Female scientist in a laboratory

Coronavirus: June 2020 Update

COVID-19, June 2020: What you need to know

In a follow-up to our Coronavirus & Heart Disease series, Professor Bob Graham provides an update on Australia's current situation and the latest research in the fight against COVID-19.

18 June 2020
Update 25 Nov 2021: Information from this article was accurate at the time of publishing and reflected the rules/advice announced by governing bodies at that time.

Video transcript

Hello, I'm Professor Bob Graham from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. I'm also a cardiologist at St Vincent's hospital. Welcome back to another video in our series on COVID and heart disease. And today I want to tell you about three new pieces of information.

The first one is a good news story. Thanks to your enormous efforts and thanks to the efforts of the government, we've not only been able to flatten the curve, we've absolutely crushed it. As sad as they are, we have had only four deaths per a million people in Australia compared to 356 per million people in the United States. That's 85 times worse the number of deaths in the United States than in Australia. So we've done a remarkable job in Australia and you're all to be congratulated for doing that. And we've done that by social distancing, by hand hygiene and all those good measures that you've done.

So let me give you a little bit of an update. Particularly now we understand that the reason why some people get very severe COVID disease is because it not only attacks the lining of the lung, the airspaces where you get oxygen moving across from the outside into the bloodstream. But the virus also attacks the lining cells, the endothelial cells, leading to inflammation and also to clot formation. And when you have clots, you don't have much blood flowing. So even if you could get oxygen across from the lungs, which is difficult anyway, because it's infected and inflamed, the blood is not traveling. It's not moving because it is clotted.

So this new evidence of an inflammatory condition in the blood is also exacerbated by the fact that not only do you get clots, but initially the blood gets thicker. It gets more viscous. It's like treacle and it can't move through the lungs properly to allow proper oxygenation. We can now start to address those issues individually and try and dampen down the inflammation, try and reduce the viscosity, which hopefully will help in outcomes in people with COVID-19.

The second thing I'd like to tell you about is a new understanding. We've heard a lot about having to wash our hands and that still is very important. There was a study though, just out from Germany, which has looked at 21 households where at least one member had COVID-19. And the interesting thing is, although they've taken swabs at many different places within the house, in only 3% of cases, could they pick up the virus and in none of those, were they able to grow the virus. So that suggests that contact spread is much less common, although still probably important. And please let me stress that you need to maintain a high hand hygiene and other social distancing, but surface transmission is probably much less common than the spread that one gets from people, coughing and sneezing and through airborne transmission. An interesting finding that we need to view with caution.

The third thing I'd like to tell you about is vaccine development. Where are we up to? There are now 135 initiatives throughout the world to develop vaccines. Two of them have progressed through to phase two studies, that is studies looking at efficacy and not just safety. So there is some progress, but it's going to continue to be slow. This is a long and difficult piece of work. The fastest vaccine that's ever been developed in the past was four years. And so I must admit I'm a little skeptical when people say we'll have a vaccine by the end of the year, but stay tuned and we'll try and keep you updated on more about COVID in future videos.

Thank you again for your attention, for all your questions. We at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute really appreciate your interest in our work. And we hope that we can keep you informed of this pandemic.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years