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Uni students locked out, hundreds more kept home from school

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Thousands of Queensland students are staying home after a surge in COVID-19 cases and the state’s first confirmed death.

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As of this morning, there had been 61 COVID-19 diagnoses in Queensland, with 15 added to the tally on Sunday – the largest single day increase to date.

A Noosaville woman, 77, died in Sydney on Friday after her condition deteriorated on a flight from Queensland. She is likely to have contracted the coronavirus from her daughter, who recently returned from the United States, although neither had been tested.

Prisoner advocate Debbie Kilroy today took to Twitter to confirm her positive diagnosis, along with that of Bonita-Marie Mabo, the granddaughter of the late Indigenous rights campaigner Eddie Mabo. Kilroy had previously spoken of being on the same flight as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who confirmed his positive diagnosis on Friday.

The University of Queensland, where several students have been diagnosed with COVID-19, has cancelled all in-person and online teaching until March 23. In that time, it will fast-track the transition to online lectures, in anticipation of further disruption.

There have also been reports of hundreds of children being kept home from some junior and secondary schools by their parents, despite official advice that it is not necessary and, in some cases, may increase their individual risk.

Universities and schools have cancelled major assemblies, overseas trips, and even graduation ceremonies, while also installing more hand-washing stations for the students who turn up.

Mandated school closures will be considered at a later stage in the outbreak, in an effort to reduce the peak of the wave or waves of infection. Authorities may seek to leverage the upcoming school holidays, to limit the impact on students and their families while providing the longest period of closure to be of public benefit.

Queensland was the first to declare a public health emergency, which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today said demonstrated the Government’s preparedness to do whatever it takes.

“We have so far limited the spread of the virus and that’s because Queenslanders have been taking public health advice seriously,” Palaszczuk said.

“If we all keep listening to the advice of our medical experts, the virus will be easier to manage.

“That means basic things like washing hands, not kissing and hugging people and not shaking hands.

“If you’re sick, stay at home. If you’re worried you may have the coronavirus, contact 13HEALTH or contact your GP.”

Health Minister Steven Miles told ABC Radio the expert advice suggested 25 per cent of the state would contract COVID-19 in the first wave alone. If the transmission rate could be kept low, for as long as possible, the health system would be better able to care for one in five cases where there is likely to be serious illness.

“We can’t have much control over how many people can get the virus, but we can control how many people have it at any one time,” Miles said.

Asked if Queensland might also follow the UK’s lead on isolating the elderly, he said: “It’s certainly something we might consider down the track if and when we have community transmission.”

Major events are being cancelled in response to the ban on gatherings of 500 people or more, which will add to the economic crisis for the tourism, hospitality, arts, training and education sectors.

At this stage, Queensland council elections, and two state by-elections, will still go ahead on March 28, although voters have been encouraged to bring their own pencil and stay away from polling booths if ill. There has been a surge in postal vote applications.

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