Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania

PRESS CONFERENCE - 2 MAY 2020

Premier Peter Gutwein

I’m going to start again, where I’ve started so many of these, and that is to say to people please stay home and follow the rules. Importantly, following the rules is working, and I want to thank Tasmanians for that.

I’m pleased to report that as of 6pm last night, we have had no positive cases of coronavirus in the State as of yesterday, which is very pleasing. What it demonstrates, is that Tasmanians are doing the right thing, and I encourage them to continue to do so.

I also want to caution Tasmanians at this stage. Some of what has been reported at a national level in terms of where states and territories are heading to – the rules remain in place. I’ll take a moment to explain some of those things shortly.

I would expect that in terms of the progress that we’re making, and that we’ve ramped up our testing, that we will see further cases of coronavirus, as we will see in other states and territories across the country. But importantly, what it demonstrates, is that the increased testing that we’re doing, is doing exactly what we want it to do. That is, find out exactly where the virus is so we can get on top of it and stamp it out.

The work that has gone on on the North West Coast, in terms of the outbreak there – and I want to acknowledge Dr Veitch and also the THS and all those that were involved – that outbreak is largely under control. Importantly, it’s enabled us to lift the additional restrictions. And I want to make that point for the people on the North West Coast – these are the additional restrictions that have been in place for three weeks, in terms of additional retail and ‘big box’ services. As of midnight on Sunday night, those restrictions will be lifted and the North West Coast will go back to the same level of restrictions, such as social distancing, that applies to the rest of the State, for Monday.

What that means, is that you should still stay at home. You should only go out for essential supplies, medical services, if you need to go to school, or to work, or to volunteer. The steps that we are taking are designed to ensure we keep people safe and we want to ensure that across the State we don’t become complacent. I think we are getting to a good place, but it’s important that we continue to follow the rules, and limit unnecessary travel and, as I have said on so many occasions, this virus does not travel by itself, it travels with people. Be mindful of the rules. At the moment our plan is working and I’m very confident and comfortable in terms of how we are progressing through this, but we have to follow the rules.

Yesterday at National Cabinet we discussed the road to recovery. We will be having a discussion on this coming Friday on what the level of restrictions might be going forward. A number of people overnight have contacted me and asked “What does this mean for Tasmania?” What I want to explain is this:

We went into this early, we went into this hard. We did that because we have both the benefit of an island state, but also because we have an older and more vulnerable population. So we went in early and we went in hard, and what I’d like to see is a “glide path” out of here, not a saw tooth. I don’t want to see us lift restrictions then have to put them back on. I want to step through this sensibly, carefully, and importantly, in a way that keeps Tasmanians safe.

In terms of the steps that we are taking and that are so very important. In terms of testing, one of the things we have to do is to increase our testing levels. And the Minister for Health Sarah Courtney and her team along with Public Health, have worked very very hard to ensuring that we can increase our testing to where we are testing up to around 1,000 tests per day now.

We will be able to double that to around 2,000 tests per day as a result the partnership we have with the Federal Government and Minderoo. That will provide us with an increased testing capability which will enable us to understand where the virus is, and when it pokes its head up, it enables us to get on top of it, and importantly, hat we can quarantine the virus without having to unnecessarily quarantine people.

In terms of testing, and this is an important point to make, we are now testing a higher percentage of our population that the Australian average. We’re testing at a higher rate than Victoria, WA, Queensland, the ACT and NT.

In terms of tracing, the contact tracing that we do manually is so important. When the virus emerges, we need to be able to understand who the people are who have had contact with a positive case, so we can quarantine those people and keep families safe, keep our community safe.

That has worked well, but we want to take that next step. I urge Tasmanians to download the COVIDSafe app. This doesn’t provide a protective bubble around you, but it will enable us to trace more effectively and quicker, who you have been in contact with, so they are kept safe, their families are kept safe and the community is kept safe.

It is only a tool, but it is a very, very important tool. I cannot stress enough how important it is that Tasmanians take this opportunity to download that app, to ensure that we do have that tracking and tracing capability.

The third thing that I’ve spoken about is that we need to increase our rapid response. The app will help us to do that. And we need to ensure that across Government, we have interoperability, where they’re enabling us to have the teams that we need of contact tracers that, if the virus emerges in a community or an area, that we can very quickly put a team in, contact trace and track, and ensure we can lock the virus down.

The process is underway, and I want to thank all of the people that have been involved in contact tracing to date. It is a difficult, challenging, time consuming job. But at the end of the day, what it means is that we can keep people safer and get on top of any cluster or any emergence of the virus when it presents.

And finally, the fourth step will be our COVID safety plans for our businesses. At the moment businesses are operating under the rules put in place by Directions and Orders. That is to ensure that people take greater care with their hygiene, that they wash their hands. And importantly that they are social distancing appropriately in work places. And I have to say that those businesses that are operating, those ones that I’ve been in, with the crosses marked out on floors, or appropriate sneeze shields that have been put I place. I think that businesses have taken this on board and are doing their very best to ensure that their customers and their staff are safe.

We will continue to work with those businesses that are open, but importantly, we’ll work with those businesses that currently have restrictions on them and aren’t open, to ensure that as we step our way through this, that they are able to open, and that customers and their staff are able to – with confidence – utilise those businesses again.

In terms of where we will go with restrictions. I’ve already flagged that one of the areas I’d like to see open early is our green spaces. I think it’s important that people can exercise. But I do want to make this point – in the Northern Territory, people were celebrating that people were able to play golf again. In Tasmania, we’ve consistently allowed golf to be played. Strict social distancing rules in place, two people per hole, no more than 36 on a golf course. The reason that we did that, was that we took some hard steps early: we closed our boarders, we banned cruise ships, we put in strict rules. But we recognised that it was important for people to do some activities that they had previously been engaged in. At the end of the day, we recongise that it’s those activities, as well as the physical exercise it provides, was good for people’s general health and wellbeing.

Some of the states have flagged that they might allow fishing. We’ve always allowed fishing here in Tasmania. Recreational fishing within your municipality. We needed to ensure that we didn’t have a flood of people to our coastal communities over Easter or at busy times. But we’ve continually allowed that to occur. And I think that’s a good thing, because it means that while Tasmanians have been in this lockdown, whilst they’ve had these restrictions on, there’s a range of activities they’ve been able to enjoy. And it’s good to see some of the other states catching up with where we are.

In terms of the next steps. Next Friday is National Cabinet. We’ll be looking at the range of restrictions and the pathway out of this for the country. I want to make this point very clearly: we acted early, we acted hard because we have a more vulnerable population and it’s important that we protect them. As we come out of this, I will make no apologies for having a glide path, as opposed to some of the more, perhaps, aggressive steps that other states might take to move through this. I recognise that what we need to do is keep Tasmanians safe, but at the same time, find a glide path that allows to keep people safe and at the same time, starts to open up our economy in a sensible way that at the end of the day, people are safe when they go to work and we are all able to enjoy the services with confidence.

With all of those steps, we’ll be guided by Public Health. We will continue to be guided by Public Health. It’s exceptional, the work they have done. They’ve helped us make some very difficult decisions, and their guidance has been very important as we’ve worked through this. And we’ll continue to work closely with them.

It is so important that we do not become complacent. When you look around the world, at what’s happened in the UK, at what’s happened in Spain, at what’s happened in Italy. What’s happening currently in the United States. We’re in a so much better position that what they are, because we’ve acted as a country and as a state, to ensure that we’ve taken the necessary steps, as difficult as they are.

It’s important that we keep an eye on what’s occurring, to ensure that as we step out of this, we do so in a staged and sensible way that provides a glide path, not a saw tooth, where we lift restrictions, and then find in a couple of months – as they have in Singapore – that we have to put them back on. We have to find the right pathway, and it will be my intention working with Public Health, that we do that in such a way that we can take Tasmanians back to a more comfortable, more appropriate set of settings with them, but always in a way that their health is foremost in our thinking.

I am absolutely convinced that we will be able to rebuild Tasmania. Absolutely convinced. The efforts of so many Tasmanians – and I was going to use the term “standing shoulder-to-shoulder”, but – standing one and a half metres apart, working together, ensuring that we got on top of this virus, took the steps that we needed to do, making sacrifices, has put us into a very good position that has enable us to step out of this in a way that will bring our economy back, will start to create jobs, and importantly, we can start dealing with the second crisis that is in front of us, and that is the economic crisis. We’ll do that in a sensible and staged way, to ensure that we don’t have to have people in a position where restrictions have been taken off and need to be put back on again. It will be sensible, it’ll be appropriate, and importantly, it will look after people’s health.