Friday 19 February 2021 transcript

Last Updated: 23 Mar 2021 2:07pm

Good afternoon

Today I've got with me the Minister for Health, Sarah Courtney; obviously Kathrine Morgan-Wicks from the Department of Health the Secretary there who'll speak about vaccinations as will the Minister for Health.

Now our first priority is to keep Tasmania safe and it's pleasing to note the improving situation around the country following the recent outbreaks of Victoria, New South Wales and WA. COVID, as we know, is unpredictable and obviously we must remain vigilant responsive and agile and if I could once again just thank Tasmanians for their efforts through this; they have done an outstanding job.

Now last week in response to the developing situation in Victoria, and that that state's snap five-day lockdown, we responded accordingly and we identified Victoria as a high-risk area; in addition to the high-risk premises that had already been listed for that state. We recognise the impact these restrictions have had on many people who plan holidays, business and other travel which has been disrupted by these southern restrictions. I'm sorry for that, but I won't apologise for doing everything that we possibly can to keep Tasmania safe. I'm pleased that because of the fast action that was undertaken in Victoria in response to their cases, the contact tracing that went on, and the way that they responded, that the situation has been kept in check. Now Victoria's been able to move to lift its restrictions as of 12.01am yesterday midnight on Wednesday night. And I'm pleased after further monitoring by our Public Health staff over the period since, I can confirm that tonight at 12.01am on Saturday morning so let's just call it midnight tonight, Victoria will move to a low risk designated area again. What that will mean is that people will be able to travel back and forth without quarantine except if they've been to a high risk premises. What it also means is that anyone who's been in Victoria in the 14 days prior to their arrival here, as I've said, will not be required to quarantine.

The high risk premises, which are identified by Public Health and you can see them on the Tas coronavirus website as well - if you've been at one of those high risk premises and I understand that there is a little more than 30 around 33 that are listed at the moment at specified dates and times, you will not be allowed to enter Tasmania. The only way that you would be able to come in is if you're authorised as an essential traveller through the Good 2 Go system which case depending on your circumstances that quarantine or other restrictions could apply importantly. Now this is the same process that we utilised to manage the Victorian situation over the Christmas period. Our Good 2 Go process and the Tas e Travel app worked very effectively and we were able to keep our borders open with them by managing the hot spots. Importantly go to the coronavirus.tas.gov.au website for full details on that list of hotspots and premises. Now for people who are in quarantine due to having either been in Victoria or at a high-risk premises, they're going to be contacted directly by health authorities through the Good 2 Go app and all via by Public Health by text and advise of their individual situation. However, I can provide some advice now if you're currently in quarantine because you've arrived from Victoria on or after February 13 and have not been at a high risk premises, you will be contacted, as I've said, by SMS and you'll be authorised to leave quarantine at 12.01am tonight. I do want to stress however it's important that you wait until you have been contacted and that you've completed the process with authorities before leaving.

Now with regard to Terminal 4 in Melbourne airport which was classified as a hotspot, this classification has now been reduced down from the full footprint only to the café. What that means is that just those people who purchased food or drink from or sat to consume food or drink or in fact just were at that café - Brunetti Cafe - between 4.45am and 2pm on February the 9th, those people will need to remain in quarantine for the full 14-day period. Now anyone else who spent time in Terminal 4 more broadly on the 9th of February and no longer meets the reduced high risk parameters I've just outlined in terms of being at the cafe having sat or ate or drank they'll no longer need to quarantine from 12.01am midnight tonight subject to having had at least one negative test. Now all of the people that are in quarantine, whether in government quarantine or home quarantine have been text regularly and have been advised to ensure that they receive a test so we don't believe that there will be many people that one have not been notified to take a test or those that haven't had a test but you'll need to have at least one negative test.

Now importantly what I would say to those people in quarantine and there are more than 800 in home quarantine more than 100 that are currently in government quarantine wait until you receive the SMS advice in terms of your circumstance. Our call centre will be open later this evening and will be manned, but it's important that you wait until you've received that text advice from Public Health in terms of your circumstance and if you've then got any questions go to the hotline. But I understand the messaging will be clear and will be concise in terms of what you will need to do.

Now in regards to the situation in New South Wales, this is also continue to improve. I'm pleased that we have been reducing the number of high-risk sites over recent days as their 14-day risk period has expired. I understand that there's only around three to four sites currently in New South Wales that are currently hot spots and again the same process applies. If you've been to a hotspot you must apply you will need an exemption to come in. If you've been to one of those sites more than likely you will not be allowed to enter in regards to New Zealand. The current restrictions remain in place at this stage with Auckland, Taranaki, Waikato remaining high risk.

Now I want to provide just a quick update on vaccinations. Minister Courtney and Kathrine will provide further detail in the moment, but I just want to say that our aim is to have fully vaccinated Tasmania's priority populations of around 14 000 people with the Pfizer vaccine by mid-April as we previously mentioned. At the same time, as the start of the vaccinations at the Royal Hobart Hospital next week, which are overseen by state authorities in terms of the priority groups.

The commonwealth I understand, will begin its rollout program of residential aged care and disability care facilities with the first vaccinations being delivered in the north west next week. Yesterday the commonwealth advised that the aged care sites in 12 centres across the north west and north of the state have been targeted for the initial rollout with all facilities to be visited in coming weeks. These centres in the first stage of the rollout in terms of the locations of Burnie, Legana, Newstead, Newman, Norwood, Penguin, Riverside Somerset, St Leonard's, Ulverstone and West Ulverstone and Wynyard. And I understand there are 14 aged or disability care facilities that are in those locations. This is good news for Tasmania.

The vaccine has been a long time coming and I'm very pleased that we're ready to start vaccinating our community both through state health in terms of the high priority list that we have, but also that the commonwealth are rolling out their vaccinations as well into age and disability care in coming weeks. As I've previously, said the vaccinations are safe, they are effective and importantly, they are free. Importantly they've gone through extensive clinical trials and received the necessary approvals. Around 185 million doses have been administered across the world and now we're in line and it's our turn a lot of work has got us to where we are today and for that we should be thankful. There is still a long way to go. It's important we continue to practice COVID safe behaviours you know. Once again I would remind people that the most important thing to be is personally responsible ensure you wash your hands, that you use hand sanitiser, you start appropriately socially distance, follow the directions that are that are provided by the state government. We have done a great job and Tasmania should be rightly proud that not only we one of the safest places in the country we are one of the safest places in the world but it's important that we continue to do the little things to ensure that we stay on top of this I'll now hand over to the Minister of Health Sarah Courtney and to Health Secretary Kath Morgan-Wicks to update you on the preparations the arrival and rollout of the vaccine by the state Health Department

Good afternoon. I'd like to provide an update today on the progress of what is one of the biggest health logistical exercises our country has ever taken has ever undertaken the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine. This has been a major operation and has been underway for some time with planning and preparation heightening this week. As we prepare for the arrival of the vaccine I am very pleased to announce that the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine will now arrive in Tasmania on Sunday afternoon and not Monday as previously advised.

The first doses will be delivered to the Royal Hobart Hospital to the priority groups and the vaccinations will be starting at 9.00am on Tuesday. The first people to be vaccinated will be border and quarantine facilities staff, our vaccination teams including nurses and support staff, staff at our testing clinics, staff who work at public and private laboratories involved in the collection and processing of samples, emergency department staff at both public and private hospitals ICU staff at both public and private hospitals as well as key ambulance personnel. The list of those who will receive their vaccinations next week has been finalised and bookings are well underway. So far we have around 200 people booked in for their first jab on Tuesday. There will be three x three hour vaccination sessions a day at the Royal - one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening - and this is to ensure that we capture many of these people who work on shift work. We'll use all the available doses that we receive in this coming week with the second batch vaccine expected to arrive next Sunday. Those being booked in for their first appointment are also being booked in for their second appointment at least 21 days apart for the two doses to ensure they get the best protection and ensure that we have them booked in.

This program will continue for three weeks at the Royal it will then move to the Launceston General Hospital and then the North West Regional Hospital with the first vaccines expected to arrive at both hospitals on the 15th of March and vaccinations expected to begin on the 16th of March. With regards to these dates, we're continuing to work with the commonwealth, but those are the dates we're planning for at the moment.

I'd like to, before I hand over to the Secretary of the Department Kath Morgan-Wicks, to thank the teams that have been involved in these preparations it has been an enormous logistical challenge so far with regards to planning and it's only the very beginning of what will be an enormous task this year. I really appreciate the engagement of the community. I know that all Tasmanians want to do the right thing. Last year clearly demonstrated that we have a community that is engaged and also a community that wants to protect those that are most vulnerable. This is a big exercise we all have a role to play, so I thank Tasmanians and I ask as we go through this exercise to remain engaged with the messaging to make sure that we can all get vaccinated and keep our community safe. I'll ask Ms Morgan-Wicks to make some comments then we can do questions

Thank you, Minister. Our program to roll out the vaccine is going to plan and we'll be ready to commence vaccinations for phase 1a priority workers at our Royal Hobart Pfizer Hub on Tuesday next week. Staff will complete a final dry run today before arrival of the vaccine to the secure pharmacy premises on Sunday. Our pharmacy teams and clinical nurse coordinators will then prepare the vaccines including breaking the tray, bringing the vials up to safe temperatures ready for depending dilution, and drawing up ready for the clinics which will commence, as the Minister mentioned, on Tuesday morning. All of these steps are done under strict temperature controls and time logging to ensure that no spoiling or wastage occurs and we expect to vaccinate between 975 and 1,170 priority workers in the first week and are expecting as the Minister mentioned around 200 to receive their first dose on Tuesday.

Now this is a slow and steady rollout for our vaccination rollout with approximately a thousand worker vaccinations a week for the first three weeks and then ramping up in week four with the start of the second doses and the opening of our LGH and north west regional Pfizer hubs as more vaccine arrives into Tasmania. Everyone in phase 1a will be individually contacted and booked into attend a vaccination clinic or if you are in a nursing aged care or disability care facility the commonwealth teams will be visiting you and contacting you to arrange your appointments.

Now while our current focus is on the priority groups in phase 1a we are already looking ahead in terms of the next priority groups in phase 1b which is expected to commence in Tasmania in April. Phase 1b will include older people over the age of 70, remaining healthcare workers, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, over 18 adults with underlying medical conditions, and critical and high risk workers including defence, emergency services and meat processing.

Our phase 2a is likely to commence in June, depending on the availability of vaccines so the volume that's coming into Tasmania. If you fall into phase 1b or 2a you do not need to do anything.

Now we will ensure that Tasmanians are given plenty of notice of when the next phase will start and what people are expected to do in terms of booking an appointment. For example, the first groups in phase 1b will be known groups: the rest of the health workforce, home and community carers, police officers, etc and we will contact them directly to make that appointment. Beyond that there will be a public call out and multiple booking methods for people to book into their GP or into a government state clinic. We're working closely with commonwealth health to make sure that there is sufficient coverage across Tasmania of participating GPs in phase 1b and pharmacists in phase 2. Where there might be a gap, we will ensure that there are state-run vaccination clinics or mobile vaccination clinics to reach you, so unless you have been contacted to make an appointment to have a vaccine don't worry;, you don't need to ring it as it's not yet your time, but we will be using a range of communications to tell Tasmanians about our plan for the rollout including advertising and updating our frequently asked questions on coronavirus.tas.gov.au.

Now finally I'd just like to update you on our recent COVID laboratory testing figures. On Tuesday February the 16th we had 814 laboratory tests conducted up to 6pm, on Wednesday 918, and on Thursday 729. So obviously we've had a significant increase as a result of the Victorian situation and I know that the Director of Public Health, Mark Veitch, would want to see these increased testing numbers continue as I do too. So thank you and I look forward to the next update when we'll be able to provide you with a report of how our first week of vaccinations went thank you.

We will take questions in relation to vaccination.

Are you expecting a significant lag in getting this vaccine out to rural and regional areas? No, just so in terms of the actual rollout to our remote and rural areas it does depend in terms of the volume of vaccines that are coming into Tasmania. As I mentioned, it is a slow and steady rollout first targeting our priority healthcare workers and groups and also our aged care and disability care so we are working closely with the commonwealth in terms of the volumes that are expected for the vaccines.

You did a call out for nurses to help with this vaccination program - how did that go? Did enough people sign up? So we have had a fantastic interest in terms of people that are wanting to work in our vaccination program so remembering that our authorised immunisers in the state cover both our GPs and also our nurses and we've gone to registered nurses but also our enrolled nurses so our more junior and learning nurses to become part of that program because a lot of people a lot of members of our staff actually want to be part of the covert vaccination roll out and it's going to be certainly one for their CVs in future.

When it comes to booking methods, will that cater for people that don't have access to digital technologies such as computers or smartphones? Yes, and certainly for those that are well used to making an appointment with their GP, to see their GP, and particularly for those with other underlying medical conditions it's important that they do have access to a system so that they can attend their GP and receive the vaccination. So there will be multiple methods in terms of booking including a catch-up process in terms of looking at where we're actually getting vaccination rates across Tasmania and making sure that everyone is covered.

We hope this wouldn't be the case, but if people in the first priority group don't want the vaccine for whatever reason, is that a requirement for them to keep working in those high-risk areas? So there is no mandatory requirement for the COVID vaccination program and particularly in relation to health care workers. For example, I've had questions from, for example, pregnant or breastfeeding health care workers in relation to the vaccine and the timing in which they should actually apply to receive the shot so we're working with those health care workers and making sure that we're following the TGA conditions to the letter for the rollout of each vaccine.

In Tasmania will it only be, at this stage, will it only be the Pfizer vaccine that is rolled out? The Pfizer vaccine is being rolled out in phase 1a. In phase 1b we're expecting the AstraZeneca vaccine and we're working with the commonwealth about the expected volumes of AstraZeneca coming into Tasmania.

It will be the AstraZeneca that's rolled out at the aged care facilities - is that correct? So, no, the Pfizer vaccine will be rolled out for our aged care residents and disability care residents from week one.

How dangerous are anti-vax campaigns? Well, look, we know that Tasmanians have a very high vaccination rate; we've seen that in recent years with flu vaccines and meningococcal vaccines so I'm expecting that Tasmanians will have a really high take-up rate.

When will you get a vaccination? I'm expecting to get a vaccination when it's my turn.

Will people be able to choose which vaccine they do receive? So the vaccination process will make sure that it's delivered in a safe way so in terms of the choice of vaccination as was outlined by the Secretary of the Department, different vaccinations may be used in the in the different phases and it's also actually important to recognise that there are also vaccines still in development so what we are doing is we're planning our rollouts with the current vaccines that are approved by the TGA and as they are rolled out through varying phases then your vaccine will be applicable to the group that you're in.

Obviously different producers produce different vaccines but functionally they're the same thing – correct? Well we know that the all the vaccines we have here in Australia and the ones that we have for COVID the Pfizer one the AstraZeneca have both been approved by the TGA. I want to assure Tasmanians, and indeed our entire Australian community, that these vaccines are safe and they're effective. We're not going to be rolling out anything that is not approved by the TGA.

What were the main logistical hurdles that you had to overcome to make sure this rolled out smoothly? One of the big logistical hurdles is the temperature that the vaccine needs to be stored at. It's an unusually cold temperature, so that creates challenges for transporting the vaccine. It creates challenges for handling it and it also creates challenges in the way that you have to monitor it to be defrosted so that has been one of the big challenges with this vaccine. Also the fact that this vaccine is a multi-dose vial so within each vial of the vaccine and they're very small vials there are between five and six doses, so we're handling them quite a lot. So there are quite a lot of logistical challenges involved before we even get to the point of a nurse or a practitioner coming to the patient with a needle.

Are you confident that we have the specialty expertise in Tasmania to meet those logistical challenges? I'm very confident we've got the specialty expertise we need. From our pharmacy staff which have been leading a lot of the logistical work the clinicians overseeing it that authorised immunisers both in our hospitals and across the entire community, we have got a lot of various field operators and importantly, we've got a lot of people that want to participate within this vaccination program. We know considering Tasmania is very large, and we have a large regional community, it is going to be a team effort and we demonstrated last year when we were fighting COVID originally, that the team effort that we had included both public system the private system, our GPs and our pharmacists. So our rollout will make sure that we're including all those key health providers across our community.

Thank you, Minister.

Was it concerning that three new coronavirus cases were detected in Victoria? Well, as I understand it, in terms of those three cases, they've all been in quarantine. The two of them, I think, were linked to the original hotel. One was a family member linked as well and so in that in that circumstances the fact that they've been in quarantine my understanding is that there is very little risk.

Is the travel bubble between Tasmania and New Zealand still on track for March? Well, look obviously this is a matter for the New Zealand government. You know we are managing New Zealand with a hotspot arrangement in terms of those three locations that I've mentioned. We're open at this end. The ball is firmly in the New Zealand government's quarters as to when they would allow people to travel into their country from ours without quarantine.

What role, what category are you in? Look, I would think I'd be in the over 50 or 55 category to be honest. I'm just looking at Kath – yes, I think that's getting the nod. Well can I just say you know and I've said this earlier, I was asked when I'd be taking the jab, I would not want to take somebody else's place that's working on our frontline. Yeah, I think it's important that, you know, when it's appropriate that I receive the jab, you know, if there is a need for me to receive one earlier than the age group that I'm in, then I would obviously do so in terms of ensuring that people were confident that the leadership in this state was prepared to undertake the jab. But I'll wait my turn and get in line.

Have you had a conversation with your other Ministers about whether they're planning on getting the vaccine as well? My understanding is that the entire Ministry will take the jab when it's appropriate.