Patient transfers will continue between Victoria and Tasmania after a man who returned to the state after receiving treatment in Melbourne tested positive for COVID-19.
Public Health director Mark Veitch said the needs of patients requiring specialist care on the mainland would be put first.
Dr Veitch said in this case the process in place for transferring patients had worked well and the same approach would be taken on the next occasion.
“People will be tested before they are air transferred here, they will be managed as if they are infectious and they will be tested here,” he said.
The patient, a man in his 60s from Northern Tasmania, tested positive for COVID-19 at the North West Regional Hospital on Tuesday.
He had returned two negative tests while he was in hospital in Melbourne before he travelled via a medical transfer between the two states.
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The man is in a stable condition and two health workers at the NWRH who cared for the man have been furloughed out of caution.
Dr Veitch said a total of 25 staff at the NWRH had been involved in the man’s care.
“Two people when asked to reflect on their encounters with the man reported they may have touched their mask,” Dr Veitch said.
“That doesn’t constitute a particularly high risk but nevertheless the hospital made the decision out of an abundance of caution to furlough those staff for two weeks.
“The land and air ambulance staff have been contacted and they used sound PPE in the transfers.
“There are no family or community contacts who were exposed when this man was potentially infectious.”
Dr Veitch said the man had significant medical issues for which he was receiving treatment in Melbourne.
He said there was no public interest in revealing which hospital the man was in during his time in Melbourne but said this was the likely source of his infection.
Health and Community Services Union assistant state secretary Robbie Moore said the latest case highlighted the need to restore the Mersey Community Hospital’s emergency department to 24/7 operations.
“Health services in the North-West remain reduced and that is a risk when we are still dealing with a pandemic,” Mr Moore said.
“You only have to look at what happened here on the North-West Coast in April and what is happening in Victoria now to know things can get out of control very quickly, so all services should be at capacity to deal with that.”
Mr Moore said he spoke with staff at the NWRH on Wednesday and they indicated they felt as confident as they could about the infection control procedures in place.
“There’s still some anxiety there because of what happened last time and because they didn’t ever find out exactly what happened,” he said.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation branch secretary Emily Shepherd said a number of improvements had been made in terms of staff training and PPE procedures since the North-West outbreak which would stop the virus from spreading.
“As we saw at the Royal Hobart Hospital with the recent case there, that was handled very well and there was no further transmission from that case and I’m confident that will be the same scenario here,” Ms Shepherd said.
“But as we’ve seen we cannot underestimate the virulence of COVID-19 – there’s not a 120 per cent guarantee there will never be any further transmission.”
Ms Shepherd said she would like to see the Mersey ED restored to 24/7 operations but this needed to be done safely and sustainably to avoid the ED’s hours being reduced again based on an inability to retain staff.
Premier Peter Gutwein said the Mersey’s ED would be restored when it was medically safe to do so.
He said the North-West’s reliance on locums continued to present a challenge.
“In normal circumstances, without COVID, we would have more staff here from Melbourne, Victoria, in the state. Right now is not the time for that to occur,” he said.
Labor health spokeswoman Sarah Lovell said in light of the new case the government needed to make clear its plan to respond to future COVID-19 outbreaks in Tasmania.
“This is not a reason for people to panic but there is understandably a level of nervousness while people are watching closely what is happening in other states,” Ms Lovell said.
“It’s time [Mr Gutwein] outlined his plan so that Tasmanians know their sacrifices over the past few months have not been in vain.”