Tourism operators, holidaymakers and millions of Queenslanders are nervously waiting to see whether a snap Brisbane lockdown and urgent contact tracing can stop a COVID-19 outbreak that may stretch as far afield as central Queensland and northern NSW.
After a sleepless night, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday announced the three-day greater Brisbane lockdown as a “protective measure” to avoid a longer shutdown. There were four new locally acquired cases, taking the cluster to seven.
Residents of Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich and the Redlands are confined to their homes, with limited exceptions, until Thursday afternoon and everyone else in the state must wear a mask.
It’s hoped the “circuit breaker” will give contact tracers the upper hand in a race to track down any missing links in an infection chain dating back more than two weeks and potentially affecting dozens of venues, before the Easter long weekend.
Ms Palaszczuk apologised for the inconvenience but said she was acting on the health advice and it would be unforgivable to let the situation spiral out of control without taking such a step.
“Last time was three days and that was all that was needed,” she said.
“So look, fingers crossed. It’s gonna really depend on how our contact tracers go over the next 24 hours.”
But medical experts aren’t unanimous about the value of such a short shutdown to combat a virus with an incubation period stretching from five days to two weeks.
University of NSW Professor of Biosecurity Raina MacIntyre told the ABC’s 7.30 the move was a particularly good approach due to the impending Easter break.
“When you have a lockdown, you stop people having contact with each other and thereby reduce the opportunities for transmission,” she said, adding that the move was about stopping transmission, not identifying new cases.
“So that’s the purpose to kind of act as a circuit breaker to stop those transmissions that we don’t know about.”
“Other than helping contact tracers a bit, there’s not really any evidence so far that the short lockdowns make a lot of difference,” he told 7.30.
So far, seven cases have been identified in the state’s latest outbreak but authorities are still trying to nail down the exact chain of transmission.
Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she believed the brother of one of the two men to test positive could be the link back to the original infection at the PA Hospital.
That belief was based on a serology test that showed the man had previously been infected with the coronavirus but could not definitively link him to the same genome sequence as the doctor and his brother.
Dr Young is also waiting on genome sequencing from an infected COVID-19 ward nurse and her sister to determine whether she was infected at work.
The result could raise further questions about infection control protocols in Queensland hospitals and vaccination priorities or indicate wider community spread.
The CHO said health professionals dealing with COVID-19 patients wore full PPE at all times but were not tested before or after every shift.
“She hadn’t been vaccinated. She’d been on leave,” Dr Young said.
The sisters had spent time in Byron Bay while infectious and another positive case had been to Gladstone.
Anyone who has been in greater Brisbane since March 20 must also comply with the lockdown regulations.
Ms Palaszczuk declared greater Brisbane a COVID-19 hotspot and urged the leaders of other states to do the same.