Australia’s chief health officer has told a parliamentary committee a group of medical workers reportedly held an “illegal dinner party” linked to a major coronavirus outbreak in northwest Tasmania.
However, Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein was quick to respond, telling reporters on Tuesday morning he had spoken to Dr Brendan Murphy, who was “commenting on a rumour”.
“To be frank, Brendan was commenting on a rumour. Our contact tracing has not identified a dinner party of health workers.
“However, I accept that this is a serious allegation, and it’s something that needs to be followed up, and so we will retrace our steps, but, importantly, I’ve asked the Tasmania Police to investigate this matter.
The COVID-19 outbreak forced the closure of two hospitals in Burnie on Monday morning and the immediate quarantining of 1200 staff and 4000 household members.
The cluster involved than 60 COVID-19 cases, including 47 staff associated with the facilities.
Dr Brendan Murphy was appearing on Tuesday before the Epidemic Response Committee, a select committee set up to run in the place of parliament, which has been suspended under New Zealand’s lockdown.
“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.
Mr Gutwein said the allegations would be investigated.
“We need to get on top of this. We need to understand whether or not there is any strength to the rumour because, at the end of the day, I am
certain that there are many hard-working health professionals on the north-west coach who feel that their reputations are being maligned, people that have done the right thing, and we need to understand exactly what’s occurred here.
“But I do want to make this point, 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,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, the two hospitals closed, the North West Regional Hospital and North West Private Hospital, are undergoing a deep clean by specialist teams after shutting their doors.
Tasmania has also called in members of the Australian Defence Force to help progressively get services back online, as well as Australian Medical Assistance Teams.
Patients from the two hospitals have been moved to Mersey Community Hospital at Latrobe.
There were six cases statewide on Monday, all in the northwest, bringing the island’s total to 150.
Virus testing is also being increased in the outbreak region.
Five elderly people have died from the virus in Tasmania, four of them at the North West Regional Hospital.