Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr ROCKLIFF
Yesterday, Tasmania recorded 900 new COVID-19 cases, 51 people are in hospital and case numbers there have been high for over a month. The pressure on healthcare workers, ambulance and hospital functioning is immense. Our COVID-19 cases continue at high levels and winter is rapidly approaching. Vaccine immunity levels among Australians are dropping. The OzSAGE network of public health experts yesterday sounded the alarm on the number of COVID-19 deaths in Australia. In Tasmania, 71 people have died.
During the federal election campaign, you resisted bringing in known public health protections including indoor mask wearing and ventilation standards to reduce COVID-19 spread. Will you introduce these protective measures now to prevent avoidable deaths, suffering and disability?
Mr Speaker, I thank Dr Woodruff for her important question. If ever there was a jurisdiction around the country, or indeed the world, that has managed the pandemic well, it is Tasmania.
Dr Woodruff - That's not how those 71 people's families feel, minister. Hundreds of thousands of people have been infected.
Mr SPEAKER - Order, member for Franklin. You have just asked the question. The Premier has not completed half a dozen words and you are interjecting on him. Please allow him to answer the question.
Mr ROCKLIFF - I expect I know how those families feel. I get the report for the following day of case numbers, hospitalisations, people in ICU and deaths. As I said publicly the other day, my heart sinks every time I see a death recorded as a result of or with COVID 19. I want to assure all Tasmanians that we are removing restrictions to a point, safely and sensibly in line with national and Tasmanian Public Health advice.
Dr Woodruff - It's not safe.
Mr ROCKLIFF - We have followed Public Health advice all the way, Dr Woodruff. You know that.
Ms O'Connor - It's been bad advice. There are 71 dead people.
Mr SPEAKER - Order.
Mr ROCKLIFF - It has not been bad advice, with respect. I will always stand up and stand in the corner for the representatives of Public Health led by Dr Veitch for their wonderful work under very difficult circumstances and decision making processes. Dr Veitch is on the AHPPC which discusses these matters in a national context. We are taking sensible steps to remove these restrictions, including density limits, which is an important step in the ongoing management of Tasmania's ongoing transition to live with COVID-19.
As I have said, every death is a tragedy and I always extend my sincere condolences to family, friends and loved ones of those people who have sadly passed away.
You mentioned case numbers. Our case numbers have stabilised over the last month after the cases peaked in April. Although we continue to see some daily fluctuations, the seven day average has been consistently around the 1000 COVID-positive cases per day since the start of this month. In the last few weeks we have seen a consistent number of COVID related deaths, which reflects the fact that during the COVID-19 wave, the peak in COVID-19 deaths typically follows up to one month after the peak in community cases, which Tasmania experienced in April.
Over the coming weeks of course we want to see that reduced, but on comparison, we have very low death rates per capita across the nation, and the same for hospitalisations.
It has been a challenge for us, of course. We have been a vaccination leader in our country. Tasmania targeted and delivered double doses to 90 per cent of eligible people with an ambitious vaccination plan before opening the borders, and we opened when safe and we were ready to do so. We have not stopped there: we have continued the vaccination program.
As of 22 May, 98 per cent those aged 12 and above have had their second dose; 70.6 per cent of those aged 16 and above have had their booster shot; and 63.59 per cent of five- to 11-year-olds have had their first dose. This is more than 11 percentage points above the national average. Second-dose numbers are 50.58 per cent, which is more than 12 percentage points above the national average. I would say that is too low. I want to get those vaccination rates up and well above the national average.
That has been consistent since we commenced our vaccination of five- to 11-year-olds, on 10 January this year, if my memory serves me correctly. I would like to see a higher vaccination rate with respect to those matters. While we are quite some way above the national average, I implore parents and carers to ensure that their children are vaccinated because, as we have demonstrated with our relatively low number of deaths, with our relatively low number of hospitalisations, our high vaccination rates have been the number one defence against COVID 19.