Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Tasmania was quick to pull up off the bridge as coronavirus began to spread in Australia, but it now faces the prospect of hundreds of COVID-19 cases a day.

Prime Minister Peter Gutwein has unveiled his government’s plan to open up to the world just in time for Christmas, and all models show that coronavirus will spread to the state.

Here’s what we know.

When can I visit Tasmania?

The government expects 80 pct of Tasmanians aged 16 and older to be fully vaccinated by early November.

When the state hits this target, people in Australian jurisdictions declared high risk of being able to enter the state as long as they implemented 14 days of home quarantine or hotel quarantine.

It is expected that most Tasmanians and returning travelers will be able to quarantine at home, depending on where they traveled from and as long as they are fully vaccinated and have returned a negative test 72 hours before their arrival in the state.

Returning travelers from abroad must make a 14-day hotel quarantine, where home quarantine is tested for risk.

It is expected 90 pct of Tasmanians 12 and older are fully vaccinated by December 15th.

From the date anyone who is fully vaccinated and has returned a negative test within 72 hours of travel is allowed to enter the state.

The mandatory test requirement will be revised after four weeks and the vaccination rule does not apply to persons with exemption.

A man on a bicycle rides through Salamanca Place with Mt Wellington in the background.
Tasmania is expected to exceed its 90 percent vaccinated target by the December opening date.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“We’re opening,” Gutwein said.

“Get vaccinated. We’re prepared for this.”

Fully vaccinated Tasmanians who have left the state in less than a week will not be required to return a negative test.

Individuals who do not meet these criteria will be subject to additional quarantine and test requirements.

Will there be any restrictions?

Health authorities are eager to ensure that the vaccination program stays on track – including boosters.

People still need to use the Check in Tas app, companies will still need COVID-19 security plans and masks are required in high-risk indoor settings.

Collection of restrictions, including density limits, will continue to apply.

Person uses their phone to scan a QR image.
People will have to continue using the Check in TAS app even after the state opens up completely.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

How many COVID cases do we expect?

The state government commissioned Raina MacIntyre from UNSW’s Kirby Institute to find out how many cases the state could expect under a variety of scenarios.

Public Health Deputy Director Scott McKeown stressed that modeling was not forecasting, but a useful way to be prepared.

“It tells us that the best thing you can do to protect yourself, your family and the wider community is to get vaccinated.”

At worst — the so-called “let it tear” approach, with no restrictions in place, and not what Tasmania will pursue — the state would, on average, see 387 cases a day and about 77,500 within 200 days.

Nurses at a COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic, Moonah, Tasmania, June 29, 2021
COVID-19 cases are expected to have a daily elevation of 258 during a modeling scenario.

On top of this model, more than 630 people would be in the hospital, nearly 170 people in the ICU, and there would be more than 200 deaths.

“We are not going that way,” Mr Gutwein said.

Tasmania will instead maintain existing public health measures and a high level of contact tracing. A version of this would lead to an expected average of 258 daily cases with the highest expected on April 10th next year.

“[Under this scenario]the number of cases can be reduced by 25,000 cases, where hospital admissions will be significantly fewer at the top, seen on a possible daily peak of 242 cases at the hospital and less than 70 cases at the ICU“Mr. Gutwein said.

“And while it is still high, significantly reduced deaths by 87, compared to the model without the public health measures in place. “

Gutwein said the effects were unlikely to be as severe as predicted because Tasmania was about to be vaccinated earlier than expected, and 5 to 11-year-olds would also likely have access to a vaccination soon.

Gutwein also said further modeling had been ordered to take into account Tasmania’s circumstances.

Dr. McKeown said modeling in other states had not shown up, and he urged Tasmanians to continue to follow public health measures such as social distance and to wear masks as needed.

“My challenge to the Tasmanians is to prove that this model is wrong,” he said.

Are our hospitals ready?

Health Secretary Jeremy Rockliff said he was convinced the state’s health system would adapt to the state’s reopening plan.

“We are prepared, as we may at all be, for what the Prime Minister has announced today,” Rockliff said.

A number of ambulances lined up the ramp to the emergency room at Royal Hobart Hospital.
The Minister of Health says that there is an increase capacity for hospital beds dedicated to COVID-19 cases.(ABC News: Peter Curtis)

“While every state and territory has been preparing for COVID cases in our hospitals, no one is sitting with hundreds of empty beds waiting for COVID-19 cases.

“When there are peaks in hospitalization of COVID cases, it has an impact. It’s not business as usual.

“Health systems are changing and bending in pandemics, and our health system is ready to do the same.”

A fact sheet on hospital preparedness released by the state government showed that there was 367 fans throughout the state, a possible 211 dedicated COVID-19 beds and capacity for one extra 80 ICU beds as neededin addition to the existing 34.

There will also be one “COVID at home” care model for some patients, where the government provides home pulse and oxygen monitors in the blood.

In terms of staff, Gutwein said there were 800-900 extra people working in the health care system today than a year ago, which equates to approx. 655 full-time equivalent positions.

About 500 employees are involved in the vaccination program.

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Recycling the waste COVID-19 has created(Emilia Terzon)

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