My brother Sean and I have tried vainly to return home to the state in which we grew up to say farewell to our 65-year-old father, Glen Prien, before he passed away.

Our applications were rejected by the Tasmanian Covid Control team because we both reside in what it deemed to be “high-risk areas”.

Our applications to attend our father’s funeral on November 24 have also been rejected. Our heartbreak was detailed in articles in the Mercury here and here

I agree that a line has to be drawn between who may and who may not enter the state. Covid-19 is real and dangerous. The problem is that where the line is currently drawn is demonstrably in the wrong place.

The “high-risk area” I reside in is the Melton City Council, across the Bass Strait in Melbourne, population 180,636. According to the Federal Government’s “Covid Live” website, on November 2, two days before my most recent application, there were 1,317 active cases in this council

This means that 0.72% of residents actively had Covid-19; the other 99.28% did not. Sean resides in a council where 0.51% of the population were active cases; 99.49% were not.

Since November 2, the percentage of active Covid-19 cases in these councils has actually decreased. Notwithstanding, they are still classified as “high-risk areas” by Tasmanian authorities. 

Tasmania’s risk classification for Covid-19 is simply not fit-for-purpose.

It assumes all residents are “high-risk” if the council is high-risk. But there is no direct causal relationship between the broader area in which someone resides and the risk that residents present, since each resident travels on different routes and attends different premises.

Neither of us have been in contact with anyone that actively has Covid-19 or attended high-risk premises.

Tasmanian Covid Control policies should use conditions that represent a more accurate marker of risk than place of residence. Such factors include contact with a person who actively has Covid-19, attendance at high-risk premises, test results, vaccination status, and the Covid-19 incubation period.

When these are taken into account, many people living in high-risk areas present a very low risk of spreading Covid-19 in Tasmania.

With respect to the length of quarantine, 14 days is already extremely cautious. The World Health Organisation says that the average Covid-19 incubation period is 5–6 days from the date of infection, although in rare cases it has been up to 14 days. The Australian Government’s Department of Health guideline echoes this,  stating that “the incubation period ranges from 1 to 14 days, with a median incubation period of 5 to 6 days.”

Tasmanian Covid Control should be applauded for an effective quarantine program to-date which has kept the number of cases low.

But at the moment it is overkill.

Successful applicants for compassionate entry must undergo a mandatory quarantine period of 14 days and must agree to tests on days 3 and 12. A positive test result means that the quarantine period is restarted. Bearing in mind that the applicant must also receive a negative Covid-19 test result before boarding a plane or ship, this means that before he or she can leave quarantine, three negative tests over at least 14 days are required.

Given that applicants must also be fully vaccinated (we are), residents of high-risk areas clearly present a minimal risk of spreading Covid-19.

Unnecessarily restrictive border policies also treat end of life issues as if they were trivial.

Many other people from other states have had the same experience of not being allowed to say farewell to a dying loved one in person. It is an incredibly painful experience

My parents are Tasmanian residents and taxpayers, but they have been left feeling that their elected government does not have sufficient compassion on their plight to cut red tape to ensure that their family can be at their side when they are dying or attend their funeral. 

Given that the Tasmanian borders will be opening on December 15 to people like Sean and myself who present minimal risk, I cannot see why interstate residents should be denied compassionate entry.

Note: Sean and Fergus Prien still hope to attend their father’s funeral on November 24. If you would like to add your name to a petition that will be presented to the Tasmanian Premier, Peter Gutwein MP, requesting that a exception is made in their cases, it can be found here.

Fergus Prien is a PhD Candidate in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne.