Lockdown may lift for Easter, hospitals plunged into crisis
Queenslanders may be freed from lockdown for Easter if 'encouraging results' continue over the next 24 hours, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has revealed.
Ms Palaszczuk said two factors were critical to lockdown lifting: if Queensland continued to see high testing rates and no unlinked community transmission was recorded over the next 24 hours.
If that happened she would announced at 9am on Thursday the Greater Brisbane lockdown will be lifted.
It comes after three new cases were recorded overnight - two community transmitted but linked to the clusters.
"Fingers crossed we'll be looking good for Easter," Ms Palaszczuk said.
"If we see good testing rates and no unlinked community transmission, it is all looking good.
"If it's encouraging news tomorrow, we will be lifting the hotspot tomorrow."
She emphasised the decision would not be made until 9am Thursday, to account for any overnight cases.
It comes as the hospital at the centre of Brisbane's rapidly moving COVID-19 outbreak has been plunged into lockdown after a fresh case emerged Tuesday night and another hospital has sent staff home after a recent visitor tested positive.
Authorities are racing to control two growing clusters which have now reached as far as Gladstone and the Gold Coast.
Late Tuesday, the Chief Executive of Metro South Health, Dr Peter Bristow, emailed staff at the Princess Alexandra Hospital to say a decision had been made for it to "go into lockdown effective immediately".
Workers in Ward 5D - the infectious diseases ward - are undergoing urgent testing if they worked between March 19 and March 28 with patients also being transferred to other areas of the hospital.
At least one new case emerged Tuesday night- a nurse at the PA hospital - which has been the epicentre of two separate clusters involving a doctor and another nurse who worked with COVID-19 patients.
The Princess Alexandra Hospital is cancelling elective surgeries with the hospital undertaking emergency and critical surgeries but postponing other procedures.
Mater Mothers' Hospital in South Brisbane has also been caught up in the latest Brisbane outbreak after a positive case visited the hospital on Friday.
It is understood the person visited the private maternity section, as well as a nearby coffee shop that staff frequent.
An email addressed to all Mater Health staff instructed those who had either visited or been in contact with people from floor 12 of the hospital from 11.30am on Friday to get tested.
"If you have not been contacted by contact tracers, but fall within the above category, we encourage you to take this precautionary measure," the email from regional executive director Linda Pratt read.
A statement from the hospital said that it was working closely with Queensland Health.
Griffith University infectious disease expert Nigel McMillan said he expected the lockdown to be extended.
"I think they're going to obviously wait until the last minute (Wednesday) to see what the numbers look like overnight," he said on Tuesday.
"My gut feeling is if we get similar numbers (Wednesday) as we have today, then we will go for another couple of days.
"If I was to give odds, I would say yes, it will be extended."
Infectious disease physician Associate Professor Paul Griffin said if there was an increase in cases again on Wednesday, extended the lockdown would almost be certain.
"We should hope to start seeing some benefit from the lockdown in the next 24 to 48 hours," he said.
"It's very clear that this is a very significant event.
"We have clear community transmission that's increased over the last few days and if we don't do everything we can to get on top of this we could be in for a very difficult time here in Queensland.
"If definitely makes sense to do everything possible to try and contain this as quickly as possible."
CCIQ's Amanda Rohan said the body was continuing to push for a national framework on how state's dealt with COVID-19 hot spots.
"That is only adding to the confusion for consumers," she said.
"It's having significant flow on impacts outside the greater Brisbane region as well."
The devastating blow to the economy comes at a rare time when Queensland, NSW and Victoria's school holidays all align.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said the industry wanted the lockdown to end as soon as possible.
"But regardless of what happens in the next three days, we can be assured that the impact on tourism, travel … for Easter and Easter holidays is profound and devastating," he said.
"That will now play out in a very bad way for us."
Queensland officially recorded eight new cases of community transmission on Tuesday while another two were acquired overseas and detected in hotel quarantine.
One of the clusters relates to a doctor at the Princess Alexandra Hospital who contracted the virus earlier this month after treating a confirmed case.
"She acquired it from a confirmed case in the hospital and also, that case had passed it on to another traveller in the hotel when they were in hotel quarantine so there were those three cases earlier in March …," Dr Young said.
"Since then, we now have these new cases that we've picked up in the community, and I'm very grateful to that first young man who came forward and got tested, and the second gentleman, they live in northern Brisbane.
"Then we've had other cases connected to those.
"We know that they're all linked because of the genome sequence.
"They're all B117 linked back to that case at the PA Hospital."
The second cluster relates to a nurse who works at the same hospital however it's not yet known how she caught it.
"She has exactly the same genome, no SNPs different to a gentleman who arrived and was treated at the PA Hospital and was tested on March 22, so after the nurse worked in the COVID ward," Dr Young said.
"She did do a shift on the night of the 23rd March."
But she was not believed to have had any direct contact with the infected traveller.
"She wasn't working with COVID patients that night," Dr Young said.
"We have to work out what happened."
Dr Young suggested the nurse may have caught the virus from another worker at the hospital, who may be unaware they had it.
Dr Young said her hypothesis, which was yet to be tested, was that the nurse had acquired the infection while at work that night.
It comes as Mr McMillan, among other experts, speculated about the possibility of silent transmission in the community.
"We know that 40 per cent of people are asymptomatic," Prof McMillan said.
"There are clearly people out in the community who either are or have been infected who don't know it."
The nurse's sister has also been infected with the same genome and the pair travelled to Byron Bay while unknowingly infectious.
"Then there are a further five cases that I've been informed of overnight linked to that nurse or her sister so they're all linked cases and they all attended a party together down in Byron Bay," Dr Young said.
There are now nine cases linked to the second cluster.
One of those is a male tradie from the Gold Coast who attended the hens' party as a stripper.
He also visited an aged care facility on the Gold Coast but Dr Young said every resident had already received their first vaccination.
Several Gold Coast locations have been added to the Queensland Health contact tracing list for exposure sites.
Another is a Bundaberg resident, who also attended the Byron Bay party.
As of Tuesday morning, authorities were not aware of any unlinked community transmission.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there would likely be more cases while Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it was too early to say when the lockdown would end.
Ms Palaszczuk said authorities were monitoring the outbreak "day by day" but said the fact the cases were linked was good news.
"Do we expect to see more cases, probably," she said.
"The big question will be whether or not we see unlinked community transmission.
"That is why this three-day lockdown is absolutely necessary."
Dr Young said infectious people had been out in the community.
"That is why it's absolutely critical that anyone, anywhere in Queensland, because we do know some of these people have left Brisbane so it's vital, anyone in Queensland with any symptoms, please come forward, that is critical," she said.
Originally published as Easter lockdown 'likely' as COVID crisis deepens