Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 10 APRIL 2020

Sarah Courtney, Minister for Health

I have just been advised that sadly, Tasmania has had its fourth death from coronavirus.

The death was an elderly gentleman who has died at the North West Regional Hospital. I send my sincere condolences to his family and his friends.

This strengthens my resolve as a Minister for Health, in our response to coronavirus.

We’ve also seen yesterday and overnight, we had four more confirmed cases, bringing the total case numbers of 111. So 111 Tasmanians have had coronavirus, and we have had four deaths.

This is serious.

I urge all Tasmanians to continue to take the steps we need to take to ensure that we keep our community safe.

With regards to the outbreak at the NWRH, I take the safety and wellbeing of Tasmanians extraordinarily seriously, and so we are taking additional steps.

The safety of our staff at those hospitals is our highest priority.

Therefore, all staff who worked at the NWRH in the medical or surgical wards, will be asked to quarantine for 14 days. We will be providing accommodation for those staff who are unable to quarantine in their own homes.

The Department of Health are calling staff individually this afternoon, to understand their particular circumstances and to provide them with the support that they need during this very difficult time.

In addition, given the nature of the outbreak and the fact that it is in a clinical and high-risk setting, we will be moving to test these staff to over the next 24 to 48 hours. Even if staff do not test positive, they will still be asked to quarantine for 14 days.

The steps that we have taken are above and beyond the guidelines, but we have taken them as a precautionary approach because we prioritise the welfare of our staff and our patients, and the North West community.

This is the conservative approach, and it is in the best interest of the staff and patients at that hospital.

With regards to some of the changes to operations at the NWRH and also the Mersey Community Hospital, we will be closing the Emergency Department at the MCH, but medical staff will remain onsite to care for patients and to triage and treat emergency cases.

We will be moving the single positive COVID-19 patient who is currently at the MCH, to the NWRH. We have stopped surgery and we are consolidating patients at the MCH, and this will allow us to be able to provide more staffing support to the NWRH.

Anyone who is going to be discharged from the MCH will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

With regards to the NWRH, we are continuing to have no new admissions to the medical or surgical wards, the ICU will continue to operate and we will continue to have the ED operating on a hot/cold set up. Professor Tony Lawler, Chief Medical Officer, will provide more details in a moment.

With regards to ambulance services, ambulances that are taking patients who live east of Penguin will be taken to the Launceston General Hospital.

With regards to the NWPH, we know there are a number of staff who work across both sites, the NWRH and the NW Private Hospital. I’ve had extensive conversations with the Premier this afternoon, and I have asked the Secretary of the Department of Health to take operational control of the NW Private Hospital. I’d like to thank the senior leadership at the NW Private Hospital for the constructive role they have played throughout this.

What this will do is to allow the Department of Health to take further steps to expand the Outbreak Management Team across the NW Private Hospital as well as the NWRH. This will ensure a comprehensive approach to both sites. I expect this will happen progressively over the next 24 to 48 hours.

I have confidence in the NW Private Hospital. This decision has been made to ensure that we have a consistent approach with our Outbreak Management Team across both sites, and the staff communications and proportions are consistently applied across both sites.

Whether staff are employed by us or by the private sector, they are all Tasmanians, and we care about all of them.

Both the NW Private Hospital, including maternity, and the NWRH remain open. However this is a very dynamic situation and we will continue to make decisions with the best interests of patients and staff.

I want to reiterate that our highest priority is the welfare and safety of our staff and patients. We will do everything that is required to ensure that is maintained, and we will take every necessary step.

The steps that we have taken go above and beyond the guidelines, and we are doing this to support the people in the community, the families of those staff, those staff, and the patients.

With regards to other measures, we are ensuring that staff who do turn up to work are being screened before entering work to ensure more measures are being taken.

I want to assure the community of the North West coast that we take the provision of health care services and the welfare of your staff, your community, incredibly seriously. These steps have been taken because we care about your community, and they go above and beyond what the guidelines are because we want to ensure the safety of that community.

I’d like to thank all the staff for the hard work they have been doing over the last 24-48 hours, and indeed for weeks now, in preparation. Staff have been working incredibly hard to make sure they are providing high quality care for their patients as well as preparing for the future.

***