Coronavirus update | Friday 19 April 2021

Last Updated: 22 Apr 2021 11:35am

Sorry for taking a little bit longer today, but it was a good discussion that we had at National Cabinet.

With me today, Dale Webster, Deputy Secretary of the THS or Secretary of the Department of Health, and he’s in charge of rolling out the vaccine programme here in Tassie and, obviously, Dr Mark Veitch.

Now, look, as I’ve said on many occasions, protecting the safety, health and wellbeing of Tasmanians has been our number one priority. And that continues to be our number one priority as we roll out the vaccination program.

Here in Tasmania, we're doing well, in fact, we’re the best performing state in the nation for vaccine rollout and state-run clinics, and we remain on track to achieve our targets under the first phase of the ongoing rollout.

As at the 16th of April, we have completed just under 55,000 COVID-19 vaccination doses here in Tasmania, and that's around 11%, a little over 11% of Tasmanians over the age of 18.

So, this is the highest percentage of any state or territory in the country.

So in that regard, we're going well.

I do want to just compliment the hard work and dedication of our amazing teams.

People are doing a very, very good job, and I want to thank our health professionals that are working around the clock to vaccinate Tasmanians.

There is a long way to go, and it's critical though that as many Tasmanians as possible get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

We simply can't afford to go backwards, it's absolutely imperative that we get this vaccination program right.

With all that in mind, today's National Cabinet met and considered a number of issues, a number of things that we discussed, agreed in principle and there’ll be further work done in the next couple of days.

We'll be meeting again on Thursday this week, I expect.

Now, importantly, as has been the case throughout COVID-19, all Governments will continue to follow the medical and scientific advice.

And in relation to AstraZeneca, their advice is that the vaccine is safe, that it's recommended for people over 50 years of age and people who are eligible should discuss their personal circumstances with their GP, nothing has changed in terms of that advice.

Importantly, National Cabinet reaffirmed its commitment to prioritise and work through the remaining people in the high-risk cohorts in Phase 1A and 1B, particularly those in aged care and disability settings.

We also spoke about ensuring clear communication in terms of the rollout to aged care and disability settings, and we had a very positive and constructive discussion.

We've agreed, that is that Tasmania has agreed and, obviously, there will be some further work that will be done on this, that we’ll support the Commonwealth with its rollout in these important settings by providing vaccinations for staff in aged care and disability service facilities in Tasmania.

We'll do that through our state-based clinics, but also, I would expect, that GPs would play a role as well, and the timeframe of that will be discussed in the coming days, and we'll be looking at what that schedule might look like as we move forward from Thursday.

Once a timetable has been agreed, my expectation would be that the Department of Health would be in touch with Tasmanian facilities to obtain details of staff, so that bookings can be made.

National Cabinet, also we discussed bringing forward the start of the act of access to AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged between 50 and 69, but there’s further work to be done on that, and we'll have more to save once National Cabinet has met again.

We're going to continue to meet twice a week for the foreseeable future, as we recalibrate the plan moving forward.

But before I hand over to Dale Webster to provide more detail, I want to once again and just reassure Tasmanians that in terms of the process that we're working our way through here, there will be vaccine available for you and, importantly, just follow the timetable that’s laid out.

There is a little bit of change, and I know that can be disconcerting, but at the end of the day, you know, work with us, as you have done right through this, we will continue to provide clear messaging in terms of what the rollout looks like and when it's your turn and, importantly, where you can get the vaccine.

Ensure that if you've got any concerns, you can talk with your own health provider in terms of these matters.

And, importantly, the steps that the state have been taking, and I do want to once again just commend the Department of Health and Dale and his team, you know, it’s logistically a very difficult exercise, but they are doing particularly well, and as we stand at the moment, we are leading the country in terms of the numbers of Tasmanian adults over the age of 18 that have been vaccinated.

And so, I think very well done, Dale, and I’ll hand over to you for an update on the numbers.

Thank you.

Thank you, Premier.

I’d like to give that update on the numbers. We're now in our ninth week; today we've delivered 28 630 doses in state clinics; the commonwealth through aged care disability and disability rollout have delivered 6 127 doses; and GP clinics across the Tasmania have delivered 19 911 doses. That brings us to a total of 54 668 as at the close of business last Friday.

We now have seven government community clinics running. We have operations at Kingston, Bridgewater, New Norfolk, Mowbray, Latrobe, Wynyard and Deloraine. From next week we will have four Pfizer hubs: one's at the Royal Hobart Hospital, Launceston General Hospital and North West Regional Hospital and we'll also open one at the Mersey Community Hospital as well.

We'll have more community clinics available in other locations over the next few weeks. We're determining the locations of our community clinics based on existing population data, the coverage of the GPs participating and also the priority populations in each of those areas. We'll have more detail over the next week or two.

We've had very positive feedback on how our community clinics are running and I’d like to recognise our local stakeholders, particularly councils and Rotary clubs who have been working with us to support the rollout and doing important work such as helping people with their consent forms, direction to clinics and things like that.

I also want to remind everyone how easy it is to make a booking for a vaccine. So for the Tasmanian state government clinics you can now visit the site and you can make an online booking for a state government clinic or if you need assistance with booking because you're not familiar with online you can now ring the Tasmanian Public Health Hotline which is 1-800-671-738.

I want to reiterate what the Premier has said about the importance of vaccination. Vaccination is the best way for people to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community. If you're eligible for a vaccine but you have concerns about your personal circumstances, please see your GP and have an informed discussion about the risks and benefits before you make your decision.

Finally an update on the COVID-19 testing rates. There were 1 579 tests conducted in the last 72 hours to last night and there have been 204 800 tests conducted since the second of March 2021.

Talk me through the rollout now to aged care and disability workers; so Tasmania will be taking responsibility from that. How many people will Tasmania be vaccinating? Is it that whole load or are you sharing that with the Commonwealth still? In principle, we've agreed to take on that whole load which is approximately 12 000 additional people in our rollout. Remembering our rollout is eventually over 400 000 so it is an extra load in the short term, but balanced across the doses that we’ll deliver this year; it's only an extra load.

And why is that happening exactly? So aged care and disability workers are were considered right from the start to be phase 1a. The decision around the ATAGI advice the week before last means that we would like to speed that up that rollout to that particular cohort and we believe that by opening up our clinics and Pfizer hubs which gives those workers extra options, we'll get through them faster and that means that they'll get protection earlier.

So with those 12 000, does that delay the rollout with other people or is that just worked into the original delivery? It's worked into the original delivery and we'll also work with the Commonwealth to make sure that we may having the rest of the rollout occur, but at the moment we're fairly happy with the number of doses being allocated Tasmania and we have the capacity to take on an extra load.

And so was it just a matter of the Commonwealth couldn't keep up with the demand nationally? Why has Tasmania had to step in? Why was it delayed? So the Commonwealth rollout was to be done over a period of time. It's just a decision has been made to bring it forward and have the state take that over so it's really around which groups should we prioritise going forward rather than anything's gone wrong.

And how long is that expected to take? So adding that 12 000, we would expect that we would be finished that group by the end of July depending on what they their choice basically so we'll direct a lot of them to the Pfizer as per the ATAGI advice, but some of them may make an informed decision to take AstraZeneca and of course if they're over 50 the advice is that AstraZeneca is appropriate.

Any questions for Dr Veitch?

I didn't want to ask about the Check In app being mandatory from May first, I’m not sure which of these three people that would be that's directed towards, particularly just that it's election day, I think that's where I’m interested: whether people have to check in? Thanks. You're right that the first of May was the day we chose for Check In Tas and I can't recall whether, at the time, we knew that that was going to be an election day. I don't think we did. Obviously we're not going to, you know, the election day is a very is a special day and the arrangements for the polling and the arrangements for the tally rooms and the vote counting has all been subject to COVID safety planning. So for example, the tally room at the Grand Chancellor, will people will be required to check in using Check In Tas at that event? I don't think we have a requirement for people to check in when they go to the polling place.

So you're not worried about people having to wait a long time in line, particularly given – I assume - not as many people can go inside and just get it done? The polling places have committed to arranging their circumstances to minimise crowding and to spread out queues.

So will you have public health officials or whatever on the ground? No, no, these people are very familiar with running these sort of events. They do them every - you know - every four years and they do them at intervals between so we need to follow a plan that creates COVID safety circumstances.

So crowds and inside holding places, what's the density there? I think I’m just really refreshing. The density in a public space is one to two square meters - in general indoor settings. And I don't see that one per two square meters is quite a dense crowd. It's considerably denser than the number of people we have in this room and I don't expect that that would be a risk in a well-managed polling place.

So you're confident there won’t be long lines because of these (inaudible)? There's always lines at the polling place, but I can't see that the need to be a couple of feet further apart is going to create a major difficulty. Perhaps they'll get closer to the school gates than they would normally, but I don't see it as a big problem.

And what's the rule on sausage sizzles? Sausage sizzles can be conducted if they can conduct that in a COVID-safe way; they can choose to do that. Also, if they're running a sizzle they may we'll have to make sure that they've got the appropriate arrangements with the council for food safety and the like.

Thank you.

That will put a lot of people’s minds at rest.

Particularly mine.

Premier, just on how the commonwealth then has handled its side of vaccine rollout, is the decision today an admission or a suggestion on your part that they just weren't getting it (inaudible)? No, it's not. No, what it is, right throughout this, we've taken an overall responsibility for people in Tasmania. We've got capacity to assist and so we're assisting. Now in terms of the commonwealth rollout - across the state - in terms of what they with their roll out to residents, and that is running broadly on track. Yeah, it's had a slow start-up, but it's now running well and truly as it should. Now we've just simply offered that in terms of this cohort, which are seem to be a higher risk cohort, that we've got capacity and so that we'll step in and we'll assist with that.

And is Tasmania the only state to put its hand up and say we'll take this on? No, look, in principle, you know all other states and territories are comfortable to assist where they can as well and that's now possible.

This is possibly a question for Mr Webster: what's the date now - do we know - for the whole population to be vaccinated? Look, and that, look that has been discussed on many occasions by the Prime Minister and by Paul Kelly. Obviously it relies upon when we got the supply of the vaccine. As we know, we've had a step change in terms of over 50 and under 50s in terms of AstraZeneca but at the last National Cabinet meeting shortly after that it was announced that we had a further 20 million doses of Pfizer coming later in the year as well. And so in terms of timeframes, I would hope that here in Tasmania that we'd be able to ensure that all Tasmanians would have had at least a jab before the end of the year. There may be some carry-over in terms of the second jab, noting that AstraZeneca there's a 12-week period between the first and second injection.

You talk about GPs helping out with getting the jab to aged care workers, we heard some discontent from GPs early in the piece that they weren't being kept in the loop, are you confident that they're now understanding what's going on? That the federal government is passing that communication on effectively? Look I am and in fact the head of the AMA I think has said today that GPs are in a position where they can do more. And so it seems that there's real confidence in that and I think that for many people having a conversation with their GP prior to getting the jab provides a degree of comfort as well. And so that appears to be working well and certainly as we've said in terms of the state-run clinics, you know the progress that we're making here in Tasmania is as good, if not better, than anywhere else in the country.

The commonwealth, they were only responsible for aged care and disability workers and residents - that's right, isn't it? Tasmania helping with this part will cover off one of the most vulnerable cohort? Yes.

Great, thank you.