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Mental Health and Wellbeing - COVID-19

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Monday, 6 September 2021

Tags: COVID-19, Refugees, Mental Health, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - I have one question for Dr Veitch. It is sort of a bridge between these two areas, thank you. It is in relation to Delta, our quarantine system, the hotel quarantine system and the situation with Afghani people fleeing persecution and violence from the Taliban.

We have a load of 150 people or thereabouts, I understand, coming from the UK, who will be in hotel quarantine in Tasmania and there is an unknown number of people from Afghanistan that we hope will settle in Tasmania as part of the refugee program. At the moment they are quarantining elsewhere in Australia, in the Northern Territory.

My question relates to how 'Delta-ruggedised' is our hotel quarantine system? It almost seems as if we have two categories of people, one that is considered to be at higher risk coming from Afghanistan and another that, perhaps, is being perceived as a less high risk. That raises a few flags and questions for me. By a matter of first principle, shouldn't we be considering every person who is quarantining to be the same risk, in other words, unknown for Delta? We must have a system which is able to protect us from a person with Delta, regardless of whether they have come from Afghanistan, the UK or Melbourne.

Could the director please speak to the changes in hotel quarantine that have happened since the discovery of Delta and whether there are any changes that we need to bolt on, so that we could just as easily take a plane load of people from Afghanistan as we could from Sydney?

Dr VEITCH - The current cohort of people who are coming to Tasmania as part of the national response to the situation out of Afghanistan, the cohort that is coming to Tasmania are people from England. They have flown out of London. The Tasmanian contribution there is, effectively, to open up space in the quarantine system in other parts of Australia.

My understanding is that the people who are coming out of Afghanistan are going to other states in Australia, so we may not receive people directly into our state from Afghanistan. That decision has been made in part because of the, in general, greater level of support and community facilities there are for resettling people in the mainland states. It does not mean that it is not possible that people might choose to settle in Tasmania, but that will be after they have completed their quarantine in a mainland jurisdiction.

The general approach we have taken to ensuring the safety of our quarantine system with Delta is pretty much as you suggest. We recognise that someone coming out of New South Wales or Victoria who needs quarantine, we need to consider whether or not they could have Delta. It is almost the only strain that is going around now. Our quarantine facilities have either completed or are in the process of completing air conditioning reviews to make sure that the air handling in those settings is safe.

The infection control is constantly reviewed and there've been a number of national reviews that have given us guidance on the right way to do hotel quarantine. That means that the standard of quarantine management for people, whether they're coming out of one or another mainland state, whether they're seasonal workers coming to Australia or whether they're people coming from England, is being harmonised and essentially being done largely the same way in all settings.

Dr WOODRUFF - I assume we have hundreds of people who would be coming in and out of Tasmania for essential worker reasons. There would be exemptions for people to travel for trade and provide goods and services flow. Have we changed our requirements for those people in terms of their movement in Tasmania if they're coming from the COVID-19 hotspot states of Victoria and New South Wales? Do they have to change any restrictions or any movements at all as a result of the Delta variant?

Dr VEITCH - We've had strategies in place for managing risks associated with those people all along. There are processes where their application is considered by the COVID-19 control centre mostly in the Tas police team that manages that and they get Public Health advice from either myself or one of the deputies.

We have a protocol for assessing the risks about where people are coming from so we have higher levels of requirements, for example, for people who come out of the higher risk parts of Australia. In some situations we will not allow those people to come even for essential purposes if the risk is too high.

We have protocols that we have developed over time with some additional precautions built into them. For example, in the last month or so for many of these categories of people we required an obligatory pre-arrival test to be negative as well as establishing post-arrival day seven and day 12 tests. There are requirements for people to wear masks when they're at work or in public and to limit their movements in public.

The level of caution around those people has gradually been increasing.

Mr ROCKLIFF - Chair, Mr Webster just wanted to just add to an answer. Support an answer from Dr Veitch.

Mr WEBSTER - In relation to the Afghan refugees not coming to Tasmania, it is also important to note that the federal government is wrapping other services around that refugee cohort and they are being delivered in Howard Springs, so bringing a group here without the wraparound services would not be appropriate. That was part of the decision-making. It wasn't to do with the quality of quarantine. It was to do with where the wraparound services and, in fact, the deputy director of our hospital medical service from Hobart is at Howard Springs at the moment as the executive director of medical services. It's that wraparound that's important.

Dr WOODRUFF - They are all coming to one place. They're not going to other states.

Mr WEBSTER - They're going to where the services can be provided by the federal government basically.

Ms MORGAN-WICKS - Tasmania is making its contribution.

Dr WOODRUFF - Excellent.