Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 15 APRIL 2020

Premier Peter Gutwein

Last night I chatted with Emily who is a worker or was a worker at the North West Regional Hospital and will be again when that hospital reopens, and Emily made the point that she was comforted by the fact that the Government was acting swiftly, comforted by the fact that steps were being taken, albeit extreme in the fact that we have put nearly 4,500, or between 4,000 and 5,000 people into quarantine, comforted by the fact that the cleaning of the hospital would be underway and comforted by the fact that the ADF an AUSMAT were coming in to help and ensure that we could provide the services that we need.

But she explained to me how difficult it was to.., 11 days ago, actually was one of the first staff to be furloughed, to actually say goodbye to her two young children and to her husband, and she went into quarantine as a result of the concerns regarding the outbreak at that time. And the conversation that we had last night was in relation to the challenges that all of our healthcare workers on the North West Coast now face as a result of some of the social media traffic, some of the keyboard warriors that are lining them up and taking aim at them.

And the point that she wanted to make to me, and I think it’s a point that needs to be made first up this morning, is that, you know, there are processes underway, and we will get to the bottom of how this outbreak has occurred, but at the end of the day, you know, we have staff with families that have spent their working lives supporting that community, supporting North West Coasters, and that’s all that they really want to do.

And so, whilst we work through this, whilst we take the necessary steps that we need to take to understand where this outbreak has come from, you know, I want North West Coasters just to pause for a moment and reflect on the fact that the people that have supported them in their healthcare centre and their health centres now for decades are people that should be acknowledged for the work that they’ve done, and this shouldn’t be an opportunity for those that want to get online and vilify, take aim. That’s not acceptable.

You know, let us work through this, let us support each other, let us be kind to each other and accept that this is an extraordinarily difficult set of circumstances. But the only way that we’re going to get through it, the only way that we’re going to get to the other side is if we all work together. You know, there are rules to be followed, and they are tough. You know, we’ve impacted on people’s liberties, we’ve closed businesses, we’ve put people out of work.

We’ve got nearly 5,000 people that are now in quarantine on the North West Coast, all of them doing it tough. And I’d just ask people to spare a thought for the fact that all of them have wanted to do the right thing by their communities. All of them, in many cases, have spent their lives supporting their communities, and I think that it’s time that anyone that’s thinking about lining up a healthcare worker, taking a pot shot at them, should just draw breath and accept that there is a process underway. We will work through it, we will get to the bottom of it and then we will explain fully what has happened.

But none of that will change the fact of where we are at the moment. And the most important thing that we can all do right now is to use the weapon that we’ve got, and that weapon is social distancing, that weapon is following the rules, that weapon is ensuring that we do what we can to ensure that our personal hygiene is exemplary, that we wash our hands, that we stay a metre and a half away from people, that we simply follow the rules and we save lives.

Yesterday, and this is probably the most difficult part of my job, to stand here and explain that a sixth Tasmanian has lost their life. And I want to say to the family and friends of that elderly woman how sorry I am and extend our condolences on behalf of the State Government and all Tasmanians. This is a difficult time, it’s been a very difficult time for six Tasmanians and six Tasmanian families, and I just sincerely want to extend our condolences.

Yesterday, we confirmed 15 new cases. All of those are linked to the North West outbreak. This brings our total positive cases recorded in Tasmania to 165. Of the 165 positive cases, 57 of those are recovered. We’ve got 102 cases that are still ongoing. And, obviously, it’s a very challenging, very challenging situation that we need to work through.

In the North and the South, I want to say that, you know, quite clearly, the measures that we have put in place are working. But I do want to make the point, now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time to follow the rules, to do the right thing. It still concerns me that we see people out, shopping, doing, you know, what they might consider to be essential shopping, but at the end of the day, as I’ve said, picking up a tin of paint from Bunnings isn’t all that essential when your life could be at risk.  So, please, do the right thing, ensure that you follow the rules, stay home and save lives

This morning, I also want to reach out to the LGH. I know that some of their staff have supported the efforts on the North West Coast, and I know that they are also going to be called upon to support our efforts even further as we work our way through it. And I want to say to the nurses that contacted me last night that we thank you for the service that you’re putting in. The only way that we will get through this is that if right across the state we all do what we can to support our efforts and, importantly, we do what we can to support the efforts on the North West Coast.

To the North West community. The feedback from those in the business community and, in fact, from some that have lost their jobs, has been comforting to some degree that they know and understand the reasons why we have done this, and they are prepared to play their part. But I do want to say to the North West community, it is difficult, it is challenging, but at this point in time we need to ask you to follow the rules. And the simplest thing that you can do is to ensure that you socially distance, that if you have been asked to self-quarantine, that you do the right thing, that you protect yourself, your family, the people that are your friends but, importantly, that you protect your community.

I spoke this morning with Colonel David Hughes from the ADF and received an update from him in terms of the ADF staff and the AUSMAT personnel who arrived in Burnie yesterday. I want to thank the Prime Minister for acting so swiftly, and the interaction that my Health Minister had with the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was very positive and seeing a very swift response there. This will help to strengthen our capacity on the North West Coast, it will ensure that a soon as we can stand up the Emergency Department posted clean, that will be resourced and it will be resourced by experts in their field and that will be, I think, a great comfort to the North West community.

And I want to sincerely express my gratitude to both the Federal Government for acting as swiftly as it did, but importantly to the personnel that have arrived here. You know, like many people, they are away from their families, they are doing their bit to serve their country and to assist our efforts here, and I thank them.

I want to touch on testing. And over the last few days we’ve significantly expanded the testing profile for the North West region above and beyond the national guidelines. I’ll ask the Health Minister to say more on this matter in a moment, but we will be instigating a testing blitz on the North West Coast. But the point that I do want to make, and it was raised yesterday in this press conference, and I think the day before as well, Dr Veitch mentioned that we would have liked to have seen more tests being conducted and it was around a hundred.., no, I think, David, you asked that question.

We need those people on the North West Coast to pick up the phone, call their GP, call the health hotline and request testing, if they’ve got any respiratory condition whatsoever. We need them to want to be tested, and I’d encourage them to pick up the phone and to avail themselves of the testing that we have available. And the Health Minister will say more of that in a moment. But, importantly, if you’ve got flu symptoms or you believe that you’ve been exposed to COVID, then talk to the Public Health Hotline, talk to your GP, and we will get you tested.

In finishing this morning, one of the most important things that the North West Coast can do at the moment is to follow the rules and to ensure that they follow a quarantine, that they use appropriate social distancing and, importantly, that they limit their travel to essential travel.

This is an outbreak that we need to control on the North West Coast. It’s an outbreak that we need to get on top of, that we need to squash. And with the very strong measures that have been put in place on the recommendations of Public Health, I believe that we will be able to do that. But we won’t be able to do that if the North West Coast becomes porous, if we find that people want to travel to the South to visit family or friends or that they want to go shopping at Bunnings in Launceston. I don’t believe that there are a great number of North Westerners doing that, but I would ask you to remain within your region, unless you need to travel for essential travel.

In terms of the South and the North, the measures that we have put in place as a state are serving those two regions well. But, importantly, do not become complacent, do not think that because in both of those two regions it’s been about a week since we’ve had a positive test, do not become complacent and think that this is over. You know, I’ve said at the start that this is a marathon, not a sprint, We need to ensure that we continue to follow the rules, that we continue to apply appropriate social distancing, that we need to consider our family, our friends, our community and, importantly, ourselves and ensure that we do the right thing and keep on top of this.

Over the Easter period, and I’ll touch on this, and again, as I’ve said, I think that the vast majority of people are doing the right thing, but it does need to be pointed out that police intercepted 230 vehicles over the weekend. There were 247 warnings provided to people to return to their primary residences. 247. Almost 250 Tasmanians that went to their shack when we asked them not to. 72 people were arrested or summonsed. There were 41 arrested and 31 that were summonsed over the Easter period.

Again, I would say to Tasmanians, if you don’t think this applies to you, if you don’t think that this thing can kill you, think again. And I’ve said this almost daily, don’t run the risk of bringing this disease into your household. Don’t bring this disease back to your pregnant sister or to your wife or partner, or to your children or take it into the hoe of your parents or your grandparents. Follow the rules, and we will keep people safe. Follow the rules and we will get on top of this.

I do want to just mention in terms of Tasmanian businesses, and the efforts that they’ve taken. Tasmania Police have indicated to me that they had zero breaches by the businesses that had been asked to close or to alter their method of delivery. And I want to thank those businesses for playing their part. The vast majority of Tasmanians are doing what is required, and it’s important that we continue to do that.

The last thing that I do want to say and this is directly to the North West Coast, I understand how difficult this is and I understand that people are frightened. I’ve spoken to enough people from the North West Coast to understand that. You know, I’ve got a family, I’ve got children myself and, to be frank, they’re frightened as well. But I know how difficult it must be on the North West Coast right now. I would encourage you that if you have flu-like symptoms or are concerned in any way, pick up the phone, talk to the Public Hotline, talk to your GP, and we will test you. But, importantly, please do the right thing. The most important thing that you can do, the safest place that you can be is in your home and, importantly, following the rules.

And so, to those on the North West Coast, please do the right thing. This will help us save lives. It may help us save your life. Work with us, we will get on top of this outbreak, and I expect that in coming days we’ll probably see more positive cases come forward. But it’s gonna be important that we hold the line, that we do everything that we possibly can to allow the measures to take their course, that we reduce the amount of social interaction that we have, that we follow the public health guidelines, and we will get on top of this and we will beat this outbreak.

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