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Ministerial Statement - COVID-19 Response Measures

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Health

Reply to Ministerial Statement on COVID-19 Response Measures: Rosalie Woodruff, 17 March, 2020


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, the Greens were very supportive of the strong announcements that the Premier made on the weekend and we commended him for the decision around the ban on cruise ships to the state.

Coming to parliament today, we were expecting that we would hear more of that strong language and strong restrictions from the Premier in response to what has been so much change since just Sunday afternoon.

It is good to hear some of the things that the Premier has just announced but I am saddened in reading and listening to him about the lack of attention to the urgent issue which needs to be addressed today and that relates to the restrictions for the safety and wellbeing of Tasmanians.

What the Premier has discussed in here in terms of restrictions that will be used to limit the spread of the virus is that he is urging Tasmanians to practice social distancing. The sort of social distancing that he is urging people to individually take responsibility for will go a very, very small step of the way along the long road that we have to go to get on top of this virus and the serious impact it will have on all Tasmanians. This includes the overwhelming of our hospital systems with having to care for sick people and the expected deaths from the number of cases which are being predicted by senior medical officers around Australia today. It is very concerning to hear only small steps happening at a time when we were expecting to see, and hoping to see real, strident and strong responses.

Tasmanians' anxieties around the changing nature of this global pandemic can best be embodied by the open letter that was written last night - I do not know where it is up to but 140 Tasmanian GPs. These are the people who are at the coalface already dealing with people who are anxious, already testing for people for coronavirus, and now cautioning us that they wanted to hear so much more from this Premier today. They have written to him, written to all members of parliament, asking for the interventions which have been shown to be effective globally to slow down the spread of this disease.

The only interventions that have been shown to be truly effective to slow down the spread of disease across every country so far, that is in advance of us, are strong social restrictions and very strong and stringent quarantining of people coming into areas. In this case it would be into Tasmania, so that the number of cases moving into a region, infected people, can be slowed down. That gives the health system in each area an opportunity to deal with the cases that will arise, 5 per cent of whom will be serious and will require high level hospital care and at least 1 per cent of whom will die.

What we have heard from the Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the federal government level yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald was the very clear statement. He said we have been asked to give frank and fearless medical advice from the beginning. The medical advice that he gave yesterday was the expectation that a minimum of 20 per cent of the Australian population would be infected with the COVID-19 virus and up to 60 per cent. If you look at those figures Australia wide, as he told us yesterday, that is 50 000 Australians who will die from the COVID- 19 virus as a minimum and a 150 000 is also possible.

If we look at those figures in Tasmania, what that equates to, at a minimum, is 104 600 Tasmanians becoming infected with COVID-19 virus, 5230 of them needing hospitalisation and 1040 people dying. Those are the figures that our Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer tells us. At the higher end that equates to 313 800 Tasmanians becoming infected, 15 700 hospitalisations, most of whom may require intensive care, and 3130 people dying. These are the serious figures that we are dealing with here.

My question is, Premier, are you preparing for those figures. That is what we are confronting. What this day provides us with us a really important moment. Every hour that goes on, more people are likely to become infected. It gives us an opportunity to grab this time and understand that we have the opportunity to restrict people coming to Tasmania, who are travelling back from the mainland. They may be Tasmanians, or who may be Australians living on the mainland, as well as international visitors. The people on the mainland, as the New South Wales Health minister has said, have already exponential rate of cases. We have a huge increase; 37 cases in New South Wales, just today.

These are the actions that we need. What we have is 23 economic stimulus actions, six of which are directed at supporting the community. We need to have a much greater focus on vulnerable people. We have so many vulnerable communities. When the Western Australian and the French governments can waive electricity charges, rents, waive the costs that are really going to cause harm for families in the community; when they can do that, we can take the opportunity to do that.

Around $10 million of this is focused on supporting vulnerable people and communities, and about $410 million is an economic stimulus package for businesses. That is a very important part of it. I do not understand that there is the correct focus on looking ahead for vulnerable people and implementing today the restrictions that we need to protect those communities, including those in schools, limiting people in public places, which is what all other countries around the world are now doing.