Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 2PM 9 DECEMBER 2020

Premier Peter Gutwein

Firstly I’d like to provide an update on testing this morning.

Of the 27 remaining tests that needed to be conducted on repatriation travellers, they have all returned a negative result.

So, at the moment we have three positives in the Royal Hobart Hospital, as discussed this morning.

Now in releasing the Independent Review into the Response to the North West COVID Outbreak, I wanted to begin firstly by thanking the Independent Reviewer, Mr Greg Melick AO SC, and his working group, which was made up of Greg Johannes, Roscoe Taylor and Pat Martin, for the report which you have now received.

I’d also like to thank those who took the time to provide submissions to inform the findings and recommendations.

And I’d like to thank the community on the North West Coast.

The way they engaged during the outbreak, for the sacrifices they made, and importantly, for the very disciplined way that they went about following the rules and enabling us to get on top of this outbreak at that time in the community.

Now today we’re releasing in full, the Independent Review into the North West COVID-19 Outbreak.

The full report is publicly available on the DPAC website, with a link from the Coronavirus website as well.

The purpose of the Independent Review is to ensure we fully understand what worked well and – importantly – what improvements can be made, so that we have the best possible system in the event of future outbreaks.

We welcome the Review’s acknowledgement that it is a great credit to the State’s Emergency Management System, the Department of Health, and the many dedicated people who worked long and arduous hours, that the outbreak in the North West was successfully contained.

The report also acknowledges that the action overseen by our State Health Commander in relation to the closure of the North West Regional Hospital and the North West Private Hospital, was a major, a difficult, but ultimately entirely correct decision.

In addition, the Review found that the substantial efforts prior to the outbreak emerging, including design and renovations for a COVID-19 Hot Medical Ward at the NWRH; removal of non-essential equipment and furniture to facilitate cleaning and disinfection; and a range of other activities, significantly restrained and constrained the outbreak.

The Independent Review has provided 37 recommendations, and the Government will support all of these recommendations, either fully or in principle.

Thirty three recommendations are already progressing in some form, while four are completed.

There are four recommendations that are supported in principle – and for context I want to be absolutely clear: this means we fully support the intent of the recommendation, but it may not necessarily be possible to implement it exactly as it is written.

For example, recommendation six, which is in regards to testing in a health facility when an outbreak occurs, is supported in principle, subject to National COVID-19 Testing Guidance, as well as guidance from the Director of Public Health provides advice that the testing criteria apply here in Tasmania.

Recommendation 35, regarding the purchasing authority of local corporate managers. The Department will consider how it can support improved flexibility while maintaining accountability, such as reviewing financial delegation authority levels during an emergency.

The recommendations from the Independent Review complement the recommendations from the North West Regional Hospital Outbreak Interim Report, which was released on 29 April 2020.

As you will be aware, all 17 of those recommendations are implemented and completed.

Importantly, I understand that the Director of Public Health is finalising his final report, and that will be released shortly as well.

The Independent Review also provided information regarding Ruby Princess passengers and states that “all Ruby Princess passengers, on arrival into Tasmania, were regarded as ‘at risk’ and were asked to isolate at home, which was the current rules at that particular time.”

Furthermore, the Review also make the point that whether these passengers isolated at home or other locations, such as quarantine hotel, that that would have had no bearing on what transpired in the hospital once these passengers developed symptoms and presented for medical attention.

The first inpatient to the NWRH was admitted on 20 March after returning from the Ruby Princess and presenting with symptoms.

They were tested and placed in an isolation room.

The Review finds that the first recognition of an outbreak amongst NWRH staff was on Friday, 3 April, with two positive cases determined in health care workers at the hospital at that time.

The Review found many potential contributory factors to transmissions of the virus that lead to the outbreak and states that it’s not possible to definitively identify a single major cause.

It also notes that the difficulties preventing all transmission within a hospital environment have been highlighted by similar outbreaks in Australia, and knowledge in this area continues to evolve.

It is the assessment of the Review that the closure of the North West Regional and North West private hospitals was the correct decision, and that it was a great credit to the State’s Emergency Management System, the Department of Health, and the many dedicated people who worked so hard to make sure the outbreak was successfully contained.

This includes the ADF and AUSMAT teams for the wonderful work they did, and the support provided during the outbreak.

We thank Mr Melick and his working group for these recommendations and the action taken to date will be thoroughly reviewed in the context of the Report, and there will be a detailed implementation plan, which will be prepared by the end of January 2021, to ensure that we take forward all of these recommendations.