So many new cases – up from six on Wednesday – would previously have put areas of the State at risk of lockdown. Instead, the state’s Chief Health Officer is still considering mask mandates – and has warned that people will lose their lives as the new virus wave hits.
Health Minister Yvette D’Ath announced 22 new cases, including three of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, which are located across the State – Brisbane south and north, Darling Downs, Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Townsville, West Moreton and Wide Bay – most brought in from interstate.
And 18 of the cases have been infectious in the community for one to seven days.
Concerningly, one of the new cases had visited an aged care home in the Brisbane suburb of Holland Park, the Duhig Village, and all staff and residents are undergoing testing and the home has been locked down.
The three confirmed Omicron cases are a man who travelled on Monday from Newcastle to Townsville on two separate flights, a female from Rochedale South who had been in Newcastle and an international air crew member who is in hotel quarantine.
Queensland’s borders were opened to vaccinated travellers from southern hotspots on Monday and authorities say the surge in cases was expected, given the alarming rise of case numbers in New South Wales and Victoria.
Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard said authorities were concerned about the interstate figures and NSW modelling which suggests the State could climb to 25,000 cases a day.
“I can tell you that we are identifying additional cases of Omicron hour by hour so there will be more cases tomorrow.
“We are expecting this surge of the virus to occur within weeks here in Queensland,” Dr Gerrard said.
“We are currently working on that modelling (similar to NSW) but we are expecting many cases. I think it is likely we will see fatal cases, particularly amongst the unvaccinated.”
He said the three Omicron positive cases were all well.
And Gerrard is not ruling out a return of the mask mandate.
“We are actively looking at the mask issue at the moment,” he said when pressed whether masks would soon become mandatory, similar to NSW and Victoria.
He urged everyone to start wearing masks at indoor venues and on public transport and where social distancing is not possible.
“What we aim to do is to try and slow the spread of this virus to give people an opportunity to get the third dose of the vaccine.”
Gerrard said the booster meant people’s immunity skyrocketed.
D’Ath revealed that 61,189 border passes have so far been approved, allowing people from southern hotspots to enter the State and the virus was now popping up everywhere.
“There is nowhere in Queensland where you can hide from this virus,” she said, urging people to carry and wear masks.
NSW cases on Thursday recorded another steep jump, to 1742, including 192 people in hospital, 26 of them in intensive care. This is up from 1360 cases on Wednesday and comes as NSW Health issued a dire warning the State could see 25,000 new cases a day.
Victoria recorded 1622 new cases on Thursday, it’s highest daily total since October, and nine deaths.
D’Ath reinforced that the State’s isolation period for close contacts of a confirmed case would remain at 14 days, meaning some people will miss Christmas and the festive period with loved ones.
NSW and Victoria have halved the figure to seven days, something which Queensland plans to do on January 1.
“The virus is coming into Queensland but we are going to decide how quickly it comes in,” D’Ath said. “We are doing this in a safe way.”
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg called on State Premiers to hold their nerve and not to panic and close borders in the face of the renewed virus threat.
“We need to live with the virus. Nobody wants to go back into lockdown. That has a devastating effect on the economy … (and) people’s health and wellbeing,” he told the Seven network.
“My message to the premiers is not to panic, don’t overreact, show compassion and common sense.”
The World Health Organisation has warned the Omicron variant is now spreading faster than any previous variant of the virus.
According to the WHO, in the past week there have been more than four million new COVID-19 cases globally and 47,000 deaths. The African region, where the Omicron variant first surfaced, has reported a 111 per cent rise in new cases in the past week.