Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 27 APRIL 2020

I’ll start where I’ve started on so many occasions. Stay home, save lives is the message that I want all Tasmanians to hear and, importantly, it’s having a positive difference to our outcome and how we move forward. It’s helping to set Tasmania up for a better recovery as well when the time is right.

However, we continue to have a state of two tales. Obviously, the North and the South, it’s been quite some time since we had a positive case, while in the North West overnight another four cases bring the total positive cases that we’ve detected to 212.

We’re conducing a testing blitz in the North West and encouraging everyone who wants to be tested, even if they have a sniffle, to come forward and, importantly, we want to find cases. This is the time that we need to have deep testing across the community to understand the extent of the spread of the virus. And so I would encourage people to come forward and be tested.

Importantly, that will enable us to contact trace and track and ensure that we can appropriately isolate and get on top of this and crush this virus.

Now, I know things have been difficult in the North West, and we are obviously in the second week of increased restrictions, and I want to acknowledge those on the North West Coast that have done the right thing and, importantly, are following the rules, and the vast majority of people are. But we need to keep on top of this. We’re not out of the woods yet, and we need to ensure that we continue and be disciplined and to follow the rules.

I want to touch on the report that has received some coverage in today’s paper in regards to the investigation to the North West outbreak.  As Public Health officials have said, this is a complex process and they take time. And over the weekend the report was provided to the Secretary of Health, responsible for the THS.

And whilst some media outlets appear to be a little frustrated at the moment in terms of the time that it’s taking, again I want to be absolutely clear about this, once the input has been provided by the Secretary of Health in terms of the THS, that that report will be released in full, and I expect that report to be released later this week.

The other thing that I want to touch on as well, and we have done our very best in terms of these briefings, in terms of being open and transparent with the Tasmanian people as we’ve worked our way through this. But I also think that it’s important that they have confidence in the process. And so, what I want to announce today is that there will be an independent review conducted into the North West circumstances by an independent person or persons with appropriate qualifications.

It will be undertaken at a time that is appropriate in terms of our response. I’m not convinced that that type of investigation and report needs to wait until the pandemic emergency concludes, but what I am absolutely convinced of is that it must be at a time that enables us to keep our senior people focused on what they are doing. And our senior people need to be able to continue to provide 100% and remain 100% focused on this, both outbreak but also on our response more broadly across the state.

But I want to be clear, an independent review will be conducted.  It will be conducted by people with appropriate qualifications and, as I’ve said, ether a person or persons, and we will work through that and we will frame up terms of reference and we will ensure that that takes place at an appropriate time.

But, to be clear, that doesn’t mean that we are going to wait until this pandemic is over. What it does mean is that it will ensure that we can keep our senior people focused on the task at hand at the moment, as we work through these challenging circumstances, but when the time is right that a review and investigation will take place.

I also want to just touch on the pathway to recovery. And just to ensure that everybody is absolutely clear in terms of both my thinking, but also more broadly our view across Government and Public Health as well.

This will be a slow and gradual process, as we work through. I have said on many occasions, and as we went into this, that we have an older and more vulnerable population in Tasmania. That is one of the key reasons, and it’s certainly something that’s been at the forefront of my mind, as to why we moved before the rest of the country on banning cruise ships, on why we put border controls in place before the fest of the country.

It’s why, when we needed to respond to an outbreak like we see in the North West that we’ve taken steps that meant that we closed two hospitals and quarantined between 4,000 and 5,000 people. We have an older and more vulnerable population, and it is important that that is always part of our thinking.

And so, as we work our way through this, where some states might lift restrictions early, I don’t believe that we will be doing that. We will step out of this cautiously, with a mind to ensuring that we keep Tasmanians safe and that we continue to have a key focus on the fact that we have an older and more vulnerable population. And, importantly, the road to recovery will include a number of important steps.

Firstly, as I’ve said, we have to get on top of the North West outbreak. We need to ensure that that is under control, and I would encourage those on the North West Coast to get tested, to ensure that we have a very deep sample of testing across the North West Coast, as we work through coming days and this coming week.

But then we’re going to need to have three very important safeguards in place.

We need to continue to have our testing at high levels. Already we are testing at a level higher than Western Australia, higher than Victoria, but we need to continue to ensure that we ramp that up and we have a much broader sample and understanding of what’s occurring across our community.

We then need to ensure that we’ve got enhanced tracing capability, and I’ll say more about that and the app in a moment, but, importantly, we also then have to have COVID-ready and COVID-safe plans for our businesses, but also for our public spaces, for our halls, for how we’re going to ensure that people can have the confidence to move about our community but, importantly, those businesses that are providing services are, as we gradually reopen them, are able to provide the confidence levels that their staff need, as well as confidence to those people that might visit those businesses.

And in the main, the industry sectors that have been allowed to continue, are following the Public Health guidelines, are following the rules. And at a national level, Safe Work Australia has provided a set of principles which are being embodied in terms of the plans that businesses have in place, and we’ll continue to work with Worksafe Tasmania and to work with our industry sectors to ensure that people can have confidence, if they are still going to work, that they can continue going to work but, importantly, that they are in a safe environment because they are following the social distancing rules.

In terms of the steps as we move forward, our manual tracing efforts over the past weeks have worked well, but as I’ve indicated in this room, it is a difficult process in terms of ensuring that individuals can clearly identify who they’ve been in touch with over a period of time as we work through our tracing. And this is where the tracing app will assist.

Launched yesterday, and I said this morning on the ABC, I’ve downloaded the app. In fact I downloaded it at nine o’clock last night, after it became available I think around six o’clock. And I texted my wife and two children to say have you downloaded the app, and my wife wanted to know why it had taken me so long to download it.

I would encourage people to download this app. What we want to be able to do is to ensure that as we start to lift restrictions that we actually have another tool to enable us to trace more effectively to be able to get on top of a situation where there might be evidence of COVID-19 and that we need to ensure that we can contact the people that you’ve been in touch with and, importantly, ensure that they are self-isolating to protect both themselves and their families.

So, please, if you have to opportunity, download the app. Your privacy will be protected. There are very strong privacy laws in place. The data cannot be accessed by anyone else except state health officials, and you’ll only activate that data if you have a positive case and you are asked to do so, so that we can then trace.

But I want to be clear in terms of the app. The app doesn’t put a protective bubble around you. You still need to ensure that you follow the social distancing rules, you still need to ensure that you wash your hands regularly, you still need to ensure that you do the things that we’ve been asking you to do in terms of your own personal circumstance, but also in terms of your family, your community and your friends.

Now, in terms of the steps that we’re going to take. I do want to make this point and whilst the CommSec report came out overnight and looks at a period of time before we had felt the impact of COVID-19, Tasmania was in a strong position in terms of our balance sheet strength, but also our economic strength. And it’s important that that strong position, that strong foundation is used as we start to work our way back.

But, as I’ve said, we will be cautious with this, and I want to stress that to Tasmanians. I don’t want to see complacency creep in. You know, this is an insidious disease. We have seen how quickly it can spread. It is highly contagious. And so we need to take the appropriate steps, as we work through this.

And those appropriate steps, as I’ve said, will be ensuring that we get on top of the North West outbreak, that we increase our testing capability, that we increase our tracing capability, so that we can respond quickly and, importantly, that our businesses, both those that are currently operating and those that we will gradually bring on, and also those steps that we will take in terms of public facilities and parks and other matters are dealt with sensibly, so that people understand what the rules are, both for themselves, if they work in one of those facilities, but also, importantly, that customers can feel confident. And at the moment we have strong engagement both at the state level and at a national level with Safe Work, and we’re working through those mechanisms.

This will not be over quickly, and I want to stress that. I don’t intend to make a kneejerk reaction and take us to a position where the restrictions come off too quickly that then leaves us exposed and in a situation where we have to put the restrictions in again.

You only have to look at Singapore, for example, which five to six weeks ago was held up a being the doyen of responses across the world, and now they have a further, second outbreak. You’ve only got to look at what’s occurred in China in terms of another outbreak occurring there.

We need to ensure that the very good work that we’ve done, the fact that we have put in place strict rules that are protecting our community are followed and, importantly, that we step out of this in a sensible, responsible way that enables us to keep Tasmanians safe.

And so, before I hand over to the Health Minister, I’ll once again remind people that the most importantly thing that we can do right now is to stay home, to stay safe and to save lives and to follow the rules.

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