Australia’s chief medical officer has backtracked on an allegation a group of medical staff held an “illegal dinner party” prior to a coronavirus outbreak in north-west Tasmania.
However, Tasmania Police will investigate the rumour, which began circulating on social media at Easter, that
Professor Brendan Murphy was part of a group of health experts addressing New Zealand’s newly formed Epidemic Response Committee on Tuesday when he mentioned the dinner party anecdote, discussed in the context of flattening the infection curve.
“We thought we were doing really well in the last week then we had a cluster of 49 cases in a hospital in Tasmania just over the weekend, most of them went to an illegal dinner party of medical workers,” Dr Murphy told the committee via video link.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein immediately responded by saying the CMO was “commenting on a rumour”.
And within a few hours Professor Murphy released a statement saying that contact tracing had not confirmed such a dinner party took place.
“This morning in discussions with a New Zealand parliamentary committee, I referred to suggestion that a dinner party may have been the source of some of the transmission in the north-west Tasmania cluster of cases.
“Whilst this possibility had previously been mentioned to me following initial investigations, I am now informed that the contact tracing has not confirmed that such a dinner party occurred.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the nation’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly was asked about the alleged dinner party, saying his CMO had “clarified” the situation.
“It was something that was mentioned to him at some point. But that is an ongoing investigation. I understand the police are involved.
Mr Gutwein said police would investigate the rumours but the state’s contact tracing had not identified a dinner party of health workers.
“To be frank, Brendan was commenting on a rumour,” he said.
“However, I accept that this is a serious allegation and it’s something that needs to be followed up. So we will retrace our steps.”
“Importantly I have asked that Tasmania Police investigate this matter and that will be started today.”
“We need to understand whether or not there is any strength to the rumour. At the end of the day, I’m certain that there are many hardworking health professionals on the north-west coast that feel that their reputations are being maligned,” he said.
“Regardless of whether or not that party took place, it does not change the fact that we need to get on top of this outbreak.”
Tasmania’s director of public health, Mark Veitch, said he “heard of some Facebook chatter” but “our contact traces have not identified a medical meeting or a medical dinner party as one of the sources”.
The outbreak of the coronavirus in two hospitals in Burnie in north-west Tasmania led to the immediate quarantine of 1200 hospital staff and up to 4000 household members on Monday.
Out of Tasmania’s 150 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 78 are linked to the outbreak in the state’s north-west.
In-patients were moved to another hospital and Australian Defence Force personnel and Australian medical assistance teams were brought in to manage hospital admissions as the North West Regional Hospital and North West Private Hospital undergo a deep clean by specialist teams after shutting their doors.
Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie told Melbourne radio station 3AW there could be dire consequences if the north-western part of the state wasn’t given enough resources.
“If it turns really bad down here we’re going to need ventilators and a hell of a lot more equipment really, really quickly, otherwise we’re going to have a hell of a lot of deaths on our doorstep.”