Leading Tasmanian businessman and Managing Director of Tasmanian Seafoods Group Darvin Hansen has led the way for Tasmanian business’ coronavirus response. As well as being instrumental in the call for tougher border restrictions, Mr Hansen has ‘walked the walk’, implementing strong checks and controls at his own business, Tasmanian Seafoods.

The following article was penned just as imported cases were dying down, but remains relevant as Tasmania continues its fight against the pandemic.

In January, just before the Lunar New Year, our abalone export business was one of the first businesses in Australia to feel the damaging effects of the coronavirus.

As a result of the lockdown in China, our markets dried up almost overnight, and along with other seafood exporters we were left without a market for fish during our key sales period.

Fortunately, China appears to have suppressed the virus and we are now exporting again – although now we have a new problem in securing transport space on the few flights out of the state and out of the country.

As a result I have had a close interest in the coronavirus since late January, magnified by fear that my 83 year old father is very vulnerable should he contract it.

So when Premier Gutwein effectively closed Tasmania’s borders by requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine and declared he wanted Tasmania to be a “fortress” against the coronavirus I was naturally very pleased.

Looking forward, elimination, not mitigation, should be our aim.

Considering the vast costs of alternatives, a comprehensive suite of relatively inexpensive, effective, sustainable measures short of full lockdown – a defence in depth – would help us fast-track that goal.

The key is to make the coronavirus run a gauntlet of defences and counterattacks that in concert make the chances of transmission very low, even in symptomless cases. We already have much in place, and congratulations to Premier Gutwein enabling that.

What would help complete the set of measures is as follows: testing of all symptomatic people as early as possible in the disease progression, workplace non-contact fever screening, universal cloth masks in public, and isolation of positive cases at medi-hotels supervised by infectious disease specialists and public health. Meanwhile the drive to upgrade the PPE of frontline health/aged care staff must continue. Use of voluntary contact tracing apps and universal flu vaccinations will assist.

The additional testing in the north-west is great but we need to be rolling out that same aggressive testing state-wide.

Such a testing drive needs to be coupled with official advertisements to get tested at the first sign of fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste/smell etc. Testing early minimizes the “false negative” rate and allows transmission to be shut down by supervised isolation early in the infectious period. Testing widely allows an accurate handle on infections, progress, and infection halving time – that feedback is critical to get the public onside. We should then be able to estimate the time until measures can be relaxed. Sentinel testing high risk jobs should follow.

Workplace fever screening should be rolled out firstly in supermarkets which form the bulk of essential travel, then in workplaces more widely. This both prevents potentially COVID-19 positives from contaminating groceries and infecting staff, and also enables symptom detection to feed into testing.

For example, we have been temperature testing at all our worksites for the past month, and I’m pleased to see that other businesses are now taking it up, including REX Airlines.

Wearing masks (of cloth or better, correctly used) in public is a method recognized by the US Centre for Disease Control and the British Medical Journal to reduce COVID-19 transmission. Health/aged care workers should be masking up too. This lowers transmission at the source. In future once capacity ramps up and high-risk occupations have enough PPE, surgical or better masks for the public will lower it further as well as provide protection for the wearer. We can expect production capacities and technology to rapidly improve in general, enhancing our efforts.

The recent North West outbreak also highlights a need to separate hospital and aged care staffing as much as possible. Once infected, both are a potentially major transmission nexus.

Once we are down to a handful of cases, the state must bring in even more stringent border control (COVID19 testing plus quarantine) designed to bring the chance of importing cases to about 1/100 years. After that it will take a couple months from the last known case in order to be sure enough to relax transmission measures while maintaining the border security. We can then relax restrictions for flights from proven COVID-19 free states and countries.

This has potential to be a huge tourism advantage to help revive our economy and re-establish air freight.

By Darvin Hansen, Managing Director Tasmanian Seafoods Group