Thursday, 14 May 2020
Much has been said this week about the government's strong economic response to the coronavirus, but today I want to talk about the swift and strong health response by our government, which has put Australia in an enviable position amongst many other countries in the world. In an unprecedented crisis, feeling unsure and uncertain would be understandable, but the consistent and sound leadership of Prime Minister, Scott Morrison; the health minister, Greg Hunt; the Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, supported by the national cabinet, has provided Australians with a plan for us to follow, and, without a doubt, it is working.
Though even one death is one death too many, to have had less than 100 deaths in a global pandemic which has claimed the lives of almost 300,000 people worldwide is something that we should be proud of. Every single person who has listened to the rules, stayed home and practised good hygiene and appropriate social distancing has made a difference. We can look at the statistics and realise that our actions do matter and do make a difference.
In Tasmania, we have just entered our sixth day of no new COVID-19 cases—a cause for cautious optimism—though I must stress we are all acutely aware that we are not out of the woods yet. In total, our state has seen 225 cases of COVID-19, with 187 recovered and 13 deaths. In my community of Northern Tasmania, which I represent, we have had just 23 of the total 225 cases. Many of these cases are connected with cruise ships, in particular the Ruby Princess.
I'd like to take the time to commend Tasmania's Premier, Peter Gutwein, for his prompt, sound and decisive decision-making, which has led to our island state being in a much, much better position than we otherwise may have found ourselves in. The Premier was just a number of weeks into his new role when the pandemic hit, and I'm sure I speak for all Tasmanians when I say he has done an amazing job in leading our state.
I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank the relentless work undertaken by healthcare professionals in our community, and highlight some of the tremendous work that they have done. To the staff at the Launceston General Hospital, particularly those in the COVID ward who took on the care of coronavirus cases after an outbreak in the north-west, I say thank you. It was particularly disheartening to see negative comments on social media last week after a worker on the ward tested positive to COVID-19. These professionals are doing their jobs and putting their lives at risk every day for our community, and they deserve nothing less than our thanks and our praise.
Thank you to the midwives on the maternity ward at the Launceston General Hospital, who have worked tirelessly to support new mothers in our community and expecting parents from the north-west who had to shift north after the north-west hospitals were closed due to a coronavirus outbreak. There was somewhat of a baby boom, with 91 babies born in the unit over two weeks in April, which was far more than the average of 30 the ward usually sees at this time of the year. Thank you for taking such good care of all the mums and dads at a time of so much uncertainty. To Dr Jerome Muir Wilson and the crew at the Launceston Health Hub, who have worked so efficiently and quickly with us to get a much-needed respiratory clinic off the ground, thank you. The clinic, part of the government's $2.4 billion health package in response to COVID-19, with assessment, testing and treatment, is playing a vital role in supporting our community during the pandemic. Importantly, it is also reducing pressure on the Launceston General Hospital's emergency department and allowing for other local medical practices to treat people who aren't showing signs of the coronavirus.
In a community with high representation of the elderly, vulnerable and those with chronic disease, there was always a concern that, beyond being susceptible to COVID-19, the general health of many in Northern Tasmania would suffer as people stayed away from seeing their general practitioner or specialist. I have been urging anyone in our community with existing chronic health conditions not to neglect their regular health. This is an area where telehealth services, in particular, have become critical. Our government's package, put together in a matter of days at a cost of more than $600 million, has undoubtedly saved lives. Our community can also now have their PBS medicines delivered to their home from a community pharmacy of their choice through the COVID-19 Home Medicine Service.
Of course, we have seen more than just concern over the physical impact that the coronavirus can have on the community. The mental health impact has been devastating for many and will have long-running repercussions. For those who have lost jobs, for those who are feeling incredibly lonely due to isolation and social distancing measures and for those who are feeling heightened anxiety about the pandemic it has been a terribly difficult time. Mental health consultations have formed part of the telehealth response, and our government has also funded an additional $74 million in mental health services, assisting to support additional services for Lifeline, Kids' Helpline and creating a dedicated Coronavirus Helpline with beyondblue. With calls to Lifeline jumping more than 20 per cent and beyondblue seeing a 30 per cent increase in calls and emails, this investment has literally been lifesaving for many.
In my own community, I've undertaken a variety of measures to communicate the importance of looking after our mental health, and I'd particularly like to thank Caroline Thain, clinical leader at headspace Launceston, for taking the time to film some important videos with me on how we can look after ourselves and our family during this time.
Although not on the frontline of health, it would also be remiss of me not to acknowledge the educators in our community. Certainly, when the school year returned in the warm summer sun of early February, we could not have foreseen the major disruption that would occur before term 1 had really got underway and students had found their footing in their new classes. You have been asked to do so much and so quickly while still being so supportive of the students that you care for. It has not gone unnoticed, and we thank you.
Finally, a special thank you goes to the whole northern Tasmanian community. It has been a very long and difficult few months so far, and there is still more work ahead of us. Thank you, all, for doing the right thing to protect everyone in our community. By staying home you have saved lives. Keep going. Remain vigilant. We are all in this together.