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Lockdown looks likely to lift, but get set for masks to stay until Christmas

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Fewer cases of COVID-19 have been reported today – 10 infections all linked to the Indooroopilly cluster – but even if the lockdown is lifted, masks might be here to stay.

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Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young today said it was encouraging the 10 new cases all tested positive while in home quarantine, and only two had been infectious in the community beforehand – for one day each, and during the south-east Queensland lockdown.

There were 16 cases yesterday, and 16 cases the day before, so the cluster now stands at 89, with 132 active cases overall. The number of tests done in a 24-hour period has dropped back below 50,000.

Young said she was hopeful that, over the weekend, the high rate of testing would continue, with few new cases and no time infectious in the community.

“But we’ve got to keep it up for the next few days, we’re not there yet,” Young said.

Young will not make a decision on whether the lockdown will lift at 4pm on Sunday until that morning. Even if it does, there will be trailing restrictions, and masks will remain mandatory in the south-east for months – possibly until Christmas.

She said they had made “an enormous difference” and helped contain the more contagious Delta variant.

“Masks are just so critical with this Delta variant, they truly are,” Young said.

“If we want to try and avoid lockdowns, we’re going to have to get used to wearing masks.”

Despite repeated public warnings, some people in the 11 local government areas subject to the lockdown have been out in public without masks as directed. Police had to hand out 302 masks yesterday – the most ever – to people who weren’t even carrying them, and fined 10 people for their behaviour.

Given the Indooroopilly cluster spread through schools, and unvaccinated, unmasked children, authorities are looking at how to better protect younger people. Five of today’s cases were children, and five were adults.

Subject to enough vaccines being available, teenagers and children are likely to be given the jab, and Young said Education Queensland might trial smaller masks for primary school students.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles said people only needed to read the accounts of parents with sick children in hospital to understand the need for authorities to take the Delta variant seriously.

“It has spread in places we didn’t have masks – schools and households,” said Miles, who also thanked the 8,494 people caught up in the outbreak who remained in home quarantine.

A parliamentary committee has today given the green light to Labor’s proposed extension of the extraordinary powers afforded to Young and the Palaszczuk Government to deal with the pandemic. Many of the measures were due to expire in September but will now carry over to April 2022. Another extension may be required if the vaccination rollout does not gain pace.

Amid concern some Queenslanders remain vaccine hesitant, Young and Health Minister Yvette D’Ath will get their second AstraZeneca jabs this week. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who remains in hotel quarantine after her Tokyo Olympics trip, had opted for Pfizer and is now fully vaccinated.

Young has been criticised for previously urging younger people to wait for Pfizer, rather than risk a slightly higher risk of blood clots with AstraZeneca, but today insisted she had always followed the advice of expert group ATAGI. That advice now encourages people under 60 to make an informed decision of whether, in an outbreak, and with no Pfizer available, AstraZeneca is worth the risk.

“It is a personal choice and one that needs to be made with your GP,” Young said.

While Brisbane City Council is giving its employees paid vaccination leave, the State Government has yet to agree to unions’ call for two-days dedicated leave.

Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said discussions were continuing but she believed existing leave entitlements were “generous”.

“I’m not aware of any public sector worker, including casuals, that have not been accommodated with some sort of paid leave to be vaccinated,” Grace said.

An independent review into the reasons an infected Prince Charles Hospital receptionist had not been vaccinated, despite working outside a COVID-19 ward, has been extended for two weeks and is now due to report on August 20.

The government is still considering a requirement that all staff at hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients be vaccinated.

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