In these precarious times, protecting Tasmanians has to come first
From the start of the COVID-19 health crisis, the focus for us all has been on keeping Tasmanians safe.
With an older and more vulnerable population, early action was needed to save lives and prevent the virus from taking hold here. And, even with the introduction of strong border controls, we saw how quickly it can take off, with the outbreak in the state’s North West causing so much pain and hardship.
One of the few positives to come out of the pandemic has been seeing Tasmanians came together and take the precautions needed to get on top of the virus and keep our communities safe, putting our state in an enviable position.
But, as we all watch with growing alarm as the situation interstate worsens, it is clear that there is no room for complacency – we only need to look at Victoria to see how rapidly this virus spreads and how fast conditions can change.
That’s why we need to make our processes as strong as possible – to do all we can to keep COVID-19 out of the state and ensure we don’t see the same thing happening here.
With no active cases in Tasmania, the decision to keep our borders shut to all but essential travellers until at least the end of the month is understandable. But that alone is not enough to protect us from what is happening just across Bass Strait.
As people continue to come into the state every day, protection of public health is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain and troublingly we are seeing too many weak links right now.
Over the past few weeks, concerns have been raised with us about numerous issues relating to arrivals into Tasmania and the potential for a second wave here. Weak points have been identified at various stages of the process.
Among the glaring examples, passengers have been transferred from ports and airports on crowded buses, with no provision of personal protective equipment, and the transfer of passengers from buses to hotel quarantine has been badly managed, with the potential for mingling between passengers and members of the public.
Gaps in the testing of arrivals to the state are also causing widespread community alarm.
The government has decided the risk from all states and territories is too great to ease border restrictions, which means that no-one should be allowed to come to Tasmania from anywhere across the country and be exempt from quarantine without first getting tested for COVID-19.
At the moment, only essential workers arriving from Victoria or other hotspots are tested and, worryingly, they aren’t required to quarantine while they wait for a result.
The Government’s own website says that essential workers granted an exemption from quarantine need to get tested for COVID within 24 hours of arrival and that they can work prior to getting a test and while waiting for a result. This means they can be on the worksite and in our community for days before a result is known. And even then, who is following up to make sure they get tested?
With more than 20 thousand Tasmanians losing their jobs as a result of the virus, it is crucial we only take essential workers in exceptional circumstances where it is proven that a Tasmanian can’t do the job.
We also need mandatory testing for all arrivals to Tasmania from Victoria and other hotspots on the first day of their quarantine and then again on the 12th day.
And anyone granted an exemption from quarantine must be subject to mandatory testing on their arrival into Tasmania – regardless of where they are travelling from.
Tasmanians also want to know what might be in store should there be any further outbreaks in the state.
The government needs to explain its future COVID-19 management strategy, including how any future outbreaks will be managed. This is one of the priority actions in the Premier’s own Economic and Social Advisory Council’s (PESRAC) interim report. And yet, two weeks after the report’s release, there has been no response from the Government.
Tasmanians have done a great job in fighting the spread of COVID-19 in the community and they need confidence that any new cases will be managed properly.
We have been lucky in Tasmania but we know the danger is far from over. The consequences of letting our guard down now are far too great to take any risks.
The Government needs to act urgently to close these gaps in our defence against the virus and protect Tasmanians from the consequences of a preventable mistake.