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Quarantine pressure grows as infection rates now 18 times higher

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Another eight cases of COVID-19 have been detected in Queensland hotel quarantine – six of those in travellers returning from Papua New Guinea.

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The news came a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced travel from PNG would be restricted, with passenger flights into Cairns suspended and caps on flights into Brisbane reduced.

The Palaszczuk government has also ramped up health services in the Torres Strait, and transferred all COVID-19 patients from Cairns to larger Brisbane hospitals, to ease pressure on far north Queensland clinicians.

Papua New Guinea is in the grip of a COVID-19 epidemic and there are concerns Torres Strait and Cape York communities could be at risk.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today said Queensland had 48 active cases of COVID-19 after the detection of eight new cases in hotel quarantine.

“I think that’s one of the largest we’ve seen and six positives from those hotel quarantine cases are from Papua New Guinea,” Palaszczuk said.

“All of the measures that we announced yesterday (are) very timely.”

Even before the latest surge in cases, the infection rate in hotel quarantine was rising, due to travellers returning from more affected countries and carrying more contagious variants.

In the week ending March 14, the rate of infection among overseas arrivals in government quarantine was 1.96 per cent – almost 18 times higher than it was in October last year.

This is putting pressure on the health system as all travellers who test positive are taken to hospital. The hotel quarantine regime has also been the subject of various reviews.

“This past fortnight, we have recorded 55 new cases in hotel quarantine,” Palaszczuk said.

“That’s something that we need to be very aware of and, once again, I’ve been a very strong advocate of regional quarantine and we’re still yet to hear about that.”

The Morrison Government has yet to agree to allow international flights to land at Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport to support a proposed purpose-built, self-contained and self-funded quarantine facility.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 75 per cent of Queensland’s COVID-19 cases have been detected in hotel quarantine, but the recently arrived UK variant has leaked out of the Hotel Grand Chancellor twice and even the Princess Alexandra Hospital once.

Palaszczuk said a rapid response to the latest quarantine breaches appeared to have contained the outbreak and an announcement would be made tomorrow on easing the restrictions.

She also defended the government yesterday calling on anyone with a history of severe allergic reactions to delay getting the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying Health Minister Yvette D’Ath was upfront about the issue – four people experienced reactions after getting their shot – and the advice changed after subsequent communication with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

People will still be asked to wait 30 minutes instead of 15 minutes for any adverse reactions to appear but it will not have any impact on the rollout of the program.

“The vaccination program is going full steam ahead,” said Palaszczuk, who was in Port Douglas to announce a tourism taskforce would help the industry recover from travel restrictions and the economic downturn.

This afternoon, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt backed Queensland’s handling of adverse reactions, saying “they were being cautious, there’s no criticism from the Commonwealth”. He also took the opportunity to highlight the lack of new border restrictions after community-acquired cases in Queensland and NSW.

“Two cases, two states, no border closures – I think that’s a very significant moment for Australia,” Hunt said.

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