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COVID-19 - Decision to Reopen Tasmania on 15 December 2021


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Tags: Health, COVID-19

Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr GUTWEIN

On Friday, you announced the plan to reopen Tasmania to travellers on 15 December.  You will understand the knowledge that COVID-19 is coming to Tasmania has made many Tasmanians very uneasy, particularly the immuno-compromised and those with chronic conditions. 

Your decision is based on modelling undertaken by the Kirby Institute which paints frightening scenarios whichever way you look at it.  Even under the best case scenario with movement restrictions, masks indoors for everyone over 12, and 80 per cent contact tracing, it is projected 87 people will die within the first six months.  Under that model, with the current level of movement restrictions, 242 people will end up in our already overstretched hospitals and 68 in the ICU.

Healthcare workers are stressed about what reopening will mean for the health system.  They are already working themselves into the ground to manage the "normal" day to day demand.  Are you certain our hospital system and ICUs will be able to cope once we reopen? Because the Greens aren't.  Are you absolutely certain reopening on 15 December is the right decision by the Tasmanian people?

ANSWER

Mr Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens for her question.  It is an important question and an important issue that we are dealing with at the moment.

There are a number of matters raised in that question.  First, at the moment booster shots are being made available to immunocompromised people in that cohort.

Let me just run you through our thinking of the date of 15 December.  The modeller provided a range of scenarios based on Tasmania starting with a seeded event of 10 cases on 1 December at a time when 90 per cent of the over-16 cohort had received a full vaccination, then with the 12- to 15-year-olds coming on later, with full immunisation being achieved sometime in January.

We are in a better position than that and we expect that we will have 90 per cent of the over 12s, including the 12 to 15 cohort and that 16-plus cohort, at 90 per cent by the first week of December.  We will go into this with more than 90 per cent of that cohort fully vaccinated.

We put in place measures at our borders.  Queensland might be doing something similar at 80 per cent a little bit later than at what we opened our borders.  This will not be open slather.  I make no apology for slowing down travel into Tasmania.  That will annoy the tourism sector.  It will annoy some who want to come back to visit family and friends, but there will still be gates to get through.  The first gate will be that you will need to have a negative test within 72 hours of travelling to Tasmania and you will need to be double vaccinated.  That will slow travel.  At the moment Public Health is recommending the PCR test.  Other tests can be purchased cheaper but their efficacy is not as good.

The modeller provided a range of different scenarios.  One is the current level of restrictions that we have in place, which is 10 per cent restriction on movement.  Another was at 30 per cent restriction on movement, which is broadly where we were in the middle of last year until the last half of last year with one-in-four square metre densities and lower caps on public gatherings.  At the moment we are at one-in-two square metres with the caps in place and an events management framework wrapped around it.  That is one lever we can pull if we need to. 

I know this will concern people.  I have a family; I live in the state as well.  We have had the rare opportunity over the last 18 months of having one of the best runs of COVID-19 out of any jurisdiction in the world.  We have to re-join the world.  The best protection we can put in place is that we have the highest level of full vaccination that we possibly can.

Ms O'Connor - Is 15 December absolutely locked in in your mind?

Mr GUTWEIN - 15 December is locked in.  We need to work towards that.

People who are thinking of purchasing a ticket to a show, or trying to book into a restaurant, or want to go to a festival do not wait until the last minute.  Get your vaccination now.  They are available. 

There are two things I need to be very comfortable with.  I say this both as a premier and as a human being.  First, I need to know that everybody who is eligible for the vaccine has had the opportunity to take the vaccine - whether they take it or not is a matter for them.  I am confident with the rollout of the vaccination program that vaccines are available and that people can access them.  We will do whatever we can over the next seven weeks to ensure that we roll out the mobile bus, that we take vaccines to the far reaches of the state to make certain that people have that opportunity.  The second thing is I want to see the state vaccinated above 90 per cent. 

However, 15 December is the date that we are going to reopen, albeit with travel restrictions in place.  This will, in my mind, slow the number of people who will come to the state through that first period, which will provide us -

Ms O'Connor - COVID-19 will come.

Mr GUTWEIN - I have always been clear about that.  You and I have discussed this privately, we have discussed it publicly.  At some stage COVID-19 will come and we will need to manage it.  The best way of managing it, the best protection that we have is to ensure that we have as high a percentage as we possibly can of the people in our community who are vaccinated.  Second, we have taken steps to ensure that our health system has additional capacity. 

We have opened more beds, we have put on more staff.  We continue to hire more staff.  We will offer a range of options for people to ensure that we can provide the services that they need.  The most important thing people can do is to ensure that they do not forget, as many have done, that COVID-19 is still loose in the world and one day it will be here. 

This is no time for complacency.  Make certain that you continue to have good standards of hygiene.  Wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, do the little things.  As my mother would have once said, when you were trying not to get the flu, do the little things.  Make certain that you abide by social distancing.  Make certain that if you do not feel comfortable going into a big crowd that you do not go.  If you are feeling sick, if you have a sneeze or a sniffle, do not go to school, do not go to work.  Most people deal with the flu that way. 

We have to start ensuring that we deal with COVID‑19 that way.  I am confident when we reopen our borders on 15 December with the steps that we have taken, with the measures that we have in place, that we can manage this. 

My message to Tasmanians is the borders will open on 15 December.  Make certain that you get vaccinated.  Do not leave it until the last minute.  Take a level of personal responsibility and together we will get through this.  We will rejoin the rest of the world but we will do it at our pace.  We will do it in a way that ensures that we can manage any of the outcomes from it.