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‘Easter is good to go’: Brisbane lifts lockdown but we still don’t know how hospital workers were infected

Today’s announcement that Brisbane’s three-day lockdown will be lifted early, at noon today, shows Queensland authorities are on top of their COVID-19 clusters. But we’re not out of the woods yet, with several restrictions in place for the entire state over the next 14 days.

What’s more, we still don’t know exactly how the clusters that lead to the lockdowns in the first place arose. We know the two separate health workers looking after two separate COVID cases at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra hospital had yet to be vaccinated at the time they became infected. They went on to infect others, with cases spreading across the border into New South Wales.

But were these health workers wearing the correct PPE? Were they infected via airborne transmission? We don’t have the answers. Once we do, we’ll be in a better position to prevent health workers becoming infected and spreading the virus into the wider community in the future.

Read more: COVID in Brisbane: 3-day lockdown begins as authorities scramble to find missing links

What happened today?

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Brisbane’s lockdown was lifted because there were:

  • high testing rates (34,711 tests in Queensland in the most recent reporting period)

  • no unlinked cases of community transmission (although there was one case of community transmission linked to a known case, and who was already in quarantine).

So Palaszczuk declared: “Easter is good to go.”

The high rates of testing and absence of unlinked cases are encouraging. But the decision to lift lockdown early also shows how public health decisions are not made purely on the data alone. Easter played a role.

Indeed, Palaszczuk said the decision to lift restructions at noon rather than 5pm was to allow people to get on the road ahead of the Easter long weekend.

Easter church services can now go ahead, albeit with restrictions, and gatherings at home are also permitted, with limits of 30 people.

Today’s ‘pefect case’

Queensland’s single case of community transmission reported today was a nurse; the state’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young described her as “the perfect case”.

The nurse acquired her infection at a hen’s party in Byron Bay, NSW, and was a contact of a known case. When she returned to Queensland, Young said the nurse returned a negative test on Monday but was positive when tested again on Wednesday morning. So she was already in quarantine during her infectious period, minimising the risk to the wider community.

Across the border in NSW, there was one new case of community transmission in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, again acquired in Byron Bay.

Read more: Retirees, holidaymakers, alternative lifestyles, the UK strain: why Byron Bay's COVID situation is so concerning

Some restrictions remain in Qld

Some restrictions remain for the whole of Queensland for the next 14 days. Apart from those already mentioned, people across the state will also have to wear masks in supermarkets and on public transport, and stay seated in restaurants and pubs.

I’d imagine people in Far North Queensland might be put out by some of these restrictions, as cases from these recent clusters had not spread there. But one can understand the adoption of the precautionary principle here, and from a practical perspective a simple, unified set of restrictions for the whole state is easier to implement and manage.

Over the next 14 days, there are also restrictions on visits to aged care (other than for end-of-life care). Young said this would be difficult for residents, and friends and family.

But she said this was necessary, as the consequence of an outbreak in such a vulnerable population would be serious. She also said residents at only 56 of the 186 aged-care facilities in the state had been vaccinated.

Read more: Banning visitors to aged care during coronavirus raises several ethical questions – with no simple answers

Young was also concerned about the amount of virus being detected in patients hospitalised with COVID-19. So the risk of transmitting the virus to others in hospital was “extraordinarily high”.

So she said it would now be compulsory for all front-line workers in contact with COVID patients to be vaccinated. Other states may follow suit. This would go some way towards preventing health workers from becoming seriously ill.

Transmission from COVID cases to health workers just shouldn’t have happened. We all understand you can’t prevent virus transmission all the time in high-risk environments. But the transmission of COVID to two health workers points to specific infection-control issues at one hospital.

I hope authorities are looking very closely at how that transmission occurred, so we can better protect health workers and the wider community in future.

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