Less than two weeks after Queensland’s top doctor promised there would be no more citywide lockdowns, health authorities have backflipped – instating a three-day lockdown and hinting it could be extended.
On March 19, chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said in the event of any future clusters, only the state’s most vulnerable people would be locked down.
When a Princess Alexandra Hospital doctor tested positive to COVID-19 in early March after treating an overseas acquired case, only the city’s aged care homes, hospitals and disability accommodation providers were locked down for a number of days.
At the time, she said now that check-in apps were being used widely, contact tracers could work at a fast enough pace to prevent any other citywide lockdowns like the city saw in early January.
“There’s no need to go into lockdown when we’ve got responses like this,” she said on March 19.
But, just ten days later, she stood alongside Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk as she announced the city’s 2.5 million residents would be plunged into another snap three-day lockdown, and has refused to rule out extending it.
Residents of Greater Brisbane are facing the possibility of spending their second Easter in a row in lockdown, as two “concerning” clusters continue to grow.
Eight new COVID-19 cases were detected in the community as of Tuesday, and health authorities now believe the 15 locally acquired cases of recent weeks are related to two “distinct” clusters, both of which have originated from the Princess Alexandra Hospital.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Monday that Greater Brisbane, encompassing the Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Redlands and Moreton Bay council areas would be locked down from 5pm for three days.
Until 5pm Thursday, the city’s 2.5 million residents are only able to leave their home to buy essentials, to obtain medical care or provide support, to exercise outdoors, or to work and study if not able to do so at home.
On Tuesday, Ms Palaszczuk would not rule out the possibility the lockdown could be extended, potentially through the Easter long weekend.
“In terms of the Greater Brisbane region, we just have to take this day-by-day,” she said.
“I said that we will give the most up-to-date information we can ever single morning. Do we expect to see more cases? Probably.
“The big question will be whether or not we see unlinked community transmission.”
When pressed on whether the lockdown might be extended until Tuesday to “give people more certainty”, the Premier said it all “depends on what we see over the next 24-48 hours.”
“The next two days are critical for our contact tracers to get on top of this,” ‘she said.
“If anyone out there is feeling sick and has any symptoms, please go and get tested. We need to eliminate any unlinked community transmission out there.”
Dr Young said the entire state needed to be on guard, given how widely some of the cases had travelled.
“It’s too early to decide what may or may not happen,” Dr Young said.
“We’ll just have to see how many cases we have and whether or not they’re linked, and whether or not they’re in quarantine at the time that they’re diagnosed.”
The rest of Queensland is currently subject to a mask mandate and other restrictions, including a 30-person cap on at-home gatherings, and seating orders for patrons at hospitality venues.
Aged care facilities, hospitals and disability support services around the state are locked down.
Professor Adrian Esterman from the University of South Australia, a leading epidemiologist, said things in Brisbane would “get worse before it gets better”.
“(Queensland Health) has to assume it’s out there … They have to do everything they can to make sure it doesn’t go any further,” he said.
“The next two or three days will be absolutely crucial.”
Prof Esterman said if Queensland contact tracers were working to the same model as Victorian authorities, the seven new cases today could mean “at least” 700 close contacts.
“Let’s assume each person who is infected has got 10 close contacts, each of them have got 10 close contacts … So each contact tracer has to look after 100 people,” he said.
“With seven infected people, you’ve got 700 … If you start getting 30 or 40 infected people, it gets extremely difficult to contain.”