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Madam Speaker, today I wish to provide members with an overview of the important work the Government is undertaking to both contain and respond to the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic – COVID-19 – on the Tasmanian community.
The health, wellbeing and safety of Tasmanians is our highest priority, and we will continue to manage the risk of the virus based on the best and latest evidence and medical advice.
In addition to the health impacts, this pandemic will have very real and significant economic and social consequences, many of which are just beginning to emerge.
Our Government will also do everything it can to manage and mitigate the economic and social impacts and we will work to ensure that our businesses, our workforce and our communities are well positioned for a successful recovery.
As soon as information about the virulence and potential global spread of COVID-19 became available, in January we immediately stood up a whole-of-government approach to prepare for the emergence of the virus in Tasmania.
On Monday 2 March, Tasmania’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed, leading to a rapid and comprehensive Government response, led by our Department of Health. At the same time, the Government’s State Emergency Management Committee with Health as the lead agency assumed responsibility for overseeing our emergency response activities and for monitoring the progressive impact and consequences of the situation.
As with any emergency incident, these activities are being conducted in accordance with our long-standing and well-tested emergency management plans, guidelines and operational protocols.
As members would be fully aware, there are now seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Tasmania. The 3 most recent cases were all close contacts of each other and were travelling in a group after arriving from overseas. To date we have had no local, person-to-person transmissions detected within Tasmania.
Covid 19 symptoms range from mild illness to pneumonia and whilst some people recover easily, others may get very sick very quickly, which is why the Government is being advised daily by health professionals and is acting on that advice.
In addition along with other Premiers, First Ministers and the Prime Minister we have established a new National Cabinet to work together to address Australia’s response to COVID-19. This role is to coordinate a national response to COVID-19 and whilst it will not override any state and Territory authority it will ensure that as a country we respond and utilise our resources together, however decisions will remain the authority of the states and territories.
Public health – preparedness, response and impact
Tasmania is well-prepared to manage the impact and consequences of all eventualities associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. As with all other Australian states and territories, we are taking a highly precautionary approach that is being informed by the most up-to-date medical information and advice.
The Plan allows for a stepped increase in the Governments response. Last night the Director of Public Health Dr Mark Veitch who has been leading our public health response advised that we should take the next precautionary step and increase our readiness and declare a Public Health Emergency.
Tasmanians should understand that there has been no specific elevation of transmission of the virus in our community nor any particular event or risk that has demanded this, it is just the next step in our preparedness as we ready for the months ahead.
Under our plan the final elevation will be to declare a State of Emergency which Tasmanians unfortunately have been accustomed to in the past as this has occurred with bushfires and is the way that we ensure that our response is managed across agencies. We will take this next step when advised to do so.
We have a State Special Emergency Management Plan for COVID-19 and the Plan clearly outlines the roles, responsibilities, resources, responses and actions that will be taken should widespread transmission of the disease occur in Tasmania.
Our Director of Public Health has a direct role in the development and implementation of national policy and health responses through active participation as a member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. The Government is also engaging closely and collaborating with all other Australian jurisdictions on high-level preparedness, risks, issues and priorities through the COVID-19 National Coordination Mechanism.
Our Department of Health is working with Australia’s National Incident Room to facilitate contact tracing of any individuals identified as being at risk of exposure to COVID-19. That includes contacting people who have been in close contact with any confirmed cases and providing advice on what to do if they begin feeling unwell.
As well as having access to the National Coronavirus Health Information Line and updated health information published online through both Australian and Tasmanian Government Health websites, I encourage anyone who may be concerned about COVID-19 because of recent travel or contact with a confirmed case to refer to the Self-Assessment Tools on the Department of Health’s website, call the hotline or discuss their circumstance with their GP.
Madam Speaker, as part of our public health response, supported by funding from the Australian Government, we moved quickly to establish respiratory clinics in four major population centres: Hobart, Launceston, Burnie and Latrobe.
To ensure a safe clinical environment and minimise possible transmission, people who require testing are referred to the clinics through the Public Health Hotline or their local GP. Once referred, those tested are instructed to self-isolate until test results are known, usually within 24 hours. To date there has been a total of seven positive cases.
Additional resources have also been assigned to support preparedness and response activities across the Department of Health, Public Health Services, hospitals and Ambulance Tasmania.
I want to make the point very clearly that we will not limit our response nor our financial effort. The Government will make available whatever resources are required to combat this virus, to keep people safe and to support our economy and Tasmanian’s jobs.
A COVID-19 Emergency Coordination Centre is now operational within the Department of Health, led by an Incident Controller reporting directly to the Secretary of the Department.
The Centre is responsible for the direction, coordination and management of our system-wide health services’ response and consequence management. To support this work, we have also established Emergency Operations Centres in Public Health Services, across the Tasmanian Health Service at regional and state levels, and within Ambulance Tasmania.
Madam Speaker, one of the most effective ways to “flatten the curve” and to slow the transmission of the virus is social distancing. This aims, through a variety of means, to minimise contact between individuals and thereby to reduce the possibility for new infections.
I urge all Tasmanians to practice social distancing in their day to day activities, in particular:
- Don’t go out in public when you’re sick
- Avoid medical settings unless necessary
- Give people 1.5 metres of space
- Wave instead of shaking hands, hugging or kissing
- Practice excellent personal hygiene – clean your hands often and thoroughly
If you are at work: