As we approach the end of another tough year, it's hard to believe that it's been almost two years since we first heard about a potential pandemic threatening to create havoc throughout the world.
I can recall this time last year looking ahead to a better 2021, after the disruptions, pain and hardship wrought by COVID-19 throughout 2020.
Unfortunately, while Tasmania has weathered the COVID resurgence better than some other parts of the country, the uncertainty has remained, and many Tasmanians have continued to work through the repercussions.
Many businesses have managed to keep operating throughout, others have had to adapt and work reduced hours with fewer staff and, sadly, some had to close their doors permanently, unable to withstand the financial impact.
Now, with the borders set to reopen this week, we have some cause for cautious optimism.
But the emergence of the Omicron strain means many Tasmanians are still on their guard, with genuine fears about what will happen when COVID returns to the state.
For hospitality and tourism businesses and workers welcoming back interstate tourists, I know this is an exciting time, which means they can take advantage of new opportunities - along with some old ones - and the importance of this can't be overstated.
But, as well as looking forward, they are also in need of clear guidance to see them through the latest changes and requirements.
Many still have unanswered questions about what is expected of them if COVID affects their business, and how it will impact their staff.
The lack of clarity around this has unfortunately caused needless anxiety for operators, and it is vital that the Gutwein government provides the support they need to open with confidence and to keep operating without any further confusion.
One of things that has impressed me the most over the past two years has been the resilience and strength of the Tasmanian people ...
We also know that there are many Tasmanians who will bear the brunt of COVID cases in the community, in particular our hard-working and already stressed health workers.
And that's why we must continue to be prepared and vigilant, and to take precautions.
While the overwhelming majority of Tasmanians are vaccinated, there are still many who are not, which means the return of COVID will place additional pressure on our hospitals and health system overall.
We know that staff are already working long, unsustainable hours, while dealing with chronic staff shortages, our hospitals are under incredible strain with growing waiting lists, and emergency departments face long delays and ambulance ramping on an almost daily basis.
The additional pressure COVID will bring means more staff are desperately needed to support the extra beds, ventilators and the state's COVID@home program.
Just days out from the borders reopening, it is vital that our health care workers know they will be well-supported and resourced when we have COVID in the health system. And so do the Tasmanian people.
Having enjoyed the kind of freedom some of our mainland neighbours have only been able to dream of, many Tasmanians are nervous about the borders reopening and they too need reassurance.
One of things that has impressed me the most over the past two years has been the resilience and strength of the Tasmanian people who have been most affected by the restrictions that have been in place here.
I've met with many businesses and community groups around Tasmania and continue to be heartened by their ability to adapt to the unprecedented challenges they have dealt with.
I also continue to be inspired by the care Tasmanians have shown to each other and their local communities, both during the snap three-day lockdown in southern Tasmania and throughout the state during all of the year's challenges.
COVID has taught us much over the past couple of years - and working together to help one another has been one of our most important lessons.
I'd like to extend my thanks to all Tasmanians for their efforts again this year in keeping everyone safe, and I urge everyone to continue to take precautions.
For those of you looking forward to reuniting with loved ones after an extended separation, I wish you all the very best.
And I wish all Tasmanians a safe and happy holiday with family and friends.
May this festive season finally herald better times ahead for everyone, and a happy, healthy 2022 for us all.
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