Union lashes Tas for worker rule change

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  • Peter Gutwein
    Australian politician, 46th Premier of Tasmania

A prominent union in Tasmania has lashed the state government's decision to join other jurisdictions in easing coronavirus isolation rules for some key workers.

Premier Peter Gutwein announced the changes, applying to critical food and grocery production, manufacturing and logistics and distribution staff, will be applied later this week.

Asymptomatic close contacts who return a negative rapid antigen test will be able to return to work if it is deemed critical they do so.

Unions Tasmania, which claims to represent 50,000 workers statewide, says the move risks increasing the already rapid spread of COVID-19.

"Forcing close contacts back into work is unsafe, it's as simple as that," Unions Tasmania secretary Jessica Munday said.

"Health unions raised concerns about health workers returning to work and increasing the risk of passing on COVID earlier this week, yet the state government have pressed ahead.

"If they're lucky, this may provide a temporary fix but threaten supply chains with even more infections in future."

Mr Gutwein said a similar arrangement for other essential staff, including emergency workers, energy, water and port services, was being considered.

"To be clear, this does not extend to retail, front-of-shop or public-facing services," he said.

Tasmania recorded 1218 new infections on Monday, with the number of people being treated in hospital for coronavirus symptoms rising from four to 11. None are in intensive care.

Six positive cases are in hospital for unrelated medical conditions.

The fresh cases, made up of 821 reported positive rapid antigen tests and 397 PCR tests, takes the island state's number of active infections to 7917.

Liberal government MP Guy Barnett, who holds several portfolios including Primary Industries and Veterans' Affairs, has tested positive.

He said he has only mild symptoms and is isolating at home.

"I have been on leave for the past week so have not been involved in meetings with staff or stakeholders during this time," Mr Barnett said in a statement.

"My ministerial duties had already been allocated to another minister and this will continue to be the case whilst I remain on leave."

Tasmania's reported daily case numbers have fallen in recent days from 2223 on Saturday and 1406 on Sunday.

There are 231 people utilising the COVID-at-home care method, while 55 people are staying at a community management facility.

Mr Gutwein was confident all school students would have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the time term one starts in early February.

Education Minister Sarah Courtney recently said the state government is considering asking students to wear masks in the classroom.

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