Tasmania’s borders could open at the end of October to COVID-safe states, Premier Peter Gutwein says.
Mr Gutwein on Friday afternoon said State Controller Darren Hine was looking at that possibility in association with Public Health Services.
States that fall into the COVID-safe category at the moment include South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.
Depending on pandemic management in the coming weeks, the ACT, New South Wales and Queensland could also be identified as COVID-safe.
Mr Gutwein said the state’s hospital preparedness and preparedness of the aged care sector would also inform the decision on whether to open borders earlier than December 1.
“I think there is a good chance we would be able to open towards the end of the month,” he said.
The matter of border closures was again raised at a national cabinet meeting on Friday.
“The national aspiration is for the country to be open by Christmas,” Mr Gutwein said.
“We will share that aspiration, but won’t put Tasmanians at risk.”
Mr Gutwein said COVID audits on all Tasmanian aged care facilities would be completed by next week.
“I can confidently say from my understanding of the audits is that our aged care sector is well-prepared,” he said.
MORE RESTRICTIONS RELAXED
In other announcements, Mr Gutwein said crowd capacity at sporting venues would increase from 500 to 1000 next Friday, ahead of local finals.
He said organisers would still need to exhibit they are COVID-safe.
This increased capacity will also apply to market events like Harvest in Launceston and the Salamanca Market in Hobart.
Mr Gutwein said Tasmanian fly-in, fly-out workers who worked in low-risk jurisdictions could come home without having to go into quarantine from midnight on Sunday
He said seasonal workers would be able to enter the state under COVID-safe restrictions from next week to take part in the upcoming picking season.
Mr Gutwein said they would need to stay on the farm property for 14 days or at their primary residence unless they were going to work or seeking medical assistance.
He said the sector had been working with public health authorities to ensure workplaces had a COVID-safe plan.
It is estimated that primary producers need 9000 workers this season.
The matter of bringing Australians who were still stranded overseas back home was raised in national cabinet on Friday.
Mr Gutwein said Tasmania could not receive flights from overseas as the state did not have an international airport.
But he said the government would make a financial contribution towards flights into other states for returning Tasmanian travellers.
Mr Gutwein said the government would also look at the option of emergency chartered flights into Tasmania.
TESTING LEVELS DECLINE
Public Health Services director Mark Veitch said since May there had been a good level of coronavirus tests taken in the state at around 530 tests a day.
“That’s enough testing to enable us to identify a very small number of cases of coronavirus if they do start to appear in the Tasmanian population,” he said.
But Dr Veitch said testing numbers had dropped by 10 per cent over the past weeks.
“That’s not the direction we want to see it going,” he said.
“We need to maintain the good levels of testing so we can be absolutely confident that COVID is not circulating in Tasmania.”
A SUMMER LIKE NO OTHER
Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin on Friday appeared before a Public Accounts Committee inquiry on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said there had been uncertainty for some time on the December 1 opening date due to the absence of a plan from the government.
“Whatever summer is, it is going to be incredibly important to us because next year’s winter is going to be challenging,” Mr Martin said.
He said getting summer events back in 2021 would be critical for some businesses who were hanging on by a thread.
“Best case scenario this January would be like a normal August – and August is not the month when people aroung the state go out,” Mr Martin said.
“That’s the reality from the modelling that’s been done.”
Labor’s finance spokesman David O’Byrne said it was vital that Tasmanians understood the pathway out of the pandemic with a clear plan from government.
“The impact of uncertainty on Tasmanians and Tasmanian businesses was highlighted by evidence today to the Public Accounts Committee,” he said.
“Every witness who appeared today called for greater clarity around government’s plan to manage COVID, and emphasised the importance to Tasmania’s economy of JobKeeper, and the need to extend and expand it.”
JOBKEEPER STILL NEEDED
Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Bailey told the Public Accounts Committee that if JobKeeper was not extended or expanded, many Tasmanian businesses would be forced to close.
He said the assessment criteria, which he described as a blunt tool, needed to be refined as some worthy businesses had been ineligible.
Mr Bailey said a number of businesses provided feedback to the chamber on the inequity of government’s $15,000 Small Business Emergency Grant program.
Mr Bailey said questions were raised on why some businesses who did not appear to be struggling got the money while others missed out.
“It did appear that if you were a business that had a really good accountant who might get your paperwork in more quickly, that might look more professional than someone who was just trying to keep up,” he said.