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COVID-19 Update

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Friday, 1 May 2020

Tags: COVID-19, China, Hospitals, Community Safety

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, some of us would have heard stories late last year of a mysterious virus coming out of Wuhan, China. It trickled out in the newsfeed for a few months and was barely recognised as an issue. We watched what was happening in China as if it were a TV program, something happening a long way away.

By the time the coronavirus reached Australia, we were aware of the impacts it was having on other countries. The devastating scenes in Italy - the extraordinary scenes of doctors and nurses struggling to make choices about who they were going to put into intensive care units. Unbelievable in such a developed country with a fantastic healthcare system.

We were warned and we were ready. Tasmania took a step which was stronger than other parts of the country. We were the first to keep cruise ships out. We locked our borders, we had fortress Tasmania. We took strong steps and the Government is to be commended for that. The Greens urged that to happen and we welcomed the work of the Premier.

Since then a wave has overtaken us, a wave we could see coming but could not stop. All we could do was prepare ourselves as best we could. Since then, tens of thousands of Tasmanians have lost their jobs; no planes are flying to the state; there is no tourism industry. We cannot even go to our own national parks for much needed recreation and solace.

We are suffering. Individuals have lost houses or are living in extreme rental stress. They are feeling incredible anxiety while they are at home caring for their children who are not able to be at school. They are struggling to do their best to work with valiant teachers who are going to extraordinary efforts to give them good quality teaching. However, as the Premier said, if we designed the perfect education system, it would not be one where we teach people online.

The ripple effects of what happened in Wuhan continue. There is only one path forward and that is to eliminate the virus.

National Cabinet received a report from the Group of Eight universities two days ago, which mapped out the COVID-19 roadmap to recovery for the nation. It provides the best work from epidemiologists and economists across the country. It recommends two possible options for it: elimination of the virus or adapt and control.

I would hate to have been on the team arguing for the second option. It would have been a dud option in a debate. There is no doubt from the evidence that the best way forward for Australia and the best way forward for Tasmania is to eliminate the virus. To eliminate the virus will give us not only confidence and security as a country, it will also provide a quicker way to economic recovery. It has fewer economic disadvantages in the 18 months to two years it will take to find a vaccine.

That is how long we need to have some restrictions. We are looking at another couple of months with strong restrictions. That will give us the best opportunity to recover from the social and economic impacts. However, we can only do that when we have fully eliminated the virus. We have five states in Australia that today have gone 24 hours with no cases of the virus. We have two states in Australia that have recorded cases - two in Tasmania and two in New South Wales.

Tasmania has had the largest cluster, the largest outbreak in a hospital in the country. That outbreak is ongoing. It has not finished; cases come day by day. Until we can draw a line under that outbreak, until we can be very clear what happened, until we can be confident that it will not happen again, we cannot be in a place where we can talk about elimination in Tasmania. We started in the strongest position. We must return to that position by learning from what happened in that outbreak.

It was clear from the report handed down yesterday that part of the story is - and we need to have a fuller investigation into this - that it was not about individual actions of staff, it was about the hospital's culture. Despite having had all the warnings, despite the fact that some 20 cases had already occurred in southern Tasmania in the three weeks before the cases in the north-west, and despite the fact that we already had declared a state of emergency, the report tells us that that hospital had not been prepared to receive two known cases of coronavirus infection.

That is a poor reflection on the governance of that hospital. Staff were not educated; they were not provided with sufficient rules about personal protective equipment - PPE - social distancing and patient transfer, about moving between infected cases and other cases, about screening every person who came into the hospital and every staff member. Other hospitals did and they have successfully avoided outbreaks. We had hundreds of cases from the Ruby Princess; they have not all resulted in this happening.

The minister needs to have a response to that report. Seventeen urgent actions were recommended to prepare us so that we are confident another outbreak of coronavirus cannot occur in another Tasmanian hospital.

That is what we need to do as part of our elimination strategy - hear very strongly from the minister so we can move to the next stage of responding to the devastation that has occurred in Tasmania.