Health authorities in Queensland are scrambling to track down all contacts of two Brisbane friends who tested positive for coronavirus, amid fresh concerns about the outbreak growing.
A week out from Easter, Queensland Health revealed on Saturday night one of the men, aged 26, held a house party while he was waiting on his test result, despite instructions to self-isolate.
About 25 guests attended the Strathpine gathering and all have been ordered into quarantine and are being tested for Covid-19.
Queensland Health are also tracking down people who may have come into contact with the men at 24 exposure sites, and asking them to isolate and get tested.
The cluster has sparked a lockdown of Brisbane City and Moreton Bay council area hospitals, aged care facilities, prisons and disability services providers.
New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT have also declared those two council areas as hotspots and all travellers arriving from there must self-isolate and get tested upon arrival.
Western Australia is requiring all visitors from Queensland to self-isolate for 14 days, with the new directions also applying to those who arrived from Queensland earlier on Saturday.
Tasmania is only warning Brisbane and Moreton Bay travellers to get tested if they become ill, while South Australia and the Northern Territory have not changed their travel rules.
Earlier on Saturday, the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said there was no evidence of widespread community transmission.
“We are very comfortable where things are at the moment, and Queensland is responding incredibly well, so if everyone keeps up their testing and the contact tracing we’re very comfortable with where we are,” she told reporters.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, urged states and territories to be balanced and “proportionate” in their response to the outbreak.
He says the ongoing vaccine rollout has changed “risk calculations” and he’s confident the Queensland government has control of the situation.
“The Queensland government’s got this, they’ve got a strong tracing system, they’ve got a very strong public health system there in Queensland. I have a lot of faith in that, I’ve seen it in action before, and I think we’ve got to backup people to keep this under control, and I have no doubt the Queensland government will do that.”
The Brisbane cluster has also put a number of Easter sporting fixtures in doubt amid concerns about travel restrictions.
Melbourne’s Good Friday NRL clash with Brisbane is under a cloud while the Gold Coast Suns’ return to Queensland from Victoria is up in the air.
Canterbury are already in Brisbane for their NRL clash with the Broncos on Saturday night, while Parramatta have been there since 12 March.
Rural doctors miss out on Covid vaccine
Meanwhile, the Rural Doctors Association says a “significant number” of doctors in country Australia have missed the Covid-19 jab.
“There are frontline workers in emergency departments in rural Australia who still haven’t been vaccinated,” association President Dr John Hall said.
Doctors should have received the Pfizer jab weeks as ago as part of stage 1A of the rollout and many are still waiting for AstraZeneca shots as part of stage 1B, he said.
“Rural clinicians are used to being left behind, being an afterthought,” Hall said.
He’s blamed state governments for the delays, saying some “dropped the ball” on getting Pfizer to rural clinicians, while others made a conscious decision to wait for stage 1B.
“It’s disappointing to see rural clinicians on the front line missing out … many colleagues haven’t even been contacted about phase 1A,” he said.
State and territory governments have been responsible for rolling out the Pfizer jab to eligible frontline health workers in phase 1A.
Hall said the delays have come as clinicians are experiencing stress, exhaustion and burnout because hard border closures meant many were unable to access locum backup for most of 2020.
He says the association has been especially concerned by the situation in Queensland, saying the state’s health department has been “particularly lacklustre” in getting shots out to rural doctors.
“They missed out the whole of regional Queensland, they had no intention of pushing Pfizer into those regional cities,” he said. “We told the federal government it was unacceptable but it was too little, too late.”
But a Queensland Health spokesperson said the department was proud of its efforts to deliver vaccinations to its workforce across the state, and the state’s six initial Pfizer hubs had been chosen on their closeness to international airports and quarantine hotels.
As AstraZeneca vaccine had become more readily available, Queensland Health had been able to offer vaccines to “priority 1A eligible individuals” across a wider area.
The state has vaccinated more than 53,000 people in week five of its vaccination campaign.
The Queensland Health website says healthcare workers face a higher risk of Covid infection and illness, and might also be responsible for transmitting the virus to vulnerable patients.
Vaccines are currently available at at 33 hospitals and via 17 outreach clinics in Queensland, including Roma Hospital, Mount Isa Base Hospital, Emerald Hospital and Thursday Island.
More than 860 health workers have been vaccinated at Central West Hospital and Health Service, more than 430 at Torres and Cape Hospital, over 940 at Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service and more than 4,500 at Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service.
The federal government said healthcare workers eligible under phase 1A can now also access the vaccine at their GP in stage 1B, as well as at state and territory vaccine clinics.
“There is no hard barrier between priority phases and the commencement of the next phase is not dependent on completely vaccinating the previous phase,” the health department said in a statement.
Globally, more than 150,000 health workers were infected with Covid during the early stages of the pandemic, and more than 1,400 died, according to the British Medical Journal of Global Health.