at some point, as the incubation period of virus is now thought to be “probably around five to seven days”.

When will the virus peak in Australia? Murphy says: “If we had widespread and more generalised community transmission, I would imagine that would be peaking around the middle of the year, in the middle of winter. … But that’s really our best guess of the modelling at the moment. And it’s very, very hard to predict.”

Murphy re-iterates that only people in certain categories need to be tested; in the last few days there has been a “significant surge” of people with flu-like symptoms but outside these categories who have been seeking testing, placing pressure on facilities.

With eyes on Italy’s lockdown, could a single region of Australia be locked down?

“It’s potentially possible, absolutely. If we had a city, a major city that had an outbreak of some thousands, and the rest of the country was pretty unaffected, we could very easily consider locking down a part of or a whole town or city.”