Yesterday, unfortunately, we had our 13th death. I’d like to begin and express my sympathies and my condolences and also those of the Tasmanian Government and Tasmanian people to the family and friends of the elderly lady who passed away yesterday at the Mersey Hospital on the North West Coast.
This is the 13th life that we’ve lost, unfortunately, and it’s the 12th life lost in the North West. It’s a reminder that this highly contagious, insidious and deadly disease is one that will take lives, and it’s a reminder as to why we’ve put rules in place for people to follow, to keep them safe, to keep their families safe and to keep their communities safe.
Unfortunately, as we’ve said from Day One, we have an older and more vulnerable population, and it’s simply a tragedy that this takes the lives of older people as it does.
I do want to say though just in terms of overall where we are at the moment that Tasmanians in the main have been doing a good job. They’ve been following the rules. This has no doubt helped to slow the spread and it’s no doubt helped to save lives.
In the North West, for almost the last three weeks, the North West Coasters have had to go that extra mile and we’ve had additional restrictions in place. We quarantined around 4,000 people through the period, closed two hospitals, and we made some very difficult decisions in terms of additional business restrictions for the Coast.
The outbreak in the North West is now largely under control, and so today, we are confident that those additional restrictions that were placed on the North West, Sunday, almost three weeks ago, the 12th of April, will be able to lift this Sunday, the 3rd of May.
This means that on Monday the 4th of May, the businesses and services that were impacted by those additional restrictions can reopen and that workers and staff will be able to return to work. It’s important to note, and I want to be absolutely clear about this, so that there is no misunderstanding, this will only be the lifting of the additional restrictions.
The statewide restrictions that are in place in terms of personal movement, the operation of certain businesses, will still apply, and it will apply at the level they were prior to those to nearly three weeks ago to when there was that additional set that were placed on the North West Coast.
This means that the stringent rules on limits to public gatherings still apply, no more than two visitors to a home or to a household. Please only leave home if you need to shop for essential food and supplies or services, if you need to receive medical care or if you need to leave for compassionate needs or social support. You can leave for exercise, and that has remained in place, or to attend work, volunteering, school or study, if it can’t be done remotely.
I do want to stress this, because in lifting the restrictions, again, I want to be absolutely clear that there are no misunderstandings, and I would encourage people to look at the full list on the coronavirus.tas.gov.au website where it’s clearly spelled out.
But in terms of those businesses which were required to close when the additional North West restrictions came into force three weeks ago, they will now be allowed to open. This will include non-essential retail, such as big box retailers, clothing, whitegoods stores, hairdressers, bookstores, tobacconists and the like. They will be able to open from next Monday.
But, again, I stress, that if anybody has any concerns or doubts that they should check the coronavirus.tas.gov.au website.
In addition, North West schools will reopen on Monday the 4th May, for students who cannot be schooled at home, for example if both parents work or parents who are unable to support their child’s learning at home. All other students should continue to learn from home.
The caveat, of course, and I do want to be very clear about this, that we have acted every step of the way on Public Health advice and it is that if we were to see a spike in numbers again and Public Health raises concerns with us, we will once again reintroduce tighter restrictions. That is always a lever that is available to us if we believe that the health and safety of Tasmanians is at risk.
I do want to thank all those businesses and their employers that were forced to close for this period of three weeks and for their understanding and their sacrifice. I also want to thank the residents of the North West Coast and all those health professionals, including the ADF and AUSMAT who worked so hard over the period to get on top of the outbreak.
As I outlined in Parliament yesterday, the Government will make decisions on lifting other restrictions sensibly and cautiously as we step our way through this, and we will always be guided by Public Health advice. But, I think, it’s fair to say that we are starting to get on top of this, and I think that over time we will gradually be able to look at restrictions being lifted, but we will need to step into that carefully and cautiously, always with an eye to the fact that we have an older and more vulnerable population.
Yesterday, in Parliament, we passed both through the Lower House and the Upper House additional legislative measures to do with the impacts of COVID-19, and I want to thank the Upper House for sitting late, I think they finished up around 1 o'clock this morning.
In terms of the legislation, that Bill allows for a number of things. One is that the terms of the Members of Rosevears and Huon electorates will continue until there is an election. It’s the Government’s intention that we target early August for that but, again, we will be guided by Public Health advice in terms of whether or not that election can be held.
It provides also for infringement notices to be prescribed by regulation for infringement notices to be issued and served by a police officer in relation to offences. That will mean that there will be on-the-spot fines available to our officers, rather than being summonsed and charged and having to appear in court with a six-month possible gaol term or up to $16,800. Whilst those offences will remain, it will mean that police officers will be able to issue a $750 on the spot fine to an individual or up to a $5,000 for businesses.
National Cabinet will be meeting again later this morning where there will be ongoing discussions around the easing of restrictions. And we know that some states are moving quite quickly. As I’ve said, we will move based on Public Health advice and with an eye to our vulnerable and older population that we have here in Tasmania.
We want to ensure that steps that we take continue to keep Tasmanians safe but, importantly, that we can return to a more normal way of life, noting that there will for a period of time, until we see a vaccine, be some level of social distancing in place. But we do want to return to as normal a life as we can as quickly as we can, but again, we will step into that sensibly and cautiously and advised by Public Health.
Yesterday, I also outlined some steps in our plan to ensure that as we start to move forward that we have some safeguards in place. Increase in testing, which the Health Minister will speak about. We’re now in a position where we should be able to double our testing, which will take us up to around 2,000 tests per day.
We’ve also discussed the issue of tracing and the fact that we will have rapid response teams available should an outbreak occur but, importantly, and I want to stress the fact again that I would encourage Tasmanians to sign up to the app.
Get the app on your phone. It does not put a protective bubble around you, but if you come into contact with somebody that tests positive, you will be able to be contacted quickly, you’ll be able to be quarantined quickly. Importantly, it will help manage this disease. Importantly, it will keep your family safe, it will keep you safe, simply by the fact that we’ll be able to move very quickly and isolate and control the virus sooner than under normal circumstances.
We’ll also be working with our businesses and ensuring that as they continue to operate and as they move to reopening that they will have plans in place that will ensure that they are COVID-safe, that they are able to ensure that they can protect their staff but, importantly, also the customers and those who will visit those businesses.
And I want to say, in terms of the businesses that are operating currently, in many cases they’ve already taken the steps necessary to protect their staff and to protect their businesses, and as we open up other businesses over time, it will be important that they, like the current businesses that we have, that they have plans in place and that they protect their customers, and we’ll be providing further detail on that as we move forward.
I also announced the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council which has a broad spectrum of people from across our community. It will be led by Don Challen AM, former long-serving Head of Treasury, somebody that has been recognised for his contribution across a range of areas but, importantly, he brings to this role a wealth of experience both in Government and in the private sector, and he will lead this Advisory Council to provide initially short-term initiatives to help deal with the challenges that we face, but also to provide an interim report later this year that will inform our next budget and a report early next year which will inform the 2021/22 budget going forward as well.
I do want to finish by thanking those on the North West Coast. This has been a difficult period. You have risen to the challenge. You have followed the rules. You have worked with us to get this outbreak under control. And it will be important that we continue to test and test deeply across the Coast. It will be important that if you have a sniffle, if you demonstrate any signs of respiratory illness at all, that you should be tested, come forward and be tested, ensure that we have a good broad cross-section of the community being tested to ensure that we know where the virus is and whether it exists within the community to enable us to keep on top of this.
And I want to thank Dr Veitch, and also the Minister and the Tasmanian Health Service for the work that they have done under very difficult circumstances to get on top of this. But, importantly, I want to, as I began a moment ago, thank the people of the North West Coast. Very difficult circumstances, and we’re now largely on top of this outbreak and in a position where we can move forward to lift those additional restrictions.