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No community cases for 23 days but Qld hospitals seeing more in distress

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No community-acquired cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Queensland today but a top health official says the pandemic continues to cause mental health concerns.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk resorted to social media to announce another day of no local COVID-19 cases, just two cases detected in hotel quarantine and acquired overseas. No-one has been infectious in the community in Queensland for 23 days.

Queensland eased restrictions on Friday and, despite maintaining tight border control measures with NSW, has so far avoided the prolonged lockdowns of other states.

However, a parliamentary committee today heard the uncertainty associated with the pandemic has exacerbated underlying mental health issues for many people, and experts were awaiting more data on the impact of prolonged lockdowns.

Associate Professor John Allan, Executive Director, Mental Health Alcohol and Other Drugs Branch at Queensland Health. (Supplied)

Queensland Health’s Associate Professor John Allan, executive director of the mental health branch, said over the last five years mental health presentations to public hospitals had increased 8-10 per cent. Last year, it increased 10-12 per cent, and this year another five per cent.

“It’s been worsening over time, particularly for younger people,” Allan said.

“Covid seems to have brought out more self-harm and more eating disorders.

“Fortunately, we’re able to meet that demand and understand and do more for that.”

However, Allan warned that for some people, the health impact of the pandemic would be delayed, possibly by a number of years, similar to the delayed onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder seen in bushfire-affected communities.

Allan said Queensland had experienced better outcomes than other states during the pandemic, and had a “very cohesive society in general”. In times of lockdown, the message needed to be that it was an opportunity to help others, and save lives, rather than an imposition on individuals, he said, noting that there were competing “social forces” on such issues.

More than 20,000 people have signed a petition, circulated by One Nation MP Stephen Andrew, opposing various public health measures, including mandatory check-ins, and calling for a return to democracy and freedom. It comes ahead of State Parliament voting on an extension of such measures.

With vaccination touted as the way to avoid being restricted, or locked down, in future, Queensland Health is bringing another vaccine hub online at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre and continuing to ensure any available supplies are put to good use.

After a marine pilot caught COVID-19 from the crew of a ship, two Queensland Government agencies are even working together to vaccinate visiting seafarers.

Maritime Safety Queensland and Queensland Health will look to administer vaccines to crews on high-risk vessels, regular arrivals and those carrying liquid fuels, before expanding to cover all vessels arriving at ports in Queensland. There are still logistical and policy challenges.

It comes after a fully-vaccinated marine pilot caught COVID-19 on a ship on July 23, then infected a Cairns taxi driver, sparking a lockdown and extensive testing and contact tracing in the north Queensland city.

There have also been ships required to remain offshore while sick crew members are treated on board or, in the case of 19 people from a Filipino ship diverted to Weipa last month, flown to city hospitals for treatment.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation has welcomed the initiative, which comes after Queensland fine-tuned its testing and public health procedures in relation to ships.

“This Australian-first model developed by Maritime Safety Queensland and Queensland Health has the potential to save countless lives and should be taken to National Cabinet as a matter of urgency so it can be implemented around the country,” said ITF President and Maritime Union of Australia national secretary Paddy Crumlin.

The Palaszczuk Government is expected to today announce a new policy for vaccinating hospital staff, after an unvaccinated receptionist at the Prince Charles Hospital contracted COVID-19. It follows NSW Health and several major companies moving to vaccinate all staff.

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