As Greater Brisbane residents enter day three of their snap coronavirus lockdown, the biggest question for many will be: Will restrictions be lifted at 6:00pm?
On Friday, millions of people in Brisbane and surrounding council areas were told to stay home for the first time since April, with masks mandated for the first time since the pandemic began.
It was all because a Queensland hotel quarantine cleaner tested positive to the highly contagious UK strain of coronavirus.
Yesterday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made it clear any decision on lifting the lockdown would depend on today’s numbers, despite no new cases being recorded over the past two days.
Infectious diseases expert Raina MacIntyre said if the Premier announced no further cases today, it was “probably reasonable” to lift the lockdown tonight — but she believed masks should remain mandatory until the 14-day infectious period had passed.
“A short, sharp lockdown can have a good impact in reducing spread,” Professor MacIntyre said.
“And also people now have a high awareness of the mutant strain and what’s at stake.
“I think a lot of people would have gone and got tested, so if there are no more cases, it may well be OK to lift the lockdown but keep the mask mandate and then keep a close watch on the number of cases over the next week or two.”
One of the most common questions asked by Greater Brisbane residents has been: Why did the Government impose a lockdown of only three days, when the usual quarantine time is 14 days?
Larisa Labzin, an immunologist at the University of Queensland, said the reason for the snap lockdown was really just to pause the ripple effect of the virus spreading.
She said typically the virus could incubate in our bodies for up to 14 days, but the average time for a person to show symptoms from when they were first infected was between five and nine days.
“So that’s what we know from all the cases around the world — that’s why we have 14-day quarantine — to make sure there’s no-one on the end of that spectrum,” she said.
“[But] it’s a trade-off, of course, between the impact a lockdown has. And it’s where contact tracing is really important, trying to work out where any infectious person has been and who they might’ve come into contact with.
“Really, I think this lockdown is to pause that ripple effect and allow our authorities to catch up, to see if a bigger lockdown is really necessary and see if the virus has moved on to anyone else.
“As time goes by, the chances of the virus still being in people becomes lower and lower.”
Professor MacIntyre said Queensland had fared well because authorities “acted early and acted fast”.
“The mask mandate was implemented immediately and hopefully that will have a really strong impact on reducing any further transmission if there has been any,” she said.
“If there are any people infected in the community that we’re not aware of yet, if everybody is wearing a mask the chance of those people unwittingly infecting other people is significantly reduced.
“I think until the two weeks have passed since the last possible exposure from the index case it would be a good idea [to continue wearing masks].”
Dr Labzin said she was surprised there were so far no new cases stemming from the cleaner’s infection.
“Certainly now with the length of time that we haven’t had any positive cases is really promising but as we know this is a fairly stealthy virus and we just need one case to escape and then everyone is at risk,” she said.
“Particularly for that hotel quarantine worker, she was only in that space that had been occupied by a person with this particular strain, she was never in the same space in the same time.
“So that gives an indication into just how infectious this is; that it sticks around in a room on surfaces even after you’ve moved on.
“Because of that we would have anticipated there would have been more spread and potentially we have just been really lucky that we haven’t seen more cases yet.
“But also it’s because there has been regular testing and hopefully even more regular testing would completely eliminate the need for the big measures we’ve been taking now.
“It’s good that we’re going really hard with so few cases because we really want to avoid anything worse.”
Ms Palaszczuk said the State Government’s rapid response was a “world first”.
“I saw some commentary from a senior medical officer in the UK, I think they were saying they wished that had happened in London,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“We have taken this decisive action. It’s the right thing to do and let’s see what our numbers are [on Monday] and then we’ll update Queensland about what the proposed steps forward are following on from that.”
Hotel quarantine measures have already been strengthened, including by having workers tested for coronavirus every shift instead of every seven days.
Professor MacIntyre said while that would help, more preventative measures were needed to keep workers safe.
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“We need to really focus on protecting people working in hotel quarantine and at the international borders because that’s where these dangerous new strains will potentially get into the community,” Professor MacIntyre said.
“I think we’ve done very well with prioritising them for vaccines and so on but we probably need to look at the ventilation and personal protective equipment part of it as well.
“At the moment workers in hotel quarantine are getting surgical masks but there’s no real consideration of ventilation.
“This virus is airborne and if we don’t address those two things — giving staff an N95 [mask] and making sure we’re at least measuring and monitoring ventilation and selecting hotel quarantine venues that have good ventilation — then we’re just not bringing the risk right down like we could.”
Returning travellers will also now have to remain in isolation for 14 days, rather than the initial 10, and will be required to take an exit test.
This comes after a woman who contracted the mutant UK strain of COVID-19 flew into Brisbane from Melbourne after clearing hotel quarantine, but then tested positive to the virus again.
Under the previous national protocols, the woman was allowed to leave after 10 days in hotel quarantine and she did not need to return a negative test before doing so.
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- Japan finds new coronavirus variant in travellers from Brazil [https://news.trust.org/item/20210110170242-03kqm]
- A year after first death in China, coronavirus source still a puzzle [http://thedailynewnation.com/news/274887/a-year-after-first-death-in-china-coronavirus-source-still-a-puzzle.html]
- Coronavirus: Spain battles snow to distribute COVID vaccine [https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-spain-battles-snow-to-distribute-covid-vaccine/a-56187085]