Queensland’s chief health officer issued “strong advice” to the Premier to lock down Greater Brisbane after a hotel cleaner was diagnosed with a mutant strain of COVID-19 that is 70 per cent more contagious than the original virus.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Friday the council areas of Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton, and Redlands would go into a strict three-day lockdown from 6pm that evening to 6pm on Monday.
The drastic measure comes as authorities battle to avoid a crippling outbreak like that in the UK, where the mutant strain has taken hold.
“We know that this UK strain is … 70 per cent more infectious and we are going to go hard and we are going to go early to do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“It’s incredibly contagious.
“I’ve accepted the strong advice from Dr Young, if we do not do this now, it could end up being a 30-day lockdown.”
The hotel cleaner “did everything right” and got tested as soon as she began to have symptoms, but was unknowingly infectious in the community for five days.
Queensland CHO Dr Jeannette Young said Queensland had to act “really, really fast” to ensure every single person who might have been infected with the new strain was found immediately.
“We know this particular variant can spread very rapidly if it gets hold so my hope is that it hasn’t got hold,” she said.
Dr Young said the situation had effectively taken the state back to where it was in March, when authorities knew very little about the virus.
She said the mutant strain, while more contagious, does not appear to make people sicker.
“At this stage, the evidence coming out of the UK is that it doesn’t cause more severe disease, it doesn’t increase mortality, and most importantly of all for us it doesn’t affect the efficacy of the vaccines that have been developed to date,” she said.
“The issue is that more people will get it and we have seen that in the UK.”
About one in 50 people of the population in the UK have contacted COVID-19, causing serious problems for their overloaded healthcare systems, Dr Young said.
“If you can’t manage the numbers … if you can’t provide oxygen and the basic care that those people then need, then the consequences will be worse.”
Dr Young said the three-day lockdown would give authorities a chance to determine how far the strain has spread in the community.
“If we can get on top of this today, we will be able to manage it and not need to go back through that lockdown period that we had to go through in March and April,” she said.
Under the lockdown rules, only those who need to attend work and cannot work from home, provide health care or support for a vulnerable person, undertake essential shopping and to exercise within the area are allowed to leave their homes.
Masks are also mandatory when those in the local areas need to leave their homes.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to social media to back Ms Palaszczuk‘s announcement.
“Wise call by Qld Premier @AnnastaciaMP to have a brief lockdown to enable Queensland health authorities to get on top of the UK strain case in Brisbane,” the post read.
“A big thanks in advance to everyone in greater Brisbane for their patience in coming days. This will buy much needed time.”