Greg Barns’ attempted character assassination is intellectually lazy and out of touch with the deep fear and anger being felt by the vast majority of Tasmanians.
Mr Barns clearly hasn’t researched this deadly, disabling, rapidly mutating virus that Premier Peter Gutwein has inflicted on an unwilling, under-vaccinated Tasmanian community. Like the Premier, Health Minister, and hospitality and tourism industry lobbyists whose greed drove the premature reopening, Mr Barns downplays the real and elevated danger to the elderly, disabled, immuno-compromised and unvaccinated children.
The medical science is clear, no variant of Covid-19 is ‘mild’. Any political leader or commentator who tells you that is lying to your face. They are ignoring evolving science that confirms long-term effects on the human brain, heart, organs and blood. This virus can damage our grey matter, impairing cognitive function. Is that really what Peter Gutwein wants for Tasmanians? Public health experts warn we face a mass disabling event, with tens of thousands of Australians likely to suffer long Covid. The human cost and impact on our health systems and economy will be profound.
Tasmanians are being told we have ‘to live with the virus’, but that’s only because Prime Minister Morrison has adopted a let-it-rip strategy and Peter Gutwein is going along with it. In less than two weeks, we went from being one of the safest places in the world to a ‘extreme-risk’ Covid destination. Thousands of Tasmanians are falling to both Omicron and Delta, with the daily case tally, according to Public Health, a massive undercount.
We don’t know the true extent of infection because the testing and tracing system is collapsing. We do know dozens of our health care workers now have Covid and our health system is under a strain that will only intensify as hospitalisations inevitably increase. People on the elective surgery waiting list will suffer longer. We also now know the Omicron variant is not only extraordinarily contagious, it’s vaccine evasive. Double vaccinated Tasmanians are getting infected and very sick.
Of course the border restrictions had to be lifted at some stage. The question was always when, and whether we were ready. Under pressure from vested interests and political donors from the top end of the tourism and hospitality sectors, the Premier decided to reopen before Christmas, in time for the economic sugar hit of the summer tourism season. It was an economic own goal for the ages by Peter Gutwein.
Modelling on which the border reset was based was for Delta. In the weeks before 15 December, it was clear Omicron was a wildly virulent new strain of Covid. It was a game changer, but the Premier stubbornly ploughed on regardless.
The virus arrived on the first flights on the first day. On that same day, NSW Premier, Dominic Perrottet, lifted all restrictions across the State. Inevitably, both Delta and Omicron then bolted.
Mr Gutwein rolled out the welcome mat, flying blind. It’s clear to everyone who can’t get a PCR test, or find a Rapid Antigen Test, or book a third shot, that we weren’t ready. The island is convulsing with shock and infection, and best we get from the Premier and industry leaders are pleas to stay calm. Tasmanians aren’t silly, they don’t want Covid and they’re quite wisely protecting themselves.
Tasmanians were reassured the Gutwein Government had a plan to protect them, but clearly it did not. Restaurants, cafes, markets, festivals and tourism businesses are shutting their doors. Aged care homes are in lockdown. The Commission of Inquiry into child sexual abuse is on hold. Jury trials have been suspended. Casual workers are losing income. The health system is buckling despite the heroic efforts of health professionals. And worse is yet to come.
We desperately need a real plan that puts the health of our people first and gives the economy a chance for recovery.
My fellow Green MP, Dr Rosalie Woodruff, is an epidemiologist. Here is her free advice to the Premier. Temporarily reinstate border restrictions to stop Covid from flooding in. A short sharp lockdown would help Public Health get on top of soaring infection rates. Make Rapid Antigen Tests free to everyone who needs one. Reintroduce density limits and restrictions on events. Encourage Tasmanians to upgrade to N95 or FFP2 masks to stave off Omicron. Accelerate vaccinations for at risk groups. Encourage work from home arrangements. And, stop telling Tasmanians this version of Covid is ‘mild’. It may be less severe than Delta, but it’s still driving up hospital and ICU admissions across the country.
This is what Peter Gutwein should do, and it’s what commentators like Greg Barns should be calling for. Stay safe, fellow Tasmanians.