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Health boss fears the virus 'secrets' NSW may still be keeping from us

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Officials want to know how far, and fast, COVID-19 will spread if borders reopen – and Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young says the fact NSW still has tougher business restrictions speaks volumes about the ongoing risk.

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Ahead of National Cabinet meeting to discuss the internal border situation, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on Wednesday discussed the need for new modelling on COVID-19.

Overnight, Queensland reported no new cases of COVID-19 – its tally was 1060 on Thursday morning – whereas NSW had two new cases (3106 in total) and Victoria eight new cases (1,678 in total). There are 490 active cases in Australia, only three of them in Queensland.

Queensland has come under pressure from NSW to open the shared border, while some businesses have also expressed concern over the ongoing economic impact of restricting travel and trade. How the novel coronavirus might spread in future remains unknown.

Young said Queensland would still undertake its next border review at the end of June but wanted to know the risk of allowing more interstate travel.

“We want some modelling done that if a state without cases opens up to a state that does have cases, what might it look like in terms of travel patterns,” Young told InQueensland.

“We’ve opened up our economy much more than the southern states. NSW has opened up to 50 people whereas we’re going much further than that if people have got plans and they’ve got separate areas and so forth. We’ve opened our economy much more here, and similarly much more than Victoria, so I think it would be difficult for us to go and have people from a state that’s decided that they’re not going to open up their economy because they’ve still got transmission.

“We’ve opened up ours because we don’t have transmission so to go and take people from a state who do, I think they’re making the decision in some ways.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has previously speculated the border restrictions might be eased in September, but has since made clear, as have Young and Deputy Premier Steven Miles, it is a month-by-month consideration. Miles is open to discussing the practicalities of restrictions being eased on a state-by-state basis, first with better performing jurisdictions.

Young said deciding to further ease the social distancing and business restrictions in Queensland, partly as a show of good faith to those who had willingly complied, would test the health response.

“It’s the next stage that we are rolling out now that I think there could be problems,” Young said.

“I’m not worried if there are problems, because we’ve shown very, very effectively that we’ve got the ability to rapidly go in and stamp on a case.”

Young said her concerns over the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in Australia early in the pandemic were alleviated by the decision to close the international borders, a move she believed made the biggest contribution to stopping the disease.

“Then we started seeing cases pop up due to travel to another state,” Young said of the decision for Queensland to close its borders.

“We’d had 14 cases in 15 days and I could see that getting worse than worse. One case we had managed to transmit to 34 other people – that was big.”

Young was referring to a birthday lunch at Noosa, where a traveller infected 34 people, 28 of them Queenslanders, and at the time how frequently COVID-19 was coming from interstate.

“So we closed the borders on the 26th of March and then we only had four more cases after that, remembering people incubate for up to 14 days, and since (further tightening of border restrictions on) the 10th of April, we have not had any.”

While Queensland has had multiple “zero days,” with no new infections, Young said she believed there would always be some active cases in the state. Increases, and possibly even outbreaks, were likely as restrictions eased further.

“Essentially, the modelling shows that if we don’t open our borders, we just grumble on,” Young said.

“We shouldn’t get a second wave because we’re managing the risks – the people flying in from overseas, they’re in mandatory quarantine, it’s being properly managed – so we shouldn’t get too many cases. We will get the occasional one, because there will be people out there who we haven’t picked up.”

Young again urged anyone feeling sick to stay home and seek a COVID-19 test.

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