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COVID-19 Condolence

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Tags: COVID-19, Condolence

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, on behalf of the Greens, Ms O'Connor and I are bringing this condolence motion on today to remember and to respect and honour the 201 people who have died from COVID 19 in Tasmania.

The pandemic continues and we are in the seventh wave of infection in Tasmania today. Despite the great efforts to reduce the loss of life through vaccines, vaccinations, they are not 100 per cent effective. They have waning effectiveness and lives continue to be lost, even amongst those who are the most highly vaccinated. We are here today to give voice to the sorrow and loss experienced by the families and friends who have lost the person that they love from COVID 19.

Each of the 201 people who have died in Tasmania was loved and special. There were 13 people who died before the borders opened just under a year ago. Since then an extra 188 Tasmanians have died. So 15 times more people have died from COVID 19 in Tasmania during 2022 than did in the first two years of the pandemic combined.

We are seeing the numbers of people infected and the number of people who have died in Tasmania soaring this year but the conversation and attention in the media has diminished as time goes on.

We have just passed 258 000 who are infected with COVID. Before the borders opened there were 240. Some of those 258 000 Tasmanians infected have been reinfected, maybe once or maybe more times. Those numbers would have been shocking two years ago. They are shocking to us today because they represent people's lives and they represent a rippling effect in our community which we find hard to understand. As Ms Dow said: 'We find it hard to imagine the situation of life before COVID'.

One of the reasons we are bringing this condolence motion to parliament today is a plea to the Premier for leadership to not accept this as the new normal. There are different ways of responding. We ought to be doing everything that we can as a parliament and the Premier as the leader of the Government to be outspoken and to take all possible preventative actions to stop people becoming infected, with the risk of dying or the risk of serious and disabling long-term illness which we know increases with each infection with COVID.

Science continues to reveal more definitive information about the long-term impacts of SARS CoV 2 infection on the body. The latest was just 10 days ago in the most esteemed international journal, Nature. It makes it very clear that people who are reinfected with COVID have a dramatic increase in risk of death from all causes: a more than doubling of the risk of death from all causes. They have an increased risk of hospitalisation if they are reinfected with COVID and a trebling of the increased risk of hospitalisation of all causes.

We know from the research, and this is a very large study, that the impact on the lungs from diseases of the lungs are more than three-and-a-half times than those in people who are not infected with COVID.

Cardiovascular diseases, blood disorders, fatigue, disorders of the gastrointestines, an increase in kidney disease and failure, mental health disorders, an increased risk of diabetes, an increased neurological impact, all the numbers in this study are enormous. Usually, in research on the impacts of an infection, you might see a 5 per cent increase in a particular outcome such as impacts on the heart and the lungs. With COVID reinfection we are seeing a threefold or twofold or three-and-a-half-fold increase in risk. These are huge numbers. Each of those numbers represents a person whose life has been either cut short by a heart attack or severely changed and affected by continuing fatigue, by heart disease, by lung disease, by an increased risk of asthma or diabetes. These are things that we ought to be concerned about as one human for another, but also we ought to be concerned about as a Government.

What they represent is a massive and dramatic impact on the health system and on our need to respond and provide more resources. At the moment the Government is struggling to in any way match the need in the health system. What we have is a huge burden of disease from COVID coming down the line but no discussion, which we find so concerning, from the Premier, from the Department of Health, about the COVID impacts. We know that other states are modelling the COVID impacts on the health system. We encourage the Premier to do that for Tasmania, to look at the impact of the 258 000 Tasmanians who have been infected or re infected and to model what that means for the increased support for diabetes services, mental health services, hospital services for those people.

We are concerned that so many of those 258 000 infections ought to have been prevented. They can be prevented, which is why we wrote to the Director of Public Health in February asking why there was such a low-level emphasis being placed on effective mask wearing as a critical tool to protect Tasmanians from COVID 19. We drew his attention to the research which made it very clear that mask wearing is incredibly effective.

Social distancing alone is basically hopeless when it comes to preventing Omicron in a group. Standing a couple of metres or a long way from someone who has Omicron, particularly in an enclosed space, is virtually pointless. When you are in an enclosed space and there is not adequate ventilation, or you and the other person are not wearing a mask, then you are at great risk.

The research clearly shows that universal masking is the most effective method for stopping the transmission of an airborne virus. We do not understand why the Government has never funded a widespread education campaign about the effectiveness of mask wearing. We do not understand why there continues to be signs on every door in a public building about washing your hands, which is, essentially, an ineffective response for an airborne virus. It is far more important that people wear a mask when they go into a building than they wash their hands. All of the sanitising that was useful and maybe important at the beginning of the pandemic is no longer relevant compared to the importance of wearing a mask.

We know that the removal of the requirement for mandatory isolation was probably the most retrograde step that this Premier has made as a response to the COVID pandemic. Before borders opened, we could hold our heads up as a state and say that we had a strong and effective response to this pandemic.

After opening the borders it was obvious there was going to be more infection in Tasmania. In response to that, instead of educating the community and providing audited ventilation services for all buildings, instead of requiring the most vulnerable in schools, children, to wear masks, and instead of keeping the indoor mask wearing requirement in place, the Premier did not do those things and removed the requirement for mask wearing.

I was personally shocked. I know that so many people who are vulnerable, who live with immune-compromising diseases were flattened by the Premier advocating at National Cabinet to remove the COVID isolation requirement. The stories that we read into question time this morning put a voice to the reality that people are experiencing every day that people are being pushed back into the workplace despite the fact that they tested and remain COVID-positive simply to fill a spot. There is no conversation about the risks to their colleagues in the workplace and about the risk to their own health and the vulnerable people they may be unwittingly infecting.

I do not have time now but I want to thank the doctors and nurses, the hospital staff, ambulance, paramedics and volunteers who have valiantly stood for the community. Thank you and we will continue to stand with them for a safer Tasmania.