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Qld businesses still in the dark over how to handle Covid customers

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Just fours days out from travel restrictions easing on fully vaccinated travellers from domestic Covid-19 hotspots, the Palaszczuk Government is yet to release guidelines for how business should deal with virus cases.

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Venues and essential businesses still don’t know how close contacts will be dealt with if a Covid case enters their premises.

Currently close contacts must self-isolate for 14-days regardless of their vaccination status.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath promised new health directives, which may be less strict for mandated businesses, will be released before the border opening on Monday.

“In the coming days, the government will issue the guidelines required for business and industry as our border reopens,” she said in a statement.

“This will include information on managing close contacts in the workplace.

“Our objective is to provide an environment where business, particularly essential business, remains open.”

Meanwhile, Small Business Minister Di Farmer has signalled supermarkets, pharmacies and other essential businesses could have the ability to mandate vaccination and exclude unvaccinated people.

Anyone entering a cafe, restaurant, bar, club, pub, theatre, cinema, museum, library or sport stadium will need to be fully vaccinated under a statewide mandate from December 17.

The mandate doesn’t extend to essential services like grocery stores, but Ms Farmer says all private business are allowed to opt in to the mandate.

“The ability to mandate that staff and patrons be vaccinated is available to every business,” Ms Farmer told reporters on Thursday.

“Any business is able to make that decision, and I think a lot of them are actually thinking about that very seriously.

“(When Queensland opens up) you will need to be protected and businesses all over Queensland will be making that decision.

“If a person decides not to be vaccinated, then those are the things that they will take into consideration.”

While the state will allow private businesses to do as they please, the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties said there must be a balance between people’s rights and the public interest.

He said unvaccinated people needed to be able to do essential shopping like buying food and medicine.

“We say that the correct balance is if you have a mandate, it must provide an exception of people who are conscientious objectors,” QCCL president Michael Pope told AAP.

“And on top of that, you’ve got to deal with the fact that people have to be able to buy food and get access to things like pharmacies and those sort of things.

“We accept that this is a serious emergency which requires responses in relation to civil liberties that in normal times we would not accept.

“But we’ve always argued that those responses have to be necessary and proportionate.”

Supermarket Woolworths said they will not require customers to be vaccinated to shop in their stores as their role is critical in providing all Australians with essential goods.

“Our stores have remained open throughout the pandemic, with strong Covid-safe settings to uphold public health and ensure the continuity of essential supply to communities,” a Woolworths official said.

Earlier, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said reaching 80 per cent double-dose vaccination rate without an active Covid-19 outbreak was a great achievement.

“Very few places in the world have got to this level of protection before a Covid wave arrives,” she told AAP.

“The credit for this belongs to each and every Queenslander.

“But we can’t stop here: let’s get to 90 per cent and beyond. Please, get vaccinated.”

Thursday was also a double donut day – no locally acquired cases and no overseas cases.

Deputy Premier Steve Miles, speaking at warehouse in Hamilton, to announce construction of a new facility for Queensland biomedical company Vaxxas to begin manufacturing needle-free vaccines, was also celebrating.

“Today is a historic day – the day 80 per cent of us were double vaccinated against Covid-19,” Miles said.

“We can also announce it is a double donut day, no cases of Covid in the community or in quarantine.”

But, he said, the virus is coming our way.

“It might be one of our last. From next week we should expect to start seeing Covid cases,” Miles said, referring to the border reopening to southern hotspots. Victoria recorded 1232 new cases  on Thursday and nine deaths and New South Wales had 404 new cases and one death.

“We should have confidence that our high vaccination rate, as well as ongoing public health measures will keep people safe.”

The State’s day of celebration comes as pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and BioNTech revealed a third dose of the vaccine appears to neutralise the new Omicron variant.

The German and US companies said a three-shot course of their Covid-19 vaccine was able to neutralise the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test while two doses resulted in lowering neutralising antibodies by a factor of 25.

Warning against jumping to conclusions from the test, the World Health Organisation said it was too soon to say whether the reduction in neutralising antibodies meant the shot was less effective.

Two men, recent overseas arrivals from South Africa and Nigeria, remain in hospital in Cairns and Brisbane with the Omicron variant and the new strain, Omicron Like.

Miles said the State’s hospitals were well-prepared for whatever comes.

“We have had a long time to prepare, 680 days,” he said referring to the first arrival of the virus into Queensland the declaration of a public health emergency.

Miles’ declaration of preparedness came as the Australian Medical Association Queensland branch warned the public health system was stretched to breaking point and staff were exhausted.

Calling for urgent action to fix ramping and bed block, the AMAQ on Thursday released a five-point action plan to improve patient flow and fix bed block.

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