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COVID-19 - Public Health Response Limitations

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 26 May 2022

Tags: COVID-19, Health

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: COVID-19 - Public Health Response Limitations

I listened carefully to the Minister for Health's responses to our questions this morning, including my question about our preparation for winter. As an epidemiologist, I put on the record my concern that the Government is continuing to rest its entire public health protection response to COVID 19 on vaccines. We have a huge problem with the level of vaccine uptake in Tasmania. We have had very high levels of two doses - 98.9 per cent, I think, at the moment. That has been amazing. The Minister for Health keeps referring to Tasmania's great track record. Well, that was our great track record. We did get the highest rate of vaccine uptakes among the over 16 year olds initially.

However, here we are, and the borders have opened. Liberal and Labor governments around the country, led by Scott Morrison, decided to let COVID 19 rip. We have a new false narrative that we can live with COVID 19, as though that means it will have no impacts on us personally and as a community. We have to juggle how we live with the continuing development of a global pandemic. New subvariants are happening all the time. There are four new ones listed in Australia that I am aware of at the moment. It is very important to strike a balance here. We do not want to live in a lockdown state. There is no doubt that Tasmanians, Australians, do not want to live like that but we are being presented with a false binary choice. It is not a binary choice - it is a continuum of responses.

Our Health minister and now-Premier has promised from when we opened the borders that we would listen to the evidence and respond appropriately. Well, the evidence has been very clear. More people are dying in Tasmania than ever did before. The cases in Australia are some of the highest in the world. The deaths from COVID 19 are some of the highest on the planet. We have, for the first time in modern history, the highest mortality rate in Australia from an infectious disease.

The Greens are concerned on behalf of all the people that contact us, encouraging us to keep talking about the science, the reality of the public health data - the little that we can get access to. And the cognitive dissonance between governments that talk on one hand about caring and listening, and doing everything they can and, on the other hand, ignoring what public health experts and any person on the street would understand are the clear public health protections we could be taking to bring down COVID-19 infections. Why would not we want to do that?

You only have to talk to a nurse, to hear as I did the other day, the story of a nurse in frustration posting a picture of herself with a mask on, on a Twitter post, saying she has been working every day for a year. She had spent the last year caring for COVID 19 patients. Her husband is a clinical specialist. He also cares for COVID 19 patients. Every day she goes to work and she puts on a P2 or an N95 effective face mask. She cares for people with COVID 19, highly infectious Omicron, and she has not been infected.

It is abundantly clear that there are many things that we could be doing, and the minister has just said, 'All of our response is based on vaccines'. Well, we have 50 per cent of our most vulnerable people in the community, children five to 11 years, with zero protection and 40 per cent of that group have had no doses at all. One in three 16- to 50-year-old Tasmanians is not properly protected, is not vaccinated, and has not had a booster. They are effectively not protected against COVID 19 and we have waning protection happening with vaccines. We know that they are dropping. Figures vary depending on what sort of things you are measuring, but they are dropping by 20 per cent over a four-month period.

We are coming into winter. It is abundantly clear we are overwhelmed in our hospital system. The ambulances are being affected. Ramping is being affected. The Launceston General Hospital has their medical ward closed at the moment because of COVID-19 cases and positive staff. In addition to all the other problems we have in our hospital system we now have the problems of healthcare workers who have been working for months at this very high level.

It is not good enough for the minister to say this is normal, this is stable. It is stable at a very high rate, that is the point. A very high level of cases are being reported every day and they are predominantly avoidable. It does make a difference if you wear masks. It is not a big deal. It is not going to stop people going to businesses. If we normalise ourselves to wearing masks, like people in many Asian countries have done, we will find that it actually opens up opportunities and it certainly does not leave us with a possibility of serious, long-term complications from long COVID that for many people will last the rest of their life.