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How north Queensland is still dealing with the Covid king hit


North and far north Queensland’s king hit from the pandemic may still take another decade to play out, according to a new report that shows the unique impacts that befell the people and economies from Rockhampton to the tip of the state.

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The James Cook University State of the Tropics report released on Wednesday found Cairns suffered a 99.9 per cent drop in international passengers and 96.5 per cent drop in domestic passengers in the first flush of the health emergency between March and April 2020.

Business survey results from March of that year in the Cairns region reported sales fell by 52 per cent, and 49 per cent of businesses said they had anticipated laying off staff due to the pandemic.

Across the Tropics, which included the north Queensland hub of Townsville, passenger movements in 2020 decreased overall by more than 50 per cent.

While unemployment increased globally by 15 per cent between 2019 and 2021, the study found north Queensland and other countries and communities between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, recorded an unemployment rate that jumped from 6.6 per cent to 8.1 per cent, an increase of 22 per cent.

Female unemployment, already higher than male unemployment, fared even worse, the report found.

Education outcomes also suffered during the pandemic, affecting a key learning outcome of literacy.

The number of 10-year-olds without basic literacy skills increased by 17 per cent since the beginning of the pandemic.

The shift to remote learning significantly impacted many rural and poor students who did not have reliable access to the necessary technology, the report found.

JCU Vice Chancellor Professor Simon Biggs said the State of the Tropics Report highlighted the significant challenges that remained as a result of the pandemic.

“For many regions of the Tropics, the Covid-19 pandemic compounded existing health and economic burdens,” Biggs said.

“Many communities that avoided the first waves of Covid-19 due to hard border closures and controls on community transmission of the virus still experienced the negative economic impacts of its spread.

“All aspects of human endeavour, from health to trade, employment, education, greenhouse gas emissions and travel have been significantly affected by the pandemic.”

Report lead author Dr Shelley Templeman said while there had been a gradual return to normalcy after two years of the pandemic, ongoing health, economic, social and education impacts from the pandemic would continue for years.

“Job losses and community lockdowns intensified many household stresses leading to increases in domestic violence incidents,” Templeman said.

“However, many families, through increased together time, also discovered hidden dimensions in each other, creating stronger family bonds.”


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