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Bad decisions short on common sense: This is no way to run a pandemic

Opinion

A year ago our columnist Dennis Atkins had a sense of deja vu when he looked toward 2021. That feeling is back, and not in a good way.

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The first line of the first InQueensland column I wrote for 2021 was more prophetic than I could have imagined.

“Well, that didn’t take long. Just a week into 2021 and it was 2020 all over again,” the column began, musing on the first Queensland lockdown of the new year (just a week in) and the certainty of uncertainty.

We haven’t budged much since.

In fact the more we experience, the less we seem to learn from it all. That’s everyone from Scott Morrison to the struggling business owners trying to keep up with what are laughingly called rules.

In Queensland, just look at the complete, utter and inexcusable stuff up over the poor travellers on two flights into the state last week.

A week ago today everyone on two Virgin flights – one from Newcastle to Brisbane and the other from Brisbane to Townsville – were designated as “close contacts” of a single passenger and told to isolate for 14 days regardless of their vaccination status, any negative test or where they might have been sitting on the planes.

This would have put dozens of people in “iso” into and beyond Christmas.

It was ridiculous and unsustainable, a point made bleedingly obvious when, a day later, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath had to go out and ditch the decision, using the obvious but really unacceptable excuse that no one had a clue as to what to do.

D’Ath argued the new Omicron variant of the virus meant the rule book was a work in progress but after consulting with other health officials in other states they worked out the normal rules should apply.

This shouldn’t have been surprising because after the “border was opened” eight days ago, the “normal rules” have been the new way of doing things. Just as they were every time we had a “new normal” to replace the last “new normal”.

As to everything else, we can just say, “well, almost”. It is still a mind-freezing maze of regulations, sub-regulations and dot points that might excite a middle level bureaucrat but would turn a person on the street to fits of hysterical tears.

Travelling into Queensland is no walk in the park. You have to have a test carried out and results on hand within 72 hours of travelling, regardless of any circumstances.

For a Queenslander taking a day trip to Sydney or Melbourne, this means getting a test three days before you board the flight home, a day after leaving Brisbane. To do that you’ll need your results in your hand or on your phone.

To travel to Brisbane from one of these “hot spots” (a list that’s been growing day by day) you also need to navigate this 72 hour turnaround. As anyone in Melbourne wanting to go to Noosa for Christmas will tell you, this is no simple matter.

Here’s the experience of one Victorian acquaintance: “Getting a virus check 72 hours before departure and receiving the certificate of clearance is almost impossible,” this person writes.

“Few clinics supply such a service. Get to one at 3pm. Stand in a queue till 4.30 when you’re told they’re closing for the day. No test, no certificate. And the flight is due within the 72 hour limit.

“Where can one get a test and a certificate?

“Hard to find. Local pathology lab can do the test, but they can’t send the result and certificate until Monday, because they don’t open over the weekend. The 72 hour cut off, meanwhile, has expired. You are back to square one.”

No wonder people in Sydney and Melbourne – and plenty of places between and beyond – were saying by mid to late-last week they were rethinking whether to travel north to Brisbane, the Gold Coast or elsewhere in Queensland.

Open became a very fungible word in these parts.

The residents of Boggabilla and Burringbar, just over the border from Goondiwindi, know this.

Because New South Wales health authorities declared the Moree Shire a Covid hotspot, the whole of the district was designated a red zone by the Queensland Government regardless of the fact the actual virus outbreak was in the local indigenous community while the rest of the shire had no cases.

This meant people in these two towns along the Newell Highway were cut off from their “local” town of Goondiwindi where they usually shop and carry out regular business.

After some plain speaking with senior people in Brisbane, the fine print of the rules was made clearer and the actual red zone was narrowed to the part of the Moree Shire which covered the outbreak of cases.

It wasn’t hard but it should not have been a problem in the first place.

The 72 hours testing hurdle event, the one-way-to-isolation flights from Newcastle and the Goondiwindi make-a-problem example are united by one thing: the failure of people in the Queensland Government to anticipate or deal with what should be simple-to-solve issues.

It’s not as if they haven’t been told. Plenty of people have been advising the government since the middle of 2020 to have a dedicated unit in the Premier’s department or Health which would anticipate problems or sweep in and deal with them as they emerge.

It has never happened. The Health Department unit to deal with exclusions and such is overworked, understaffed and short on common sense.

There used to be a standing joke about the Transport Department in Brisbane: it was run by people who had never driven on roads.

It appears this same culture is alive and well in the bureaucratic and political offices handling the rolling fallout from the SARS-Cov-2 virus.

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