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COVID-19 - Lifting of Mask Mandate and Effect on Numbers


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 24 March 2022

Tags: COVID-19

Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr ROCKLIFF

Another Tasmanian has died from COVID-19 overnight; may they rest in peace.

As of today, there are 2009 reported new cases. Just 48 hours after the mask mandate was lifted on 11 March reported COVID-19 case numbers doubled to over 1800. In response to this clear cause and effect, your colleague, Resources minister Guy Barnett, told Tasmanians: 'This slight uptick in case numbers …' Narrator: 'It was a doubling of case numbers.' - '… is not related to the recent removal of masks'.

The Greens believe this was a blatant falsehood. Did Public Health tell you the doubling of reported cases within 48 hours after masks were removed had nothing to do with lifting those protections?

 

ANSWER

Mr Speaker, I thank Ms O'Connor, member for Clark, for her question, in which she acknowledged the passing of another person, a 94-year-old woman who was a resident of an aged care facility in the state's north and who sadly passed away. My thoughts and condolences are with this person's family, friends and loved ones.

Ms O'Connor, as the Premier has said many times in this place and publicly, there has been a very transparent approach that both he, our Health commander, Ms Morgan-Wicks and our Director of Public Health, Dr Mark Veitch, have taken in terms of their public presentation and their transparency when it comes to informing Tasmanians over a very long time now - it goes back to February-March 2020 -

Ms O'Connor - We want what to know what they said about the doubling of case numbers.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr ROCKLIFF - That is two years of intensity of decision making, the variables of the COVID-19 variants - to begin with Delta, Omicron and now BA.2, which we know is more transmissible but all the evidence would suggest no more lethal in its effect -

Ms O'Connor - How would we know? It's only been around a month.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor. That is twice. The third time and you are out.

Mr ROCKLIFF - This has challenged the state and has challenged the nation. Indeed, it has been challenging across the globe. The Premier has said that he has been -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Mr Speaker, under standing order 45, relevance. You have given guidance before when there are a number of questions in the question that the minister has latitude. We asked a single question: did Public Health tell you the doubling of reported case within 48 hours had nothing to do with the removal of the mask mandate?

 

Government members interjecting.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am entitled to take a point of order in silence.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Ms O'CONNOR - One question in the question: did Public Health tell the minister that the doubling of reported case numbers had nothing to do with the removal of masks?

Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, I am sure the minister heard the question and he must be afforded the opportunity to answer the question in full without interjections and points of order.

Mr ROCKLIFF - The point I was making is that unlike other states, the Premier and the team at Public Health, who have done such a wonderful job, have been joined at the hip when it comes to our response to COVID 19. Across our Tasmanian Heath Service, the work done around vaccination, we still lead the nation in vaccination, particularly when it comes to our five- to 11 year olds. We are consistently 10 per cent above the national average, although it has plateaued and we need to encourage parents and carers to get their children vaccinated because it is the number one protection and defence.

There have been various Public Health measures along the way, going from the extremities of lockdown to restrictions, including masks, which we are still complying with. It is a restriction within our place of work here today. We will always take the very best Public Health advice.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, standing order 45, relevance. The minister was asked one question. I implore you to ask him to answer it.

Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, as has been answered plenty of times in the past from Speakers long gone, there is leniency given to the member asking. There was a significant preamble to the question and the issue has been addressed by the minister. I cannot put words into the minister's mouth. You have a second opportunity today to ask another question if you wish.

Mr ROCKLIFF - Thank you, Mr Speaker. It should be known as well that our restrictions have eased due to good, solid Public Health advice, which we have been guided by along the way. It should be noted that Tasmania has one of the lowest hospitalisation rates in the country. We have managed the pandemic extraordinarily well, largely with tripartisan support across this parliament until recent times. The extremities of border closures and lockdowns, particularly -

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Mr SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, you are on thin ice.

Mr ROCKLIFF - in this neck of the woods, to the easing of restrictions given the mild nature of the Omicron variant, albeit more highly transmissible, and the BA.2 more highly transmissible than the Omicron when it first reached our shores late last year.

Mr SPEAKER - I ask the minister to wind up, please.

Mr ROCKLIFF - We have followed Public Health advice along the way. We have been one of the very few states to do so in lock step in terms of policy between the Premier and Public Health, and that will continue.