Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr ROCKLIFF
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?
Mr Speaker, I thank Ms O'Connor. Ms O'Connor, I understand your advocacy around masks, despite the reduction of restrictions and mask mandates. Of course Tasmanians can be encouraged to wear masks freely if they see fit. I often wear a mask in settings that no longer have the mandates. What is important here is to recognise how well Tasmania has done when it comes to the pandemic -
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Mr Speaker, standing order 45, relevance. We are not here to hear how well Tasmania has done. There are 75 000 infected Tasmanians so far. I asked one question. One question.
Mr SPEAKER - Order, I have heard the point of order. The fact that you ask a short question does not mean that the answer necessarily has to be short. The minister is allowed to answer it in the best way he sees fit. As I mentioned the day before yesterday, provided that the minister is maintaining the policy direction of the question then he is relevant. I ask the minister to stay relevant to the question but answer it as he sees fit.
Mr ROCKLIFF - Thank you. I believe the subject of masks is relevant to the fact that I am answering the question. When it comes to reducing or easing the restrictions regarding masks, Ms O'Connor, other states were ahead of us -
Ms O'Connor - That's not what I asked.
Mr ROCKLIFF - in that sense. On 11 March we announced, in line with the Public Health direction, once again, that masks were no longer required in most indoor settings and workplaces. This meant they were no longer required in retail settings, at most workplaces, hospitality venues and events.
Ms O'Connor - Why can't you answer the question?
Mr ROCKLIFF - Masks are an affordable and accessible method to help minimise the transmission of COVID-19 in the community and are still strongly recommended if you cannot physically distance, if you work in a public-facing role, are vulnerable, or will be near someone vulnerable to COVID-19.
Ms O'Connor - Have you told your Liberal staffers that?
Mr SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor. I have warned you a number of times today. Please, you have asked the question. Allow the minister to answer it. Another interjection and you will not be here for the rest of question time.
Mr ROCKLIFF - Ms O'Connor, no one is forcing people to take off their masks. In many cases they are recommended, of course, if you are in and around vulnerable settings, cannot physically distance, or are close to vulnerable people, or are vulnerable to COVID 19.
I want to highlight the fact that Tasmania has one of the lowest rate per capita of COVID 19 hospitalisations, and currently has the lowest rate of ICU admissions, compared to other states and territories. In fact, as at 23 March of the 28 people in hospital, only nine are being treated specifically for COVID-19 and there are apparently no patients in ICU for COVID-19.
I commend the people who have worked so hard on the COVID@home program, as well - and I am mindful of time. The COVID@home program and our high vaccination rates are significant contributors to Tasmania having one of the lowest rates of hospitalisation admissions. As of 15 March, the COVID@home program has supported over 6000 people who are COVID-positive cases to safely recover at home since its inception. Today, I am advised that COVID@home has hit a new record of virtually providing care and monitoring to 1037 patients in their home. That is an incredible achievement. It has worked very well within our preparedness and eased pressure on our hospitals, which I know was the focus of not only our policymakers, our Public Health team and our Health commander, but of course our entire Government as well.
I commend all those people across government and the community who have worked so hard with respect to our COVID 19 or our pandemic response. The people who work within our call centres have taken an extraordinarily large number of calls supporting people who, quite rightly, would be at an anxious time in their lives when it comes to testing positive, or concerned about testing positive with respect to COVID 19.
I thank Ms O'Connor for the question but I reiterate the very close association with the Premier and Public Health in terms of the measures we have put in place and reinforce the fact that while we are easing mask restrictions and are one of the last states to do so, no-one is forcing people not to wear masks, particularly when it comes to people who are unable to physically distance or are in and around people who are vulnerable to COVID 19.