Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin - Motion) - Mr Speaker, I move -
That the House take note of the following matter.
Mr Speaker, there are many things that a government needs to do to protect its community, but surely very high on that list ought to be to prevent the mass infection in its community of a potentially deadly and disabling virus. We called this matter of public importance today to underscore the important reality that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over.
The pandemic is far from over internationally, in Australia and in Tasmania. We are seeing more deaths from Omicron, the newest version of the coronavirus, SARS Cov 2, in January and February this year than we did in the whole preceding two years of the global pandemic in Australia. The Australian Bureau of Statistics confirms that those deaths were due to COVID-19 and were not incidental to COVID-19.
The pandemic is not over in Tasmania. Today we record that yesterday's case numbers were 1117 Tasmanians infected with COVID-19. We have 5411 with active disease and we have had 47 837 confirmed cases of the virus in Tasmania, almost all of those in the past two-and-a-half months.
The pandemic is not over globally. We are seeing wide-ranging outbreaks of infection. Hospitals are being overwhelmed in countries around the world today. We are seeing the majority of the world's population not having received a single dose let alone more than two and the required three doses of vaccine necessary to prevent symptomatic Omicron infection or hospitalisation and death.
We have the majority of the world unprotected from SARS Cov 2 and therefore capable of passing infections and establishing outbreaks of new variants. We do not know if and when new variants will emerge but all of the evidence we have from our virologists and immunologists and people who study the history of pathogens and viral outbreaks shows it is 95 per cent likely new variants will emerge. There is no information to guide us on whether they will be more or less severe. It is certainly true that a new variant could emerge at any time that could be more deadly than the variants we have seen so far.
Mr Speaker, the pandemic is not over because vaccinations are not providing protection in the community. When people have three vaccine doses that can provide substantial protection against serious hospitalisations, but they do not provide durable protection, we are expecting to see people who have had three doses of vaccine against coronavirus to have the effectiveness waning by April. We know that people respond differently to vaccines. For some people effectiveness starts waning after two weeks. We know that the vast majority of Tasmanians are not properly vaccinated. Even though waning effectiveness occurs, we get some measure of protection while we have the adequate number of doses, but only 65 per cent of Tasmanians have had a third dose. We do not know the numbers for third doses for children, but for five- to 11-year-olds, less than 1 per cent have had a second dose, while just 20 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds are yet to receive a second dose. That means essentially that the majority of Tasmanians are unprotected.
We have had a dangerous change in the narrative, and it started before the borders opened and it has not stopped. This Premier is responsible for refusing to acknowledge the gravity of the situation we are in, recognising the risks of long COVID, understanding that he made the choice to open Tasmania's borders when he did without waiting for the vaccines that were already foreshadowed to be approved by ATAGI to be made available in January to children in Tasmania. He has opened the borders. We have nearly 50 000 people in Tasmania who have been exposed to a virus that the scientists tell us 37 per cent of people may go on to experience long COVID, which has potentially devastating, serious, disabling and ongoing consequences. We still do not know what they are properly because it is too soon.
What is very clear is that this is not the time to talk about removing masks. This is not the time to abandon testing, tracing, and surveillance systems. This is not the time to fail to talk about preparing for vaccination rollouts in the six-month to five-year-olds. Now is the time to be putting more effort into preparing us for what the future may hold - is very likely to hold - and that means putting the interests of Tasmanian people, the health and safety of vulnerable people first, above short-term business interests and the other pressures of tourism.