The past couple of months dealing with the coronavirus have been very difficult for all Tasmanians.
The virus has upended our way of life, cost thousands of jobs and, tragically, lives have been lost.
I know at times it probably seems that the bad news associated with the coronavirus will never end.
We all want a return to normality.
The good news is, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Yesterday, I announced the Government’s Plan to Rebuild a Stronger Tasmania, as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
In order to begin easing restrictions, we are putting in place four safeguards.
These are more testing, more tracing, enhanced rapid response capabilities, and COVID-19 safe workplace, public space and meeting place plans.
Firstly, on expanded testing — we can’t fight the virus if we can’t find it.
So we are ramping up testing capability and expanding the testing criteria.
We currently have capacity to process about 500 tests a day, with surge capacity up to around 1000. Enhanced technology will see this capacity double.
Secondly, our manual tracing efforts over the past weeks have worked well, particularly in fighting the North-West outbreak, but we need help from all Tasmanians to improve our tracing capacity even more.
This is what the COVIDSafe Tracing App is all about.
What it does, via Bluetooth, is record the contact details of any other phones with the tracing app that you are within close proximity of for more than 15 minutes at a time.
So, if you spend time with someone who is later found to have the coronavirus, public health officials can access the tracing app contact data from their phone, for the past 21 days only, and if necessary, contact you to let you know you might be at risk.
The data will only be used by public health officials and data is protected by strong privacy laws.
It is an important tool to help keep you, your family and your friends safe against coronavirus.
Thirdly, we are also putting in place localised rapid response capabilities that could be implemented in regions or industry specific sites if required. This is to enhance current public health capabilities in the response to an outbreak.
And finally, we are developing COVID-19 safe plans, which will help make our workplaces, public spaces and meeting places as safe as they can be.
National principles have already been released, and relevant ministers have been engaged at a national level with Safework, and locally with Worksafe, on the necessary framework to provide COVID-19 safe working environments.
It will not be a one size fits all approach, and the plans will depend on the nature of the business and the sector it operates in.
We will engage with all appropriate industry business and organisational sectors to inform the development of COVID-19 safe plans.
The plans will be established under regulation, and audits will occur to ensure safety and compliance standards are adhered to.
As restrictions ease, these plans will help to ensure there are rules and policies in place so that they can operate safely, helping to limit the risk of coronavirus infection to staff and customers.
Importantly, we also know that a power of work is going to be required to rebuild our economy and our social fabric when we do start to ease restrictions.
The way that our broader economy operates and how our society interacts with it, will be considerably different to the recent past, and there will be challenges ahead.
I also know that no one has a mortgage on good ideas, and we want to harness the collective knowledge and ideas of the Tasmanian community to help us to rebuild a stronger Tasmania.
That’s why we have established the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council, to provide advice to the government on strategies and initiatives to support the short to medium and the longer- term recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The council will be chaired by the respected business and community leader Don Challen AM, with a membership representing a broad spectrum of our community. The members are Kym Goodes, Dale Elphinstone, Professor Rufus Black, Samantha Hogg, Paul Ranson, Brett Torossi, Tim Gardner and Leanne McLean.
The council will engage directly with industry and community groups, as well as members of parliament, who will have the opportunity to provide submissions to directly inform the development of the Recovery Council’s work.
All industry associations and community groups, as well as those individuals who want to contribute their thoughts, will be able to do so.
The council has been tasked with providing advice on immediate actions and initiatives to the government by July 2020, and an interim report containing findings and recommendations by September 2020, so that it can inform the development of the 2020-21 Budget later this year.
We will get through this, and I again wish to thank everybody for playing their part by following the rules, and staying home.
I also wish to send my sincere thanks to all Tasmanians who continue to work to provide services during the pandemic, particularly our health and medical professionals who are at the frontline of the pandemic.
Tasmanian teachers too have done an amazing job at adapting to the current circumstances and delivering education in different ways — and I also wish to thank parents for their assistance and understanding.
Moving forward, we will take a risk-informed approach to any relaxation of the current business and movement restrictions, which may, for example, start with our green spaces — parks, reserves and recreation spaces, as well as public gathering numbers in particular circumstances.
The health risk of lifting restrictions will be assessed against COVID-19 safe business planning as well as the number of cases and the infection rate across the state.
Our border restrictions will most likely remain as our strongest defence against the virus for some time. Opening our borders again to interstate travel will be a game-changer.
However, this will not occur for some time, and not until we have real confidence that we can do so safely.
Excepting for the additional North-West restrictions, which are due to expire this Sunday at 11.59pm, the current statewide restrictions in place will be reviewed in the lead-up to May 15, and I am hopeful that in coming weeks the advice from Public Health will be that we can begin loosening some restrictions.
These have been dark times. But the good news is, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Originally published in The Mercury