Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 28 APRIL 2020

Firstly I want to reiterate our message to stay at home and save lives. In the main that Tasmanians are generally doing the right thing. In fact, the vast majority of Tasmanians are doing the right thing, and whether you’re in the South, the North or the North West, I want to thank you for your efforts. They are making a difference.

I know it’s challenging each day that we see small numbers in the North West, and we are working very hard to get on top of the outbreak and the Health Minister this morning will provide an update in terms of case numbers and where we’re at there. But we are seeing a way forward through this, importantly, and the low numbers at this stage do provide evidence that we as yet still don’t have any widespread community transmission, and that’s important. And what is also important is that the number of tests are increasing and so that we are getting that broader and deeper sample that we were looking for.

I want to thank the North West community. This has been incredibly difficult. The North West has risen to the challenge as we have taken these steps. It has been enormously hard for the businesses in that area and for employees to have additional restrictions placed on them. We will be guided by Public Health as we move towards the end of this week and to where we can hopefully lift those restrictions on Sunday.

I want to encourage those on the North West to get tested, to make contact with your GP and the Public Health Hotline and get tested. And, again, the Health Minister will speak more about that in a moment.

I do want to touch on the fact that school starts today, and this will be a very different experience across the State. The schools in the North West will remain closed until next week, but in the North and the South this will be a very different experience for both our teachers, our parents and, importantly, for our students.

I did see on the News last night the Riverside Primary School and the efforts that have been gone to there by teachers and teaching staff to ensure that parents are provided with the necessary resources to enable parents to support their children, and I want to thank teachers right around the State for the work that they are putting in at the moment.

I do want to make the point though, very clearly, that our schools in the North and the South are open. Our schools in the North and the South are open. We’ve planned for Term 2 to be different and we announced that before Easter and our position remains consistent with what we announced before Easter, and that is that our schools will remain open, but parents should keep their children at home. But if they can’t support their learning or if they need to go to work, then schools are open for them. And we’ll continually review that as we work our way through this period, but our plan is clear for teachers, parents and our students, and it's important that we know where we’re heading.

I’ve already touched on teachers and the excellent work that has gone on within our schools and by the Department of Education in terms of ensuring that we can continue learning, but I want to touch on parents as well, because I know how difficult  this can be for parents, and I know that they want the very best for their children and where they can they are providing support at home and utilising the resources that have been provided by the Department of Education and also online learning.

But I want to make the point that if you can’t support your children at home, that the schools in the North and the South this week have opened, and in the North West, hopefully, with the restrictions timed to come off on Sunday, the schools will reopen there as well.

We want to make certain that the most important people in this, our students, continue to get the education that they need and indeed deserve, and so I know that there are an enormous lot of people that are working very hard to ensure that that does occur.

Later this week I’ll be announcing the plan in terms of our economic and social recovery, and I’ll have more to say about that in coming days.

But I do want to just touch on the fact that Tasmanians around the State have demonstrated through the stories of support that I’m hearing, through the stories of kindness that I am hearing, how they are prepared to help each other in their community.

The neighbour that drops supplies at their elderly neighbour’s front door to ensure that they’ve got food, the way that the community has broadly stood up and has followed the rules but, importantly, has supported each other. And I want to thank Tasmanians for that. It gives me a lot of strength to draw on, when I know that the community is working so hard together to do the right things.

There will be a way forward from this. We made decisions early to ensure that we protected our most vulnerable cohort, our older Tasmanians. We were in front of other states.

We’ve obviously had an outbreak that we’ve had to deal with on the North West Coast, and we have moved heaven and earth to get on top of that as quickly as we possibly can.

But as we step our way out of this, we need to do so sensibly and responsibly to ensure that our aged cohort, that vulnerable cohort that we have here in Tasmania, is protected as well. And so, all of our decisions will be considered through that paradigm as we move our way forward.

Now, I am hopeful that there will be an opportunity, in time, to lift some of the restrictions, but we need to always have an eye to the public health outcome and, importantly, to that older cohort that we have.

I want to just reflect on a conversation I had with an older Tasmanian on Saturday just for a moment. I think many people are aware that I called to see on my way to Anglesea Barracks to do the Anzac Day Address to see Billy Young, a gentleman in his nineties.

And when I was talking to Billy, Billy did make the point - probably didn’t need to - that he was much older than me and he’d seen a lot of things over a much longer period of time.  But he made the point to me, he said "Premier, never forget that out of crisis can come opportunity". And I think that is something that we should focus on, because there will be a way through this, we will get to the other side and then we will rebuild Tasmania. And I think for all Tasmanians, we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

There will be difficult times. There will be tough times. And I know that people will want certain restrictions to come off sooner than others. We will work through that, guided by Public Health but, importantly, what we have to do is to ensure that the health, wellbeing and safety of Tasmanians is first and foremost in our thinking as we progress through that.

In terms of the way forward, and as I’ve said, it will have some important component parts.

First is increased testing, and we have significantly increased that, and the Health Minister will again run through the amount of tests that we’re currently conducting, but also in terms of how we have broadened that and where we’re heading with it.

Tracing. It's going to be absolutely vital that we can trace cases when they do emerge in our community. There appears to be very good support from the Australian public all around the country for the new app. If you haven’t downloaded the app, you should download it.

It doesn’t build a bubble around you, but what it will do is enable us to contact people quickly, should a positive case emerge and, importantly, in doing so, we can ask people to self-isolate and, importantly, protect you and your family and your community quicker. And that is going to be a really important tool.

I do want to stress again that that COVID Safe app does not build a bubble around you, but what it will do is enable, you know, life to return to normal a little quicker than it normally would and if a positive case emerges, then we can contact, trace and track that much quicker and, importantly, we can protect people sooner.

So, as we work our way through these challenging times, the third component part will be to ensure that we’ve got COVID-ready and COVID-safe workplaces. And as I’ve indicated yesterday, Safe Work Australia have been doing a lot of work, Worksafe Tasmania have as well, to ensure that the rules that have been applied in terms of social distancing are clearly understood.

There is a national set of principles which was released last week and from what I’m seeing, those businesses that are still operating are doing their bit, are following those rules, but we need to ensure that there is clarity, both for the staff that work in those businesses and for the customers who will attend those businesses to ensure that social distancing occurs and that we keep people as safe as we possibly can.

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