Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 5 OCTOBER 2020

Premier Peter Gutwein

I’ve just been provided with an update. There’s been a serious crash on the Midlands Highway just south of Ross. There are fatalities.

The Police will be putting out a statement shortly with further detail.

I just want to express to the families and those involved, you know, our thoughts and prayers are with you at this what will be no doubt a very difficult time.

Now, in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, as I’ve said on every occasion on that I stood here, keeping Tasmanians safe has been our number one priority, and we have taken a sensible and cautious and responsible approach, as we have moved towards returning to a more normal environment in terms of the COVID Safe rules that we have to live with.

To date, the restrictions that we put in place have served us well, and they’ve kept our communities safe whilst allowing us to monitor significant outbreaks in other states.

They’ve allowed us to build our testing, tracing and outbreak management processes while preparing our health and aged care facilities.

Tasmania is now in a sensible three-step process which I outlined a number of weeks ago to easing border restrictions and lead up to the 1st December date that we had set.

Step 1 saw us allow seasonal workers and fly in fly out workers from non-affected regions enter Tasmania under certain circumstances. This came into effect from midnight 20th September, and since that time seasonal workers and fly in fly out workers have entered our state from low-risk jurisdictions without having to quarantine.

Step 2 relates to easing border restrictions with COVID-safe and low-risk jurisdictions which I previously indicated that we would look at bringing forward to the end of October.

And Step 3 will be for Public Health to provide further advice on border restrictions with Victoria or other hotspot areas in the country post the 1 December date in line with the national aspiration for the country to be open for travel from all low-risk jurisdictions by Christmas.

In preparation for taking these steps, we continue to implement measures that reduce the risk of COVID occurring here, while at the same time being prepared for cases or an outbreak if that were to occur.

Over recent weeks, we’ve seen the COVID risk declining significantly around the country.

I have to say that on Sunday evening, I receive an update daily in terms of the national circumstance, and on Sunday was the best result that I’ve seen in the country for the last six months.

We had a low number of cases in Victoria, zero cases in New South Wales, zero cases in Queensland, apart for one in quarantine, but it was an international traveller coming back.

South Australia was zero cases, Northern Territory was zero cases and WA was zero cases apart from a number of people that they had in quarantine as a result of an international ship being off their shore. I shouldn’t forget the ACT which has been a bubble within NSW and has been very safe throughout.

That filled me with great heart that the country is getting on top of this particular challenge, and we’re seeing Victoria take very significant steps forward and outcomes that are putting it in front of where it thought it would be as well.

I want to make it clear that as we continue we will maintain an ongoing national monitoring process, examining what is happening in other jurisdictions, making decisions accordingly on our borders.

If there is an unacceptable risk, then restrictions will remain in place until we’re satisfied the risk is reduced to a satisfactory level.

This will enable us to respond with restrictions at any stage of community transmission or outbreak were to be reported in other jurisdictions.

Now, moving to Step 2.

As we head towards Christmas, I’m aware that Tasmanians are seeking certainty about whether they’ll be able to visit and have visits from family and friends from interstate.

Similarly, it is important we start moving towards welcoming back interstate visitors in a safe way, as they play a vital role growing our economy, providing jobs for Tasmanians.

But we must be prepared for this step, and we spent the time while our borders have been restricted to take the necessary actions needed as a state and a community to be comfortable and confident in our ability to respond to cases or outbreaks, if they occur.

Today, I can confirm that, based on advice from the State Controller and Public Health, that our plan is to re-open our borders to safe and low-risk COVID states from 26th October.

Low risk jurisdictions are determined based on a number of factors which include the period of time they’ve gone with low or no numbers of cases and the lack of community transmission occurring in these jurisdictions.

At this stage, low-risk states include South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland, the two Territories, Northern Territory and the ACT, and New South Wales is looking very promising as well.

But we will continue to keep New South Wales under advisement for the next week or so, but their progress has been very positive.

I want to stress, and I’ve said all along, that at any time a situation changes in these jurisdictions and the advice is that risk is increasing or too high, then we won’t hesitate to change this decision.

As I’ve consistently said, we’re simply not prepared to put Tasmanians at risk, meaning that border restrictions will remain in place for the time being with Victoria and, as I’ve said, we will keep under advisement for the next week New South Wales, until we’re satisfied that the risk is reduced to a level where it’s safe for people to travel here to Tasmania and where it’s safe for Tasmanians to travel to those jurisdictions.

The date of 16th October will give Tasmanians certainty, as they plan for the end of the year but also, importantly, provide a date for our airlines to work to ensure we have access to our state, particularly though as many direct routes as possible which don’t rely on commuting via Tullamarine.

My understanding is that there is real interest from the airlines, based on our engagement with them, in terms of direct flights to Adelaide, to Brisbane, to Canberra and to Sydney, should we open to New South Wales.

Now, as we move towards opening up to safe jurisdictions, it’s important to reiterate the protections that we put in place.

Each day, we’re continuing to test, and more than 100,000 tests have now been carried out in Tasmania.

Our testing rates on average have been around 500 per day, and we can comfortably surge to more than 2,000 per day, if needed.

Dr Scott will provide more information around that and, importantly, what we’ve seen in recent days is the testing rate increase.

You know, there was some messaging earlier this week in terms of hay fever and the need to be tested and what we’ve seen is a significant increase, and Dr Scott will provide some further detail around that.

But I would urge Tasmanians that if you are unwell, if you have a sniffle, go and get tested. We need to keep our testing rate at around that rate of one per thousand Tasmanians per day.

Our Public Health staff continue to plan and prepare to respond to a case or cases or an outbreak, if one were to occur in Tasmania.

That involves ensuring our tracing capabilities are ready to immediately swing into action to track and trace contacts to limit the spread of the disease in the community, working w premises to ensure that they can appropriately clean and manage their site to further reduce the risk and ensure the community has access to information they need to help them understand what they would need to do.

Our health officials are also continuing to work with workplace settings that would be vulnerable to a case or cases in the community.

This involves having outbreak management plan in place for those workplaces that identify as high risk and ensuring that those settings can respond to reduce the risk to staff and other people present.

One of our most important considerations has been the preparedness of our aged care sector and the fact that the nation’s surge aged care workforce was focussed on Victoria in recent times.

Residential aged care facilities have outbreak management plans in place, and our aged care emergency operation centre, which we’ve stood up, has also been established to ensure a coordinated system-wide response, should that be required.

The purpose of this group is to provide industry-specific input into key matters of preparedness from response, including matters such as workforce and surge capacity.

We’re constantly reviewing all of these measures as part of ensuring all our capabilities are ready as we move forward, and this will continue in coming weeks.

As the situation continues to ease in Victoria, we’re more confident that we’ll have the additional workforce, should we need it in the event of a significant outbreak in Tasmania.

Now, as I’ve said on a couple of occasions this week and to some of you in this room, when the Victorian situation occurred, they furloughed and quarantined thousands of health staff, they furloughed and quarantined thousands of aged care staff, and that meant that all of the resources around the country, including some additional resources from Tasmania, were provided to Victoria to manage the outbreak at the scale that they had.

Now that those staff in Victoria are starting to return to work and the national surge capacity is coming back online, Tasmania is well placed, should we have an outbreak here and should we need to draw additional resources, as we did when the North West outbreak occurred, to assist us here.

I’ll provide Tasmanians with a further update on our preparedness early in the week commencing the 11th of October. This will conclude details around our aged care and heath preparedness, the arrangements for health screening at our border entry points for people entering the state, as well as an update on COVID safety plan readiness in terms of our businesses and community facilities.

Over this coming month, the Public Information Unit will continue to provide messages to Tasmanians as per the PESRAC recommendation to ensure that Tasmanians understand what their responsibilities are and what the steps are that we’re taking in terms of ensuring that we are a COVID-safe and COVID-ready jurisdiction.

You know, I’d like to thank Tasmanians for continuing to do the right thing and continuing to follow the rules to ensure we protect our people, our health system, our economy and the jobs it supports and, importantly, the communities within which we live.

As we move into the second part of our three-step process and easing our border restrictions, it will be vital that we all continue to do the right thing and, again, I’ve said in this room on what feels like thousands of occasions, please remember to wash your hands, cover your coughs and sneezes, and if you are unwell, and this is one of the real learning strong [inaudible], if you are unwell, do not go to work. Get tested.

You know, that’s the reason why we put in place support to ensure that casual workers or those that don’t have sick pay can take the time to be off work to actually get tested and protect their workplace.

On that, I’ll pass over to Dr Scott McKeown who will provide an update from a Public Health perspective.