Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 17 APRIL 2020

Overnight we’ve had some challenging news, and I do want to start that by saying that the very best defence mechanism that we have right now is for people to stick to the rules, to do what we’ve been asking. Stay home and save lives.

In terms of the news last night, it’s been confirmed that a health worker who has now tested positive who had worked shifts at the North West Regional Hospital and the North West Private had also worked at three nursing homes on the North West Coast. While there are no confirmed cases at these three nursing homes, the Melaleuca Nursing Home in East Devonport, Eliza Purton Home for the Aged in Ulverstone and Coroneagh Park in Penguin, there is currently one resident displaying mild respiratory symptoms.

I know this is very concerning news for families, friends and the loved ones of those being cared for in these facilities, and it’s important that we do everything that we can to get on top of this and provide clarity as soon as we can.

All residents and staff at these three homes will be tested today with the assistance and support of the Federal Government, and enhanced testing over and above what is available in the North West will be implemented across the coast today with the support of the Federal Government, and the Health Minister and Dr Veitch will have more to say about those matters later.

I do want to thank those people that worked around the clock overnight in terms of our response on this, and I want to thank Senator Richard Colbeck for his engagement, and obviously our other federal collages.

We also have the Federal Government’s support with an aged care surge team on standby which, if required, can provide staffing at short notice for the facilities, should we need to.

These are highly vulnerable settings. And that’s why we put strict protocols in place to protect our aged care facilities and residents. Any deviation from those processes can be highly dangerous, and I would, again, reiterate to staff members, you simply do not turn up to work if you are feeling unwell. Ensure that you follow the rules of your facility and that you answer the questions appropriately when you enter those facilities.

In terms of the measures that we put in place on the North West Coast, and I want to be clear, this is a challenging situation. We have a problem that we need to get on top of and we need to get on top of this quickly.

I want to thank the skilled teams from AUSMAT and the ADF who are on the ground, and I’m pleased to report that subject to final signoff this morning that the ED in the North West should be available to take patients later today, subject to final signoff.

I want to announce and discuss this morning the steps that we’re taking on the North West Coast. I do firstly want to make the point that, you know, we have taken every step that we possibly can to protect Tasmanians. We moved first on cruise ships, we strengthened our borders, we put in place the business restrictions, and then we put in place additional restrictions already on the North West Coast, we’ve closed two hospitals, we’ve quarantined up to 5,000 people.

We have taken steps over and above what other jurisdictions have to contain this but, obviously, we need to do more. And I’m going to need the North West community and the Tasmanian community to work with me to get this matter sorted. We need to do this together. It will be difficult, but we need to get on top of this.

The virus is carried by people. I think we all understand that. And the simplest way to contain the virus is to contain the movement of people. This helps to protect you, it helps to protect your family and it helps to protect the community.

I’ve had lengthy discussions overnight with the Commissioner for Police, and obviously discussed these matters with Public Health. And today, the stay at home order, unless you are leaving for work, essential supplies or medical services or to exercise will be strictly policed.

In terms of the North West Coast, the current orders are very clear, but I’ve asked for them to be reviewed this morning and, if necessary, they will be strengthened to ensure that we can contain this virus and this outbreak to the North West Coast.

I want to be clear, if you’re traveling on the North West Coast today, you should expect to be stopped and questioned about the purpose of your trip. Don’t be surprised if there is a roadblock or a checkpoint which is being used. Tasmania Police will ask you the purposes of your trip, and if it’s not for essential purposes, then you will be asked to return home.

The most sensible thing that people on the North West Coast can do right now is to stay home, work with us and help us to save lives. This virus travels with people. We need to ensure that we contain the virus, that we get on top of it, that we increase our testing, that we conduct our contact tracing effectively and aggressively, that we get on top of this and we shut it down. And I’m going to need people to work with us, and Tasmania Police will be increasing their efforts this morning.

And, as I’ve said, if our orders need to be strengthened over and above where they are at the moment, with focus on the North West Coast, they will be. But we need people to work with us.

The safest place for anyone at the moment is at home and with limited movement. You know, and I would say that in terms of the orders that we currently have in place, of you don’t need to go out for essential supplies, if you don’t need to go out for medical services, if you’re not traveling for work or exercise, then stay at home.

And in terms of exercise, where you can, exercise close to your home. If you need to shop for essential services, shop in your local area, shop in your municipality. Limit your movements.

Now, we will need to, as I’ve said, look at the order that’s in place and, if necessary, we will strengthen it, but Tasmania Police will be increasing their effort on the North West Coast this morning and they will certainly, as I’ve said, be stopping people, asking their purpose of the trip, and don’t be surprised if you see a roadblock or a checkpoint in action today.

It is important that we contain this. If you’re from the North or the South, unless you need to go to the North West for essential purposes, don’t go. It is as simple as that. Protect yourself. If you don’t need to go, don’t go. And if you’re travelling to the North West Coast, expect to be asked the purpose of your trip.

Obviously, critical freight routes will need to be maintained, but I would urge local businesses on the North West Coast to use local workforces where possible. And I would encourage local businesses to ensure that their COVID plans are in place. The social distancing rules are very clear. Ensure that if you are on a construction site, or if you are in a manufacturing facility, that you take great care to follow the rules, that your staff are encouraged to increase their personal hygiene, that they wash their hands frequently, that they stay one-and-a-half metre away from other people that they are working with, that they limit their interaction. And this doesn’t mean coming together for a morning smoko at 10 o’clock, sitting down shoulder to shoulder in a lunchroom and having a chat. Be sensible. These rules are there to save your lives.

Yesterday, and I’ll just make this point, and again it beggars belief. Overnight, I’ve been notified of people that were shopping at Spotlight at Launceston from the North West Coast, people shopping at Bunnings. You know, please be sensible about this. The rules that we’re putting in place are there to protect you. The rules that we’re putting in place are there to protect your family. The rules that we’re putting in place are there to protect your community.

I understand that this is tough. I understand that this is hard, but at the end of the day the virus travels with people, and it’s important that we all limit our movements. And the simplest way that you can help us to get on top of this is to limit your movements. If you live on the North West Coast, allow us to increase our testing, allow us to do our contact tracing and allow us to get on top of this and crush it. And I would ask that you work with us to do that, and Tasmania Police will be doing everything they can to ensure that the rules are abided.

A couple of other points that I want to raise. The Public Health Hotline today, we’re almost doubling our Public Health Hotline call centre capacity. More than 50 call takers will be starting as part of a new arrangement today. This will help to alleviate demand. I know that the Minister has run through the average wait times which have been relatively small, but we want to ensure that we have additional capacity there to take additional calls, and that will be stood up today as well.

I also.., there’s one matter I do want to just touch on, and I spoke with the Leader of the Greens this morning, Cassy O'Connor, and the Opposition Leader Rebecca White, and my office has also been in touch with Madeleine Ogilvie. We have had, I think, a very good tripartite approach to this to this point, but there are obviously.., there have been calls in the community for increased levels of accountability and there have been calls in rewards to the fact that Parliament has been delayed until the end of August.

Parliament is the most accountable mechanism that we can use in terms of holding a Government to account. As I have said, repeatedly, as Premier, along with my Cabinet, I am more than happy to be held to account for the decisions that we take, the actions that we put in place, but to ensure that the public have the opportunity to see democracy working as it should, we decided that from the week of the 27th of this month, when we’ll be bringing Parliament back to deal with the COVID Bill that Parliament will resume along its current sitting schedule, albeit with a reduced number of days in the week, and we’re working through how that can operate.

But with appropriate social distancing, with sensible measures in place, like any workplace, Parliament will be able to resume. And I think that that is something that in terms of the chatter that is going on in the background because, as I’ve said, we have been open, we have been transparent, we have turned up at these press conferences every morning, we’ve dealt with the questions that have been requested and I have engaged with my Parliamentary colleagues in Rebecca White and Cassy O'Connor on a weekly basis, and I touched base w Madeleine Ogilvie regularly as well, to ensure that they understood and were cognisant of the Government’s decision-making. But we’ll be bringing Parliament back to ensure that at the end of the day people can get an opportunity to see questions that may not come from this room to be asked in that forum of Parliament.

I want to, before handing over to the Health Minister, just make this point. We are at a very serious moment in Tasmania. We moved first on cruise ships. We put in place the restrictions on our borders before any other state. In the North West Coast, on top of the current business restrictions that have been in place which closed down pubs and clubs and, at the end of the day, put tens of thousands of people out of work, we’ve put increased restrictions in place over the weekend as well. We closed two hospitals. We put nearly 5,000 people into quarantine to manage this current outbreak. But we need to do more.

And, as I’ve said, in terms of the discussion with the Commissioner for Police this morning, the order that’s currently in place in terms of stay at home will be very actively policed, and if you’re travelling to the North West Coast or you live on the North West Coast, do not be surprised to be stopped today at a roadblock or at a checkpoint and asked the purposes of your travel.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to limit your travel movements. Enable us to do the testing that’s required, enable us to do the contact tracing that’s required, enable us to crush this outbreak and ensure that we can then start to return to a more normal life.

But we will need to work together. I’ll need to, as I’ve said, ask you to work with us. It will be difficult. It will be hard. But at the end of the day this will save lives. And I would hope that the people on the North West Coast will work with us.

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