Why Tasmanians can expect less, not more government intervention as COVID cases rise


In October, half of Tasmania was sent into a three-day COVID-19 lockdown because of one infected man's 18-hour incursion into the suburbs.

Two months later with about 200 active cases in the state, Tasmania's Public Health director Mark Veitch tells a COVID briefing that two cases do not have clear links to other known cases, news which might have, months earlier, been the top news item of the day.

So what has changed?

With borders opened up to travellers and case numbers on the rise, the island state is — as so many politicians keep saying — "learning to live with COVID", whether it likes it or not.

The daily press conferences have tapered off, with updates — as is the way of things these days — via social media.

Masks are mandatory in indoor public spaces in Tasmania.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Yesterday, the Tasmanian Department of Health's Facebook post advised there had been 43 new cases identified, bringing the total active case numbers to 243.

Crucially, there are no patients being treated in intensive care.

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Tasmania's second-dose vaccination rate is up above 92 per cent for those eligible and over 16 years of age, with the first-dose rate a tick over 97 per cent.

The rate is above what the government wanted ahead of the border reopening and is likely one contributor to the marked change in tone from authorities.

Another contributor is the duress placed on the contact-tracing system, with it announced on Monday there would no longer be public listing of low-risk and casual contact exposure sites.

Money, it should come as no surprise, also talks.

"Some small businesses that have been listed on the COVID app that everybody gets to see have definitely had a reduction in business as a result of them being listed and that's grossly unfair, especially if all the place has been cleaned," Tasmanian Small Business Council chief executive Robert Mallett told the ABC on Monday.

The dialling back of government intervention — which includes the onus shifting onto Tasmanians who test positive to COVID-19 to notify their workplaces and household and close contacts — has been welcomed by Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett, who described it as a "sensible step".

"We've seen in NSW and Victoria as case numbers rose, even before Omicron, that that's what you need to move to, a way to move ahead where people can let those around them know that they might have been exposed in a way that increases their risk of infection, they know to go off and have a test."

"It leaves the Health Department to focus on the more critical areas where they're seeing case numbers rise quickly or they've got particularly vulnerable communities."

UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic

Professor Bennett said the strain on those tasked with tracking and tracing the myriad of contacts from low and casual exposures should not be underestimated, with it being more sensible to devote resources elsewhere.

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"You reach a point where you can't contact trace quickly enough, because your numbers are so high … it's better if people can notify their contacts immediately, they're given the information they need to work out when they might have been infectious and can do that work."

Fronting the media on Tuesday and asked about the changes to COVID tracking and tracing, government minister Guy Barnett stayed on message.

"We all have a responsibility to make sure our family and friends are advised … we are acting on Public Health advice. They still have a role to play … I'd encourage individuals to make contact with family members if they've had close contact."

With Dr Veitch stating on Monday that authorities "believe that Omicron is a generally less severe infection, which will enable a lighter touch", it seems Tasmanians can expect less, not more, involvement from its government as everyone gets on with "learning to live with COVID".

A month from now, after the Christmas and New Year's parties are just Instagram memories and the case numbers climb into the hundreds, likely thousands, the message from government might need another round of adjusting.

A list of exposure sites is regularly updated on the Tasmanian government's website.

Information about travel can be found on the department of health website.

Want more Tasmanian news?

Set the ABC News website or the app to 'Tasmania Top Stories' from either the homepage or the settings menu in the app to continue getting the same national news but with a sprinkle of more relevant state stories.

Here's a taste of the latest stories from Tasmania:

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 6 minutes 19 seconds6m How to take a rapid antigen testWhat you need to know about coronavirus:

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news




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