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Torres Strait mission for Health Minister to get vaccinations on track

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Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath will fly to the Torres Strait tomorrow, as nearby Papua New Guinea continues to grapple with a COVID-19 epidemic.

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The Queensland Government had diverted AstraZeneca vaccines to Torres Strait and Cape York communities as a priority, given the unfolding disaster on the state’s doorstep.

However, the risk of blood clots in people under 50 who receive that particular vaccine prompted Queensland Health to halt the rollout in the region, which has a younger population than other areas of the state.

First doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had already been given to communities such as Saibai, Boigu and Dauan, with plans to cover off other islands before hitting the Cape.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the implications of the new advice on the AstraZeneca vaccinations were still being worked through. She said the minister’s Torres Strait visit was “just to see how that vaccine rollout is going”.

Queensland Health had also planned to have staff cross the border to assist with vaccinations in PNG, where there are now more than 8,000 active cases. The status of that operations remains unclear.

Queensland recorded no new cases of COVID-19 overnight, only one historic case, with 41 cases now active. However, the lifting of a passenger cap on flights from Papua New Guinea has raised concerns of an influx of sick travellers.

Palaszczuk said she was still waiting on the Morrison Government to decide whether Toowoomba could host a purpose-built and isolated quarantine facility.

“Now that National Cabinet is meeting twice a week, I’m quite sure I’m going to have more of an opportunity to raise it,” Palaszczuk said.

Queensland has not only had to hospitalise scores of travellers arriving from PNG with COVID-19. New figures show there have already been nine COVID-19 patients transferred from PNG to Queensland facilities in 2021, after only two such medivac flights last year.

Amid a debate over the adequacy of Personal Protective Equipment in Queensland hospitals, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia is sending COVID-19 ventilation hoods to Thursday Island Hospital to help protect hospital staff.

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