Coronavirus update | Wednesday 31 March 2021

Last Updated: 15 Apr 2021 3:11pm

Good afternoon, everyone.

Today I’m joined by the Secretary of the Health Department, Kathrine Morgan-Wicks who again will provide the weekly vaccination update. Dr Veitch also joins us today given the evolving situation in Queensland.

A year on from Easter last year, thanks for the amazing efforts of Tasmanians, we are in a good place; but the outbreak in Queensland is a stark reminder of why we just cannot be complacent. On Monday the Greater Brisbane Region ended a three-day lockdown after the detection of locally acquired COVID-19 cases. It's a reminder that even as the vaccination program progresses, the risk of COVID-19 remains very real. As we've done throughout COVID-19, we'll continue to act to keep Tasmania safe with border restrictions and other measures as required.

On Monday we announced the Queensland local government areas of Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich and Redlands have been declared high-risk areas. A large number of premises have now also been identified as high risk within those local government areas as well as some outside those LGAs Queensland and some in New South Wales.

What this means is that you cannot enter Tasmania if you've been in any of those high-risk local government areas or high-risk premises in the 14 days prior to arrival in Tasmania unless you are approved as an essential worker.

Anyone currently in Tasmania who has been at any high-risk premises in Queensland or New South Wales at the identified dates and times should immediately self-isolate and call the Public Health Hotline on 1-800-671-738 and let the operator know you'll require further advice then from Public Health.

If you're currently in Tasmania and have been in any of the high-risk LGAs since Saturday March the 20th, immediately self-isolate and contact the Public Health Hotline who will arrange a COVID-19 test.

If you've been at one of the high-risk premises on the dates and times identified when you call the hotline let the operator know you require and receive further advice from Public Health.

If you've been in a high-risk LGA and have been at a high-risk premises you're required to complete 14 days quarantine regardless of your test result.

If you've only been in a high risk local government area and not been at one of the high risk premises you can leave isolation if you receive a negative test result as long as you're not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.

I encourage people to go to the travel alert page on the coronavirus website for the latest list of high-risk premises which is regularly changing and at the moment I think there are over 76 high-risk premises that have been listed in Queensland and 12 that have been listed in New South Wales.

At this stage travellers are able to transit from low-risk areas outside of those five local government areas directly through those high-risk areas or high-risk LGAs to the Brisbane airport without being subject to quarantine requirements when arriving in Tasmania if they comply with certain conditions- which is the same process that we have applied right through this.

Again the coronavirus website has a full list of these conditions now as we saw yesterday the measures put in place to respond to the Queensland situation have generated significant and increased demand for COVID-19 testing in Tasmania and traffic to the Public Health Hotline. I understand how challenging this has been for people and we are taking steps to ensure that we've got more people in the call centre and we've now got a range of measures in place which Kathrine will work through. But it would be fair to say that yesterday was a record number of tests in Tasmania and I do thank people for their patience and for turning up and getting tested. An Extra testing clinic has been stood up at Kingston and the Launceston testing clinic is now operating on bookings to speed up the testing procedure and reduce traffic congestion at the site.

While I understand that these delays can be frustrating, please know our teams are working as quickly as possible to get through the demand.

One point I would make is that right around the country yesterday our testing clinics were running flat out as a result of the Queensland circumstance. There are important safeguards to compete to keep Tasmania safe and I urge everyone to be as patient as we work to respond to the additional hotline and testing demand.

In terms of vaccination, while our authorities continue to respond to the situation in Brisbane, the rollout of the vaccination program in Tasmania continues. As of last night more than 25 000 doses had been delivered across Tasmania as part of both the Tasmanian and Australian government rollouts. Kathrine will provide you with a breakdown in terms of the Tasmanian government's rollout and their share of that 25 000 and the Australian government’s. Very pleasingly the Tasmanian government is doing very well and has got a significant number of those doses out near the people's arms. Hospital clinics continue to vaccinate our priority groups with around 1 100 a week receiving their second dose. Our community clinics have also been very busy and will shortly open a new clinic in the north-west. More GPs will be joining the program and vaccinating people right around the state.

I’d again like to thank our hard-working teams who are working around the clock to roll out this huge logistical exercise as well as all the Tasmanians who have so far come forward to roll up their sleeve to be vaccinated.

I’ll now hand over to Kathrine Morgan-Wicks to provide you with a more detailed update on how our testing clinics are tracking today and on our vaccination program. We'll then take questions in relation to the COVID matters that we raised today but then we'll obviously be a short stand-up afterwards on other matters.

Thank you, Premier. I’d like to provide an update on the program which is now into its sixth week.

To date we have delivered 15 077 doses in-state clinics including 2 535 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Up to 29 March the Commonwealth has delivered 4 271 doses in residential aged and disability care and GP clinics have delivered 6 000 doses in Tasmania. The government's community clinics at Kingston, Brighton, New Norfolk, Mowbray and Latrobe are coping well with the initial demand from those eligible in phase 1b of the rollout across all five locations. The clinics have delivered a total of 3 975 community vaccinations in the first nine days of operation. This equates to more than 25 000 doses of vaccine delivered across Tasmania to date; with around four percent of the population having received their first dose of the vaccine.

As indicated last week, we are opening a north-west community clinic this week at the Mersey Community Hospital in Latrobe. Starting tomorrow this clinic is targeting our phase 1b community population including our over 70 year olds. We'll be opening up further appointments at this clinic over coming weeks. A new north-west clinic will also start at Wynyard on Saturday April the 10th; details of the location and the opening times will be advertised next week when bookings open.

The location of community clinics is based on existing population data, the coverage of GPs participating in the vaccination rollout and where they are most needed. The next round of community clinics we are looking at will be for Deloraine, George Town, West Tamar and on the east coast with further information on these to be announced in coming weeks. Eight more GP clinics started this week with a further 51 GP practices set to join the rollout over the next fortnight for a total of 96 GP clinics vaccinating people across Tasmania. These GP clinics are in addition to GP respiratory clinics and Aboriginal community controlled health organisations.

Finally, yesterday you will have seen reports on the pressure on our Public Health Hotline resulting in delays for people wanting to have a COVID test as well as to book a vaccination appointment and I apologise for any inconvenience caused to those that experience long delays and thank everyone for their patience to do the right thing and get tested. Call centres and testing sites around the country faced immense pressure yesterday with many people waiting hours to be tested and while we quickly enacted our surge testing plans to triple our testing capacity, the high volume of visitors and returning travellers from the five Brisbane local government areas already in the state resulted in a significant peak in core volumes.

Now, 1 477 tests were conducted across Tasmania yesterday, which was a record day for our test figures, and harking back to 29th of April 2020 which was the previous high. We continued to take bookings for tests last night and will continue to stand up increased call centre and testing capacity over coming days and this includes new mobile testing clinics at Kingston and at Launceston.

All testing sites in Hobart, Kingston and Launceston will be bookings only so that we can manage traffic congestion and give people a dedicated time to attend the clinic to be tested rather than having to wait for long periods in their vehicles. Our call centre staff and our testing teams and our laboratories are all working very long hours and will work throughout Easter to meet this critical demand and I ask for your patience as we do our absolute best to get you booked in for a test when you call. Thank you and I’ll hand to Dr Veitch.

With the vaccine rollout, is it on schedule at the moment? Can you talk us through whether the state rollout is on schedule and the federal rollout? So in terms of the state rollout, we're on target in terms of vaccinating our priority 1a workers who are our most critical component of the rollout by mid-April. And certainly from all accounts from the Commonwealth reporting, they are progressively working their way through the aged care and disability care and we're also seeing pleasingly the number of GPs coming on board particularly over the next two weeks.

On testing, how are things going today? Has the pressure eased? So we are seeing in terms of call volumes very pleased that at one o'clock today we had three people that were waiting in the queue for our Public Health Hotline and an average call weight of under five minutes. So certainly things started to steady yesterday afternoon and the teams worked well into the night to make sure that everyone that had called the Public Health Hotline was getting a call back and booking in their test.

The population of Cape Barron Island according to ABS data in 2016 is 66 - now i understand that might be out-of-date - but currently the mutton bird season has begun there and will run until the end of April. So I’m just curious about the plan for the COVID vaccination role out there for the Aboriginal community? so the Commonwealth is working together with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations in relation to the delivery to our Aboriginal populations and certainly our vaccination Emergency Operations Centre is working closely with them in relation to that rollout.

Is it the case that the federal rollout is behind schedule in Tasmania? So with the federal rollout, and remembering that the federal government's responsible for our aged care and disability care rollout together with our primary care, and they're working very hard to bring on our GP clinics in Tasmania and as a state we want to see the GP clinics coming on so that GPs that know their patients can actually see them and get them vaccinated. So we will have some 96 GP practices participating in the rollout and certainly looking towards and looking ahead to the future we will also have pharmacists coming on board as well.

What hours will the testing clinics be open over the Easter period including Good Friday and Easter Monday? Will they be normal hours? No, we are looking at an increase in terms of our testing clinic hours. We are looking at obviously a Good Friday and our Easter Sunday operating environments. Also to make sure that we're meeting demand, but also making sure that our staff can also receive a bit of a rest during the period. But we will manage that according to the testing demand that's coming through the Public Health Hotline.

(Inaudible?) We have some set hours so and it just differs in between the different regions. So for example, our testing clinics in the south have extended from 3 30 pm through to 5 pm today.

There have been some federal ministers today saying that states have been stockpiling vaccines. Is that something that's happening in Tasmania? So we have been very carefully managing the vaccines that have been have been distributed to Tasmania. We have used 100 per cent of the Pfizer vaccine and it's critical that we absolutely do that given the wastage concerns on delivery. For AstraZeneca, we received a large shipment of AstraZeneca quite early because that is what the federal government had received and then distributed to states and territories and we have smoothed that out to make sure that our community clinics can actually continue to run. It's no good to actually stand up a clinic and then drop it and wait for a vaccine delivery, so we're certainly not stockpiling. But I need to make sure that we are having a continuous run with our community clinics.

What are the targets for Tasmania in terms of vaccination? What are the targets that you're working towards there? So we have our priority 1a cohort which we're targeting to complete in mid-April. I will note that we do have healthcare professionals move in and out of the state so we may have some 1As coming in after that point which we'll vaccinate. And then we're looking at our 180 000 Tasmanians that sit in phase 1b; we're looking at probably a four month or four to five month period to get them vaccinated but that will depend on the supply of vaccine into the state from the commonwealth.

And then what happens after 1b? What's the next step then in the vaccination program? So we move into phase 2 and that will also be a critical juncture so we move down into the more adult population and a greater coverage and we also will see pharmacists, our community pharmacists, come on board that have successfully applied through the commonwealth.

(Conclusion of vaccination-related matters.)