Since day one of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tasmanians have worked together to keep COVID at bay through some of the toughest times in living memory.
The sacrifices we have made were necessary to ensure that we could get vaccinated and be protected from the worst symptoms of COVID, particularly our elderly, and by any measure this has worked.
We have opened up as one of the most highly vaccinated places in the world, and while times are challenging right now, this is the transition phase we must go through to get to a more normal way of living with COVID.
Once we get through this transition phase in the coming weeks and months, we will get to a point where this is no longer a pandemic and we deal with the virus in the same that way we deal with a range of respiratory illnesses such as the flu.
My clear message to Tasmanians is, this transition period will end, and we will return to a more normal life–we just need to keep working together through this challenging period.
Importantly, the majority of people continue to experience relatively mild symptoms, and while we can’t get complacent, as the modelling showed us that some people will get ill and there will be more hospitalisations as we experience more cases and unfortunately there may be some deaths, it is clear that our health system is standing up, but it’s the isolation from being a close contact that is causing challenges through absences from work in our essential and critical services and supply lines.
That’s why National Cabinet has released a framework to allow greater flexibility in balancing the need to reduce transmission, whilst managing a loss of workforce across critical supply, logistics, manufacturing and essential services.
To be clear, this does not mean that people who are infected with COVID-19 can return to work. Rather, it means close contacts of positive cases who are workers in these critical areas can continue to work, so long as they have no symptoms, and produce a negative RAT test each day for the remaining days of their isolation period whilst back at work.
They must also wear the appropriate PPE and take steps to avoid social settings, travelling only to and from their place of work.
While some states are choosing to categorise a large number of sectors into this approach, we recognise the need to take a glide-path approach, which will allow us to step through this in a safer and more responsible way.
We have already allowed health care workers and aged care workers an exemption from close contact isolation, and from 12pm tomorrow, the following sectors can also apply for close contact exemption:
- Emergency services, including Tasmania Fire Service, Tasmania Police and State Emergency Services;
- Health Services at private hospitals and day procedure centres;
- Essential service workers at prisons, detention centres or correctional facilities;
- Power, utilities and essential infrastructure services;
- Government run and contracted transport services;
- Commercial laundry and cleaning services (note – not in residential premises);
- Manufacturing, freight, logistics, warehousing and distribution services, relating to the supply, storage and provision of essential goods and services. This includes the packaging and stocking of supermarkets and grocery stores, butchers, bakeries, greengrocers, chemists and pharmacies;
- Workers in the freight, logistics, distribution and warehousing of mail and post, including courier and distribution services; and
- Agriculture and aquaculture services, including but not limited to services relating to biosecurity and food safety, food and fisheries production.
Business will need to apply to WorkSafe for a close contact worker exemption and those who classify for an exemption can commence under this process from this weekend once approved.
Workers will need to be symptom free and produce a negative RAT test every day for the seven or remaining days of their isolation period while at work, and for the next two weeks, the Government will provide RATs directly to businesses to facilitate this.
To allow a staged and careful approach to close contact exemptions, we will consider any further exemptions next week and announce them accordingly.
We are also putting in place a regional RAT access strategy that will see PCR testing continue to play a role in metro areas where it is accessible, with more RAT supply being redirected into our regions, with hubs and a direct contactless, door to door courier service to enable people in remote and regional areas to get RATs who need them.
The new service has effectively already commenced based on contact through the public health hotline and people in regional areas will start receiving their RATs today and tomorrow by courier.
National Cabinet has today also agreed on principles supporting a national position in terms of school reopening, and the Department of Education is working closely with Public Health as we prepare for the return of students to school on February 9.
As we move forward through the transition phase and out the other side, it remains clear that the most important thing you can do is to get vaccinated.
If you’re a parent or carer, while it’s not mandatory, I encourage you to make an appointment to vaccinate your child, and and if you’re over 18, make sure you get your booster when it’s due – even if you’ve had COVID.