Tasmania records one new COVID hospitalisation and 1,100 new cases

The state's total of active cases now sits at 7,969. (ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Tasmania has 23 patients with COVID in hospital, one more than yesterday, as the state records 1,100 new infections.

Of all hospitalisations, 10 are specifically being treated for COVID symptoms.

The state's total of active cases now sits at 7,969, with 1,895 people having left quarantine in the past 24 hours.

Of the new cases, 847 were identified through rapid antigen tests and 253 through PCR tests.

Almost 15,500 rapid tests were distributed in the past day.

Rules eased for some 

Tasmania will also begin granting exemptions to essential workers who have been identified as close contacts of a positive case.

"Our biggest challenge at the moment is not serious illness ... [it] is the fact that we have so many people absent from work as a result of the isolation measures that we have in place," Premier Peter Gutwein said.

"We need to enable a framework that ensures that there is greater flexibility in balancing the need to reduce transmission, but also about managing and ensuring that we have essential services and critical supply logistics."

Close contacts in essential industries are able to apply for an exemption to work from midday tomorrow, including workers in: 

  • Emergency services
  • Health services
  • Prisons and correctional facilities
  • Utilities
  • Government-run transport and manufacturing
  • Freight logistics
  • Warehouse facilities relating to the supply of essential goods and services

Shelf stackers, fish farm workers eligible for exemption

Those who stock supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies, bakeries, or work in courier services, agriculture and aquaculture industries are eligible to apply for the exemption through WorkSafe Tasmania.

"Workers in these categories ... will be allowed to continue to work if identified as close contacts, as long as they have no symptoms and produce a negative RAT, but must also wear the appropriate PPE, and take steps to avoid social settings travelling only to and from their place of work," Mr Gutwein said.

"What [these businesses] will need to be able to demonstrate as a business that absenteeism as a result of isolation is having a critical impact on the service or provision of services they provide.

"This is only for critical workers in these nominated industry sectors. This is not a free for all, and you will need to apply."

Changes to rapid test allocation

The state government will also establish regional hubs to provide rapid tests to more remote parts of the state. 

Currently free rapid tests are being distributed for symptomatic close contacts of COVID cases at hubs in Glenorchy, Rokeby, Launceston and Ulverstone. 

From January 15, anyone requiring a rapid test must first request a kit through Public Health prior to collection. 

"Go to the coronavirus website, fill out a registration form, and from that you will then get directions as to a collection point to pick up your allocated test kit," said Deputy Health secretary Dale Webster.

"It will also give us the capacity if you're outside of an area where there is a collection point to then courier a rapid antigen test to your directly to your residence.

"This services for rural and remote areas is already in place and we have delivered the first of those over the last day or so.

"If you do not have access to the website or you're unable to ask someone to apply for the test on your behalf, we encourage you to call the Public Health hotline."

Registrations for rapid tests will open at midday tomorrow.

Hobart's oval 'acceptably safe' for Ashes crowd

On the eve of Hobart hosting the final Ashes, Tasmanian health authorities say they are comfortable with the measures in place to protect against the test becoming a COVID superspreader event.

Earlier today the Victorian government confirmed ticket sales to the Australian Open would be capped at 50 per cent, in response to the state's worsening COVID outbreak.

But Public Health director Mark Veitch said he remained confident that the fifth Ashes test could proceed as planned in Hobart.

"We've considered the circumstances of the Ashes test every day in relation to Tasmania's COVID circumstances," Dr Veitch said.

"When you go to Bellerive, you're going to an outdoor stadium, you're almost certain to be vaccinated, you're mostly sitting down and you'll have a mask on, as people will in Victoria of course.

Dr Veitch said the different configurations and capacities between Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne and Bellerive Oval in Hobart meant the public health responses could be tailored to each event.

"I and my colleagues looked very carefully at the configuration of the fairly open and airy Bellerive Oval setting and we felt that as an outdoor seated venue with people in masks and a high vaccination coverage in Tasmania, the settings that we had were acceptably safe for running the event," he said.

No firm decision on schools

Tasmania is yet to make a decision on whether children will return to schools as planned on February 9, but Mr Gutwein said he is confident schools will return on that date.

"National Cabinet today has agreed on a set of principles supporting a national position in terms of school reopening all of the jurisdictions and Tasmania will work to this timeline as well," Mr Gutwein said.

"We'll finalise based on these principles, our school reopening plan and submit that to the Commonwealth next week for discussion at our next National Cabinet meeting.

"I've made it perfectly clear, as has the [state] Education Minister, the school year starts on February 9."

State Education Minister Sarah Courtney says upgrades are being carried out to help improve ventilation and airflow in Tasmanian classrooms.

An audit has identified more than 8,000 windows in schools that need to be repaired.

The government has also delivered 800 air purifiers to schools and is considering requiring students to wear masks.

"What we need to do is look at a range of different measures, which include fresh air, include cleaning filters, include air purifiers, but it also looks at things like potentially mask-wearing," Ms Courtney said.

Tasmania's opposition party has urged the state government to release the schools audit to ensure a COVID safe environment for students. 

Labor leader Rebecca White said as a parent she wanted access to information about what preparations are being made at schools ahead of the school year.

"So we can understand whether or not they have been well ventilated, whether the air purifiers have been installed, what infrastructure improvements have been made or need to be made, and whether that will be completed before students return on the 9th of February," Ms White said. 

"There needs to be clear and consistent information provided by the government to keep young children safe."

Ms White said because children will not have enough time to be fully vaccinated before term one resumes, some parents are considering alternative options.

"Some parents I've spoken to are considering home schooling their children until they can be [fully vaccinated].

"The government needs to provide a guarantee that children will be safe at school and in our early childhood education and care centres."

Just over 80 per cent of Tasmania's total population has had two doses of a COVID vaccine, with children aged between 5 and 11 eligible to receive their first dose from January 10.

The other topic of conversation at cabinet today is expanding the list of services that are considered "essential" and should be covered by new isolation exemption rules.

Emergency services and food distribution workers who are close contacts are currently allowed to leave isolation and work, with some needing to have negative rapid tests every two days.

All leaders have received draft advice from a national expert health panel with a long list of which other workers should be included in the exemption.

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