Australia Australia's pandemic focus shifts north as south-east Queensland joins Sydney in lockdown

22:26  01 august  2021
22:26  01 august  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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In lead up to last weekend, the nation's pandemic focus was almost solely on New South Wales.

In the midst of an extended lockdown on the back of an outbreak of the delta variant, the state had reported a record number of new cases on Thursday, with 239 cases confirmed.

NSW was seeing record numbers of tests but authorities were pleading with more people to come forward.

The state's police force was warning anti-lockdown protesters against again expressing their displeasure with imposed restrictions in the form of another march through Sydney.

With Victoria emerging from lockdown just days prior, the narrative was firmly in place that NSW would be the focal point of the nation's COVID-19 response for the weekend ahead.

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That was until a single case was reported in Brisbane on Friday.

Delta spreads north

Prior to Saturday, students had not been required to wear masks in Queensland schools, despite children 12 and over being required to wear masks while in public elsewhere in the state.

As late as Friday, Queensland Health had not explained the differing advice.

Whatever the logic behind the delineation, the delta variant seems to have paid little heed.

By Saturday, the cluster which first came to public attention in the form of a 17-year-old high school student from Brisbane's west testing positive, had grown to seven cases. Another three schools would get caught up in the cluster.

The six new cases of the delta strain were enough for Deputy Premier Steven Miles to lock down 11 local government areas in the state's south-east for three days from 4:00pm that afternoon.

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And just like that, the nation's attention shifted north.

Border restrictions reinstated

The response from the rest of the country was swift.

Within hours, the Tasmanian, Northern Territory and Victorian governments had imposed border restrictions on those travelling from Queensland.

People in Tasmania who had arrived from Queensland since July 17 were ordered to isolate.

The Northern Territory ordered Queensland arrivals to go into supervised quarantine from the start of the lockdown.

Victoria declared the 11 Queensland local government areas red zones under the state's traffic light permit system.

The red zone declaration means Victorians returning home from the affected areas after 8:00pm on July 31 must quarantine for 14 days.

And non-residents are effectively barred from entering the state without an exemption or an exception.

Victoria itself recorded six new cases over the weekend, with five having been in quarantine for the duration of their infectious period and the one other case reportedly having limited time in the community while infectious.

Queensland records nine new COVID-19 cases

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Battle with virus continues in NSW

Meanwhile, in NSW, the state's extensive battle with the virus continued.

On Saturday, 210 locally acquired cases were reported in the state, followed the next day by a repeat of the state's record daily rise in case numbers with 239 new infections announced.

The weekend may not have delivered a reversal in the trend of infections, but there were completely different scenes at planned anti-lockdown protests.

Following a heavy police presence in Sydney, and governmental backlash to last weekend's events, a feared repeat did not eventuate on Saturday.

The warnings of fines of up to $100,000 and exclusion zones set up around the CBD seemed to help keep away the thousands of protesters which had taken to the streets the week prior.

By Sunday, the NSW government's public appeals centred on appealing for residents to get vaccinated as well as calling on more people to come forward for testing.

Up north, authorities in Queensland were repeating a similar message to their residents for more people to come forward for testing.

South-east Queensland extends lockdown

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Push for more to come forward for testing

The Queensland lockdown was by no means a half-measure.

With the backing of the Prime Minister and National Cabinet, Queensland put into place what it called the toughest restrictions imposed in the state since the pandemic began.

Essential activity outside south-east Queenslanders' homes was restricted to within a 10km radius and non-essential businesses were forced to close. Masks were mandated outside except for vigorous exercise.

The state's swift action was followed by nine cases reported on Sunday, bringing the size of the cluster to 18.

Despite the lockdown having been put in place, Queensland authorities were still concerned that they had not established a direct link between the cluster and two returned travellers in hotel quarantine whose genome sequencing showed they were the source of transmission.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young indicated she believed the outbreak began on the Sunshine Coast, and urged more people from that region and the rest of the south-east to come forward for testing. She pushed for as many as 40,000 Queenslanders to come forward for testing daily. But the state was seeing much less.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles reiterated the call, describing as inadequate the less than 11,000 tests which were conducted in the 24 hours to Saturday morning.

Queensland bracing for lockdown extension

  Queensland bracing for lockdown extension The risk of restrictions remaining beyond Sunday looks increasingly likely as the Delta strain spreads.Queenslanders are being told they could bring an end to the current coronavirus lockdown by coming forward for testing.

"We need more Queenslanders, particularly in the south-east, to get tested. While that's a high number — a high turnout for a Saturday — in previous outbreaks that were not this serious, we were consistently testing more than twice that number," he said.

With Queenslanders reporting lengthy delays at COVID testing centres in the south-east on Sunday, health minister Yvette D'ath responded by saying more testing sites were opening up.

The path out of lockdowns

Residents in NSW and Queensland are back to following the trend in daily case numbers, wondering when the lockdown restrictions will lift.

And the entire nation continues to wonder when such lockdowns will no longer be required.

On Saturday, the nation's leader wasn't prepared to put a timeframe on the end to restrictions.

Drawing on the pathway out of the pandemic established by National Cabinet the day prior, Scott Morrison wouldn't commit to a specific date when Australia would move to phase 2 of the plan to lower restrictions.

Instead, he put the onus on Australians' vaccination rates — namely, reaching 70 per cent and 80 per cent of adults fully vaccinated.

"The day where we move forward is the day where we hit those targets — the calendar won't determine it, the vaccination rate will determine it," Mr Morrison said.

"If I were to walk out here in Canberra this morning wearing nothing but my board shorts, I would freeze.

"But if I go out there with a big coat on, I'll be fine — that's what getting to 70 per cent vaccination is."

And now Australians have a new set of daily numbers to monitor as they wait for a return to some kind of normalcy.

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South-east Queensland's lockdown to lift after seven new cases linked to school cluster .
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says residents did a “mighty job” of controlling a cluster of the Delta COVID variant, saying lockdown will lift this afternoon.There were nine new cases in the state, including one case under investigation on the Gold Coast, and one case of concern in Cairns who was infectious in the community for 10 days.

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