Peter Gutwein

Premier of Tasmania


Another life has sadly been lost to coronavirus. An 86-year old North West woman sadly passed away yesterday. On behalf of the Tasmanian Government I extend my deepest sympathies to her loved ones, family and friends at this very hard time.

We’ve now tragically lost 12 lives to coronavirus in Tasmania, 11 of those are in the North West of the State. I extend my heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of all of those who have lost their lives, on behalf of the Tasmanian Government and the Tasmanian people.

The outcome yesterday of positive testing is only one additional new case, and that brings the State’s total to 219. One hundred and forty four of those people have now recovered.

I do now want to specifically talk about the North West outbreak.

Once the North West was understood to be an outbreak, Public Health and the Tasmanian Health Service committed to an investigation to understand how it occurred and to ensure that the facts were understood and, importantly, that learnings could be made.

We committed to making the report public in the interest of transparency, with the report finalised by both Public Health and the THS late yesterday. I received it, as did the Health Minister, late yesterday, and I had the opportunity to consider it, in fact a couple of times, overnight.

I’m grateful for the Director of Public Health and the Chief Medical Officer and the Secretary of the Department who have come here today, and they will talk through the findings and the learnings.

What will become evident from this report, and in terms of the starting point, the name the Ruby Princess is known to.., in fact, I think everybody in this country now. What we know is that about one in 10 coronavirus cases throughout Australia could be linked to that ship. And hundreds of cases across many states stem from it.

What the report confirms is that, most likely, that Ground Zero for the outbreak at the North West Regional Hospital was the Ruby Princess. I’ll allow the experts in the room to discuss how the virus is spread and how it’s led to the outbreak.

However, there are two points that I want to make. No passenger is to blame, and no healthcare worker is to blame.

And last night, when I was thinking about how to outline this report today, and I’d ask everybody to consider that as well, I thought that it was important to actually take a walk in the shoes of those that have been Ruby Princess passengers, but also those that have been healthcare workers, because this is just simply a case of people going about their lives, going about their jobs, while this dreadful set of circumstances has ensued and has wreaked havoc and misery on so many people.

Hardworking and passionate healthcare workers continued to turn up to serve their community. What the report will indicate, in many cases unaware that they were carrying symptoms. In fact, most of them were unaware that they were carrying symptoms.

Now, we know that our State is not immune to the virus and, unfortunately, like the rest of the country, we’re not immune to outbreaks. What we do know is that this insidious disease is one that spreads very quickly, is highly infectious, and the learnings that we take from this report today will enable us to consider our systems to ensure that we work even harder to keep people safe.

But I want to acknowledge, importantly, the tremendous work and efforts of Public Health and the Tasmanian Health Service and our emergency personnel for conducting an effective and rapid response once the outbreak was identified.

But I do want to come back just for a moment to our healthcare workers, and I want to thank them for the work that they do.

And, importantly, I want to make the point very clearly that nobody should use this report to ascribe blame to anyone. Nobody should use this report to ascribe blame to anyone.

What we have is a dedicated health workforce. What we have is a highly infectious disease. And, unfortunately, we’ve had an outbreak. And we have done everything that we possibly can to get on top of that outbreak.

There are lessons though for all of us, and by all of us I mean the entire State of Tasmania.

One point that I do want to make is that sometimes our strong work ethic can be our worst enemy. It’s a stark reminder to us that this virus moves quickly, that this virus, once somebody has been infected, can demonstrate no symptoms at all, and it’s important that whether people work in a hospital, whether they work in a manufacturing plant, whether they work in a shearing shed, the lessons from this report are such that we should all take on board that we need to ensure that, no matter how good we feel, if we do have a sniffle, then we shouldn’t turn up to work. If we have any concern whatsoever then, you know, we should take the precautionary principles.

We must continue to be cautious, and we must continue to be vigilant.

Today, I’ll be outlining in the Parliament some of the safeguards that we’ll be taking moving forward in terms of increasing testing, increasing our tracing capacity, talking about the app and encouraging people to get on board with that, talking about our rapid response and importantly talking about how we’ll work with workplaces to ensure that we’ve got COVID-safe plans in pace, so that staff and customers can be protected, as we gradually reopen our economy over time.

But, importantly, we must continue to do all that we can to respond and contain this virus to ensure that it does not spread, and Tasmanians remain safe. That’s our pathway back to some semblance of normality.

I’ll hand over to the Health Minister to make some further points and discuss the report, before we have the Head of the THS and our Health Commander through this emergency make some points and Dr Veitch to talk to his report.

But I do want to say that what this report will demonstrate very clearly is that most likely the Ruby Princess is the root cause of our problems on the North West Coast.

In terms of how the infection, this highly infectious disease, has then been spread, to be frank, is something that we will never know. What we do know is that healthcare workers caught this, healthcare workers that would have been doing their very, very best to serve Tasmanians and to look after their patients.  And as a result of that spread, we’ve had the North West cluster, the North West outbreak and, importantly, then as a Government, with the support of our health experts, took the responses and the actions that we did.

But I would say to everybody, don’t use this report to blame people. Use this report to ensure that we learn and, as a state, that we go forward and, importantly, we take every step that we possibly can to keep people safe.