Big unknown in Australia's virus fight


Australia's early COVID-19 success story is set to run into a big unknown according to the man leading the fight against the virus.

The nation's chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy has told a Senate committee into the coronavirus today that there's genuine concern heading into winter about how the virus will behave.

"We don't know what effect winter will have," he said.

"We don't know exactly how this virus will behave in temperature and climate. That's one of the things we are concerned about in Australia."

Brendan Murphy says the colder months could bring unknown outcomes for Australia. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP
Brendan Murphy says the colder months could bring unknown outcomes for Australia. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP

Asked if the worst was yet to come, he conceded that any country overseas without a strong health system was a huge concern.

"Africa is certainly one of those areas,'" he said.

Australia's border closures were critical to our success but he stressed they would have to remain in place for a long time.

"Two-thirds of our cases have been overseas acquired and recent analysis in academic literature has shown that those countries that have done the best have introduced border measures," Professor Murphy said.

"I cannot see border measures materially changing for some time and that presents a huge problem for the nation."

Asked if he could see international borders remaining shut into next year he said it was possible.

"There is no clear road map out of this, we have a strategy of maintaining strong suppression, potentially elimination in some parts of the country while we relax restrictions," he said.

"But then we will have to reassess every few months to see what's happening with vaccines, treatments.

"I have no vision at the moment on the current international scene where strong border measures won't be necessary … the world situation will evolve over many months.

"I just think it's too early to speculate what's going to happen. I think that's a possibility. Again, developments with a vaccine, what happens with the virus, could change that.

"We are in a good position but we will only be able to maintain that with strong border measures."

Professor Murphy also told the Senate committee that he still believed the real number of cases worldwide was up to 10 times higher than previously reported.

"I would be very surprised if the true international caseload wasn't close to the 20 million mark," he said.

Originally published as Big unknown in Australia's virus fight