Coronavirus update | Friday 07 May 2021

Last Updated: 17 May 2021 1:59pm

Now today I am joined by Acting Director of Public Health Dr Scott McKeown, who everyone knows, and the State Health Commander Kathryn Morgan-Wicks.

National Cabinet was held today.

Primarily we discussed the unfolding situation in India.

I think I can speak on behalf of all Tasmanians, when I say that our thoughts are with the people in India in the very challenging circumstances that they find themselves in there.

The Prime Minister has asked all states to consider how they might assist with the repatriation effort.

Now, I’m of the view that Tasmania must do our bit to contribute to this national effort, whilst also ensuring that we do keep our community safe.

And that the best way that we can do that is by continuing our partnership with Victoria, which sees Tasmania quarantine seasonal workers from lower risk international locations, primarily the Pacific islands, on behalf of Victoria, in return for Victoria quarantining our share of repatriated Australians from other international destinations.

This agreement has been working well, and in recent weeks Victoria have reached out to, at a Departmental level, and requested that we consider extending this current arrangement for a longer period, and in return they will take more repatriation flights for us.

Now, by extending this agreement to later this year, I’m firmly of the view that we would assist the national effort by ensuring that Victoria has more quarantine space available, which would assist them to bring more repatriated Australians home

Now, importantly, the way that this has worked to date has been very successful.

We've managed to assist Victoria with their seasonal workers, and at the same time it's been a good fit for Tasmania in terms of our quarantine arrangements, and we've kept Tasmanians safe.

At this point in time, we've safely quarantined 1,225 seasonal workers safely and effectively, and included in that around half, a little more than 600, the Victorian cohort of which we have another 900 to do, which was flagged to be completed by around the middle of this year.

Tomorrow morning, or in fact this.., tonight, but one am tonight, we received another flight from Vanuatu of around 159 seasonal workers, and these workers will be quarantined at the Ibis Hotel and Hobart and obviously undergo all of the normal fighting protocols that we have in place.

I’ll be reaching out to the Acting Premier of Victoria, James Merlino, to have a discussion about the extension which has been, as I say, raised by the Victorian Government with our Department here, and I’ll be responding to the Prime Minister, once we've had that discussion.

I did indicate at National Cabinet today that I felt that the best way for Tasmania to help the national effort was to extend the Victorian arrangements.

Now, the situation in New South Wales over recent days and in Western Australia is a stark reminder of the risk of COVID-19.

Here in Tasmania we've continued to act on Public Health advice, and we are, as I’ve said on many occasions, in a good place, but we simply can't become complacent.

While there have been no new locally acquired cases announced by New South Wales Health this morning, Tasmania's Public Health authorities will continue to review the situation regularly, and fact our Public Health officials are meeting on a daily basis through AHPPC.

Right now there are over 20 premises in and around Sydney that have been declared by Public Health as high risk.

A list of these can be found on the Coronavirus website.

And any person who intends to travel to Tasmania who’s been at a high-risk premise at the dates and times that are listed will not be permitted to enter Tasmania, unless approved by the Deputy State Controller as an essential traveller, which is the system that we have employed when we've been managing hotspots around the country now for some time.

Anyone in Tasmania who's been in Sydney on or after the 27th of April should monitor for symptoms, even [inaudible] and contact the Public Health hotline to book a test, if they've had any symptoms since the 27th of April or develop them over coming days.

Tasmania’s Public Health officials will continue to monitor the situation in Sydney over coming days and respond appropriately to keep Tasmanians safe, as they have done in the past.

Now, vaccination remains one of our most important tools in protecting our community and getting back to a more normal way of living.

We’re now in Week 11 of Tasmania's vaccination rollout.

This week, we opened up our Tasmanian Government Community Clinics to Tasmanians aged 50 years and over, and I understand that we have seen strong demand already.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind Tasmanians that Community Clinics are opening up in different areas of the state and we continue to have more clinics coming online over the next few weeks, and Kath will be able to provide more of an update in that space in a moment.

GPs are also scheduling appointments to Tasmanians aged 50 years and over from the 17th of May, with some taking bookings now, so I’d suggest those with a GP that is administering the vaccine that they reach out now and start making appointments.

The Commonwealth has confirmed an increase in vaccine availability for GPs over the next few weeks, which will mean that they'll have access to more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for their patients.

I was pleased that we've also received confirmation of an increased volume of the Pfizer vaccine for Tasmania, which will boost our efforts to vaccinate aged care and disability care workers and residents.

Now, importantly, as we move into the colder months, and with people becoming more prone to common cold, it's a strong reminder for all Tasmanians to remain vigilant in respect of symptoms.

Cover your coughs and sneezes, stay home if you're unwell and don't hesitate to get a test, even if the symptoms are mild.

I’ll hand over now to Kathryn to provide an update further on the vaccination program.

Thank you, Premier

So I will give an update on how the Tasmanian vaccination program is progressing.

To date we have delivered 42,374 doses in State Clinics.

Over 7,800 doses have been delivered in Aged Care and just over 34,800 doses have been delivered by GPs. These totals mean that almost 85,000 doses have been delivered in Tasmania across the program to date.

Over 14.5% of Tasmanian’s over 16 years of age have received at least their first vaccine dose.

This week, it has been pleasing to see the number of Tasmania’s over 50 years of age who have taken up the offer of a free vaccine at one of our community clinics.

Our community clinics continue to operate across the state and today our new Huonville clinic saw its first day of operation booked out.

We continue to open up clinics across the state with a new clinic in Rosny commencing on Monday 17 May and Triabunna commencing on Saturday 22 May - bookings can be made for both of these clinics now.

We will now be turning our attention to the north east and north west of the state with a clinics opening in Devonport on 24 May and Latrobe, Smithton and Scottsdale shortly after.

We will also be taking our clinics to the Bass Strait Islands with Cape Barren, King and Flinders Islands residents able to have a free vaccination in the coming weeks.

If you are 50 years and over you can make a booking at the following clinics: Brighton, Huonville, New Norfolk, Kingston, Deloraine, Mowbray and Triabunna.

Our community clinics will move around over time. As one clinic closes after delivering the first dose, the clinic will move to another location and its community, and then will come back to that first location to deliver the second dose 12 weeks later.

If you are under 50 years, and you are in the current eligibility phase, we have Pfizer hubs located at the Royal Hobart Hopsital, Wellington Clinic, Launceston General Hopsital and the Mersey Community Hospital. To make a booking if you are eligible call the Tasmanian Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

As the Premier noted, we have received increased allocation of Pfizer to ensure our aged care and disability care workers and disability residents have access to vaccination. We will see a tripling of Pfizer vaccine into the State from next week.

The increases to GP vaccination allocation will see a doubling and tripling of vaccines being delivered to GPs so where a GP may have received 50 doses, this will now increase to 150 doses a week. This means that GP’s in Tasmania will now be receiving 14,905 doses to administer from week 13.

I do encourage Tasmanians, if you haven’t had a vaccine through your GP, to book an appointment when you see a community clinic in your area to ensure that you don’t miss out. There are lots of appointments available and if there is not a clinic in your area then keep an eye on the coronavirus website for when there might be.

If you are aged 50 years and over, it’s easy to make a booking at one of our community clinics. Call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 or go online at coronavirus.tas.gov.au.

You can also make an appointment through participating GPs or GP respiratory clinics.

Vaccination is the best way for Tasmanians to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community.  You only have to watch or read the news to see globally the havoc that COVID-19 is continuing to wreak on vulnerable populations, and the serious long-lasting impacts on your health if you catch COVID-19.   The vaccine is here to help stop these severe consequences.

Finally, if you are eligible for a vaccine, but you have concerns about your personal circumstances, please talk to your GP or to one of our health professionals in our State Clinics, and have an informed discussion about the risks and benefits to you personally about the COVID vaccine.

And to end, I’d just like to thank everyone that is working tirelessly across our state community clinics, in our GP practices, and in our GP respiratory clinics to deliver the vaccination effort and this includes our Rotary Club volunteers as well that have really pitched in to make sure that people can be assisted with their bookings and also with the informed consent forms.

So I’ll open up to questions.

How many Tasmanians have you vaccinated against COVID at this stage? So we don't have our updated numbers in terms of second doses, but we're pleased to see that that percentage in terms of 16 per cent receiving their first dose over 16 years of age.

And we've had some reports that clinics in Deloraine and Wynyard have run out of the vaccine. Is that the case? So we never actually run out in terms of a vaccine we closely monitor the distribution of vaccines and make sure that we are shipping and delivering each day to each of our clinics and we only have booking spots that are allocated according to the numbers. But what we're going to see over the next few weeks is really a big increase for both GPs and also the State Community Clinics in terms of the vaccine coming in. So the GPs will see a real increase in AstraZeneca and the state will see a real increase in Pfizer also available in our clinics.

So for people who might be worried that their local clinic has run out of the vaccine, who for want of a better term, they should check in another day because you know the suppliers will keep coming in is that the case? Yes and for those people we really do thank them for their patience because in the beginning weeks of the rollout now we have received distribution information really on a week by week basis. Last week we have now received our distribution information from weeks 13 up to 20 which gives us a really solid program in terms of the next seven weeks. And for those that have tried to book for example through Public Health Hotline or online and might find that particular clinics are getting booked up quite quickly, we are continuously adding new sessions to those clinics where we can see that demand rolling in. So for example from this morning we were seeing May you know nearly booked out in terms of our community clinics which is a really strong response and we will add further sessions now to all of those clinics.

Just to clarify that 14,000 or so doses that will be given to GPs by week 13, will they all be the AstraZeneca or will it be a mix. So our GPs and our primary care sector are responsible for the AstraZeneca rollout and they're focusing on the over 50s for that. The state maintains the responsibility for the Pfizer; the only exception to that is the commonwealth has been sending in in reach teams with Pfizer for example to aged care residents.

Okay any questions? No. Thank you anyway!

I’ll refer any to you that I’m not sure of.

How much is Tasmania allocating to cover the cost of interstate quarantine under this arrangement with Victoria? How much are we likely to spend? Look in fact I know that we've just extended our hotels out until December and so that will be both our international quarantine hotels - the Ibis, the Best Western - then we obviously have a range of other hotels around the state - Sunrise in Devonport, The Seaport in Launceston which are domestic quarantine facilities as well as the – on the roundabout - the Fountainside is the medical. So look, I’m happy to get you a number on that. As I say, we've just recently extended.

Are we the only state to have an arrangement like this? Look other states have got - and the smaller states and territories have got - different arrangements in place. For example, I learned today which I wasn't aware of that, the ACT no longer has an international terminal. They no longer take international flights and they have leased that to a domestic airline and so they won't be taking any international repat flights. Likewise they've offered today that they could do some home quarantine but they don't have a quarantine hotel. The Northern Territory is completely different as we know with Howard Springs and the arrangements that are in place there. And so in respect of what we're doing here, in regards to our repat flights, and the arrangements with seasonal workers, I think that is a standalone bespoke arrangement and I think it suits Tasmania well.

Do we know how many Tasmanians are among those Australians currently stranded in India? Look we don't. My most recent advice is that no Tasmanians have reached out to our departments here but I’ve asked DPAC to be in touch with DFAT to test who may be on that list and to see whether or not there's any supports that we can provide.

We've spoken to a woman who's been in India since the beginning of last year unable to get onto a flight. Are you confident that enough is being done to bring those people home? Look it's a matter of getting the balance right and one of the things that we do know is that the incidence of the positive cases across the country in our quarantine arrangements increased dramatically over the last three to four weeks. And so steps have been taken to ensure that we protect Australia and whilst it's been difficult, I know for the Prime Minister he has taken some flack over some of the steps that have been taken. I think one of the things that we in Tasmania have is the relative security of a of a community that appears to be COVID free and it's something that we're working very hard to protect and so I can understand his view in terms of wanting to protect the country. Obviously the circumstances in India have turned for the worse, I think would be the best way of putting that and we discussed today that those repat flights would resume post the 15th of the month and obviously states and jurisdictions that are capable of taking more will take more.

(End of COVID-related matters)