Coronavirus update | Wednesday 26 May 2021

Last Updated: 27 May 2021 5:01pm

Good afternoon everyone. Today, I am joined by Dr Veitch, Secretary of the Department of Health Kathryn Morgan-Wicks, and I also have with me Gary Swain who’s the Deputy Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure, and once we finish the COVID address, there’s an update, an urgent update, that I need to provide in terms of the Tasman Highway near Orford and some planning that’s going on there that will have a disruption on the East Coast travel later this week.

Now, in the past 24 hours, Tasmania’s Public Health authorities have continued to obviously manage what’s been going on in Victoria very closely.

There are now, this is a little bit of a moving feast, but now 23 active cases of COVID-19 in Victoria, with 15 of those linked to the current outbreak.

In response, Tasmania’s Public Health Service has declared a number of premises and a Local Government area as high-risk.

A list can be found on the Tasmania coronavirus website.

Travellers intending to enter Tasmania who were at any of the identified high-risk premises - I would urge people to check the website, there are w a number of high-risk premises that have been added to in the course of the day -, check for those premises, but also the Whittlesea Local Government area which was designated last night as well as high risk.

Travellers will not be permitted to enter Tasmania, unless approved as an essential traveller from those areas or premises.

Travellers currently in Tasmania who were in Victoria on or since Thursday the 6th of May are asked to check the list of high-risk premises, and anyone who spent time at any of the sites at the specified dates and time listed should self-isolate immediately and call the Public Health hotline for further advice.

Victorian health authorities also advise that one of the confirmed cases attended an AFL game at the MCG on Sunday.

Anyone who attended the game and was sat in zone 4, Level 1 of the Great Southern Stand with the bay between M1 and M16 on their match ticket should self-isolate immediately and contact the Public Health hotline for further advice, and if anyone now in Tasmania attended that game, they should monitor themselves for symptoms, and if they develop any cold and flu-like symptoms, they should self-isolate and contact the Public Health hotline immediately.

Likewise, if you’ve not visited any of the high-risk locations listed but have been in Victoria generally and develop any symptoms of COVID-19, please contact the Public Health hotline to book a test.

I ask people to remain aware that the situation in Victoria is generating a lot of calls to our Public Health hotline.

There was a spike this morning, but wait times have returned to normal, and we have provided additional staff as well.

The Public Health hotline provides the information required for tests, vaccinations, as well as answer questions for what will obviously be a large number of people that may have travelled in or through Victoria in recent times.

We continue to monitor the situation in Victoria closely and respond proactively, as we have always done.

I’d make the point, with Victoria obviously monitoring this on an hour by hour, day by day basis, should they decide to take further action, as has occurred at other times when other states have put in broader lockdowns, then Public Health will assess, Tasmanian Public Health will assess that situation and make recommendations in terms of what we should do here.

We’re not at that point as yet, but should there be a need to take further action, then we will act very quickly, based on Public Health advice.

I also want to provide today just a very quick update on vaccinations and make the point, and I want to lean into this quite heavily, the Victoria situation is a very clear signal to get vaccinated.

We’ve done very well in Tasmania, and at the moment I can report that more than 101,000 or over 23% of Tasmanians 16 years or over,  in the group that the vaccine’s available to, have now received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and some 22,000, or thereabouts, Tasmanians had their second dose as well.

So, Tasmanians are responding, they are getting the jab, but if ever you wanted a wake-up call as to why it’s important to get vaccinated, I think what we’re seeing occur in Victoria right now is exactly the reason why.

Now, importantly, the vaccination program is ramping up.

We’ve increased doses of Pfizer being made available, and we will have available to us just south of 25,000 jabs each week available, 24,600 available each week.

Importantly, with Pfizer, this has been reported recently, being able to be stored for around a month at 2C to 8C instead of only five days, this will make the rollout easier as well in terms of ensuring Pfizer is more easily transported.

Now, importantly, we’ve got Pfizer clinics at Swansea, Flinders Island, Cape Barren Island and King Island, as well as in Smithton on the West Coast in coming weeks, and there are obviously the Pfizer clinics that we have already stood up as well.

I would urge eligible Tasmanians to make contact, book a vaccination.

If ever there was a time that a very clear message is being sent that getting vaccinated is a good idea, a sensible idea, one that importantly is going to ensure that we protect ourselves, our families and our community, what’s occurring in Victoria is that message loud and clear.

So, I’ll hand over to Dr Veitch to just chat a little bit more about the Victorian situation but, again, I would stress, with Victoria monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis, if they determine that there is a need for broader lockdowns, then we will take advice from Public Health and, if necessary, then we will implement further measures, but based on Public Health advice.

Thank you, Premier.

So the Victorian situation is a very good example of how quickly things can change and how important it is that we do take every opportunity we can to get vaccinated when it's presented to us. Victoria had managed a case of coronavirus who had been infected in South Australia and then travelled to Victoria and became infectious in the community in Victoria at the start of this month. It actually appeared that there'd be no onward transmission from that person and 14 days after that person entered quarantine in Victoria. Tasmania and other jurisdictions were able to take some reassurance we thought that the risk associated with that case was over but unfortunately there has been some onward transmission from that case once they probably - before they went into quarantine in Victoria - after they left South Australia before they went into quarantine in Victoria. And the first evidence of that onward transmission appeared over the weekend and that shows us that if there's cases of coronavirus in the community you can have several chains of transmission you can pose a risk to quite a large part of the population before it's apparent.

So upon learning of these new cases that were suspected of being related to the to the case out of south Australia and they were suspected as being related because they lived in the same Local Government Area and also there was some signals from the sewage surveillance in Victoria in that area that indicated the possibility of a case in that catchment - so once that was determined, Victoria sprang into action and initiated contact tracing around that latest case. And as you heard from the Premier 15 cases have been diagnosed really in the last three days and I think we should expect that there will be more cases diagnosed as the contacts of those cases are followed up and tested.

It's been principally described as the Whittlesea cluster and that's because the cases were at first all associated with three households in the Whittlesea area, however, there has been some spread beyond that. There have been a couple of episodes of transmission in workplaces related to those cases but the somewhat good news is that to date all of the cases that have been diagnosed in Victoria have some sort of link to each other so there's no truly mystery cases arising. It's not clear what the link is between the South Australian case and the first case in this chain of transmission but all of the cases to date have been workplace, households and the like clusters. As a consequence of the number of these cases and the mobility of the cases, Victoria has identified a number of locations both in Whittlesea and increasingly over the last couple of days in other parts of Melbourne and a couple in regional Victoria where cases have moved while they've been infectious and there's really quite a long list of exposure sites on the website so I would refer anyone who's been in Victoria in the last, since the 6th of May to look at those sites on our website which will list the Victorian sites of exposure. I you have been to any of those sites we're asking you to contact our Public Health Hotline and the people on the Public Health Hotline will assess your risk and will arrange testing and provide advice to you on the need for quarantine.

And the Premier noted that the exposure at the MCG - that's a fairly specific location but albeit there's quite a few thousand people in those bays but people who are who are in that particular part of the MCG we want to get in touch with our Public Health Hotline. They'll probably also be contacted by Victoria in the coming day or so who's tracing those people and so far we've had 40 people contact our Public Health Hotline to say that they are at the Collingwood versus Port Adelaide game last Sunday night.

Public Health has been acting on this since Monday and we've done two main things first of all as the exposure sites in Victoria were identified I’ve declared those as high risk premises and they've been listed on our website. We have sent SMS messages to people every day who are in Tasmania who've recently been in Victoria advising them to please check the website and that list of premises and that if they've been at any of them to contact the Public Health Hotline.

The other consequence of declaring these locations - these premises as high risk locations is that people who wish to enter Tasmania from Victoria have to consider whether they've been at these sites and people who have been at these sites won't be allowed to enter Tasmania for the time being unless they're accepted by the Deputy State Controller. The other thing that Public Health has done is we've declared Whittlesea as a high risk area because mainly of our concern around the middle of the month that there may have been missed cases of transmission in Whittlesea and some uncertainty as to whether or not that could have been giving rise to the community outbreak in the Whittlesea area. As I said, it's encouraging that despite a lot of testing the cases that all seem to be quite closely linked to existing cases but it's still possible that there's some missed cases in the Whittlesea area so we're asking anybody who is in Tasmania now who's been in the Whittlesea area since the 6th of May to arrange a test and to isolate until you get a negative test.

I’m sure that that that the vast majority and I hope all of those tests will be negative but it's very important for your own personal reassurance and to ensure that you're not posing a risk to Tasmania to get that test if you've been in Whittlesea since the 6th of May.

Also because of the declaration we'll see as a high-risk area people who have been in the Whittlesea Local Government Area which is the edge of outer northern Melbourne will not be allowed to enter Tasmania unless they're accepted by the Deputy State Comptroller.

So I might just leave it there and pass over to Kathryn Morgan-Wicks the Departmental Secretary and I’ll take questions later.

Thank you, Mark.

Today the Department of Health's clear message to the Tasmanian community is do not wait to vaccinate. If you are aged over 50, do not wait - book in for a vaccination. If you are aged under 50 so our 16 to 49 year age group and have a medical condition do not wait vaccinate. And as Mark and the Premier have mentioned, do not wait - vaccination is your best protection.

Now as the Premier has said we are currently in week 14 of the program and over 23 per cent of Tasmanians over 16 years of age have received at least their first vaccine dose. That is 101 900 Tasmanians. Over 122 000 doses overall have now been delivered in Tasmania. In terms of a more detailed breakdown of the doses that have been delivered across our different settings we have delivered over 60 000 doses in state clinics, almost 10 000 have been delivered in aged care and almost 52 000 have been delivered by our GPs. In terms of regional coverage across the state, almost 24 of those who live in the north of the state have received their first dose; almost 18 in the north west and over 20 in the south of the state have received their first dose. And our community clinics continue to open across the state. We are on King Island this week and are opening a clinic in Smithton next week. The community clinics that are currently accepting bookings for people aged 50 years and over are: Huonville, Kingston, Rosny, Brighton, Devonport, Latrobe and Triabunna.

A reminder to everyone that our clinics will move around over time as one clinic closes after delivering the first dose, the clinic will move to another location in its community and then we'll come back to that first location to deliver the second dose 12 weeks later if it's an AstraZeneca or three weeks later if it's a Pfizer clinic. Now these clinics are in place for a limited amount of time, so I do encourage everyone to make a booking to avoid missing out when the clinic is in your area.

The increased doses of the Pfizer vaccine and changes to storage requirements mean that we can take more of the vaccine into different areas of the state. As the Premier has noted again in terms of emphasizing who we want to come forward for vaccination: that is everyone who is 50 years and older and if you are living with an underlying health condition such as cancer, heart, lung or liver disease diabetes, or a chronic inflammatory condition, or if you are living with a disability, you can make a booking.

Now people who are carers paid and unpaid are also currently eligible, so if this is you or someone you know, you can book online at www.coronavirus.tas.gov.au or please call the Public Health Hotline on 1800-671-738 to make a booking.

Ffinally if you're eligible for a vaccine, but you have concerns about your own personal circumstances, please do talk to your GP or treating health professional and have an informed discussion about the risks and benefits before you make a decision on vaccination.

And I’d like to end by thanking everyone that is working tirelessly across our public health teams and across our state vaccination clinics and our GPs and primary care network. it's a whole of community effort to make sure that Tasmania is vaccinated.

So I’ll open up for vaccine questions.

Are you happy with the number of vaccines that are being delivered per week and has there been much hesitation from the community? So it's been really positive to see the biggest week in vaccination that we've experienced Australia-wide but also in Tasmania last week with over 18 000 or so vaccinations actually getting distributed. But it's reminders like what's happening in Victoria at the moment that outbreaks are not going to wait in terms of vaccination. It's important to absolutely get vaccinated and to make that booking.

There's been in South Australia - they're changing the requirements of who can get the Pfizer about the same - do you think we'll ever get to a point where people younger than 50 could be getting Pfizer? So certainly for the Pfizer vaccine which is recommended for our under 50s in Tasmania, we're already vaccinating our 16 to 49 year old group and we're also in our remote and rural areas. So for example, last week we were on Flinders Island and we opened up to the over 16 market and certainly in King Island this week if you are aged over 16, we'll have the Pfizer that's available to you for vaccination in our 16 to 49 year old group and AstraZeneca for over 50s.

And what would you say is the minimum timeframe between deciding you want to get the vaccine and actually getting the jab? So it can actually be done very quickly in terms of if you decide to make a booking today, we have bookings available. We have bookings available right across our state and certainly you know we're aware of people that are booking for example in the south here for you know appointments at the end of the week. And we've got bookings running out for the next six weeks in our clinics.

It's understood that the two or that some of the people that have now contracted COVID-19 were eligible to be vaccinated but for whatever reason didn't; do you think that would change now what might be some complacency in the community to actually come forward and get their jab? Are you expecting a bit of a surge in a rush now that that's happened? So this morning, for example, with at one point we had some 200 callers who were in the queue. 100 were sitting in our vaccination bookings queue and about 100 asking questions about testing or calling up to book a test. So I think this morning we can already see the response to the Victorian situation and it's just so critical that people are actually ringing up and making that booking.

Is this outbreak a sign that contact tracing is still important in Tasmania? I think I was actually meant to say that I think that what this shows it shows really three things and the first thing actually is what Kath just said that we've absolutely got to get people vaccinated whenever they get an opportunity to take their part in the queue to get their vaccine to just get it, please, because we've done it well. We have 20 something percent of the population having had at least one dose, but we're not going to have protection of the population from disease spreading in our closely mixing community until we get a far higher level of protection more like 80 of the eligible population vaccinated. So we've got quite a long way to go. People need to take their opportunity and need to keep at it so getting vaccinated is tremendously important and that's what Victoria the Victorian experience is telling us. It tells us also that contact tracing is critically important. Most of the cases in Victoria have been people who have been identified as household family contacts but there's also been a very large number of people exposed at public settings such as bars and nightclubs in Prahran, a number of retail places and also in the MCG and it's those sort of more public settings where the devices such as Check-in Tas or the equivalent in other states is tremendously important to help the more basic straightforward contact tracing. You have these electronic techniques to also provide support and reach out to a large number of people who are at risk, so in a word yes contact racing is going to be tremendously important and until we've got enough of the population vaccinated that it's unlikely for disease to spread we'll be contact tracing people around cases.

It's understood the case in Melbourne is the Indian variant, can you confirm that that is the case and is that more cause of alarm? It has been made public that it is a strain that has been associated with people coming from India. We need to bear in mind the fact that India has the biggest outbreak at the moment so it's not entirely surprising that the cases that crop up in various parts of the world have their origin in India. And if is an Indian strain, there's a couple of variations of that strain one of which may have a greater propensity to spread; one possibly a lesser propensity to spread or probably it's not an increased propensity to spread. So it is the Indian variant but we know from the experience of other states that have managed similar strains, you can manage it if you put in place your contact tracing, some social restrictions and requirements for mask wearing and the like. So even these more transmissible strains can be contained with the measures that we have.

And of the 40 people that contacted you to say that they were at that AFL game, do you know where they were and were they in the zone where the infected person was? The contact tracing team's working through that at the moment, so they will assess each of those people and we'll also get some additional information from Victoria about that will help us define the risks they're at. So sorry I can't give you an answer to that but they're working through it.

Okay, any questions for the Premier?

Thank you. I’ll just - before I just touch on these state roads - any questions on what we just discussed?

Yes, in terms of obviously Dark MOFO though, it's only a few weeks away and a lot of those people are coming from Melbourne. At what point will you close borders to - you know - the wider Melbourne areas? Look, obviously, as I’ve said, Melbourne are monitoring this on an hour-by-hour basis. Day by day we'll be informed by their Public Health officials and obviously our Public Health officials are in touch with them daily. And should they make the decision that they do have a wider community transmission in Victoria, then obviously depending on what lockdowns they might put in, our Public Health officials will determine what's right for Tasmania. Now I would hope that the contact tracers can get on top of this and get on top of it quickly and that we don't have widespread community transmission in Victoria but as I’ve said if Public Health advice is that we should restrict other parts of Victoria or other parts of Melbourne or close the borders completely to Victoria then we would do something.

But I just want to make the point of just touching on the matter that the Health Secretary touched on it is so important right now for Tasmanians to vaccinate now don't hesitate don't wait vaccinate now it is important we've done such a fantastic job here we've led the country in terms of the percentage of our population that we have been able to vaccinate to this point in time. We have doses available now turn up get the jab protect yourself - protect your community - protect the state.