Secret plan to turn Ekka into makeshift hospital


MINING camps, hotels and even the Ekka would be taken over as emergency COVID-19 hospitals under desperate plans being drawn up by health authorities.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has confirmed the Department of Health is actively exploring options for temporary hospitals statewide in vacant hotels, convention centres and possibly mining camps to treat COVID-19 patients if there is an overflow from hospitals.

Queensland Health has been planning scenarios for mild, moderate and high volume of COVID-19 cases since a public health emergency was declared on January 29.

The temporary hospitals would be set up if high numbers of victims flood the state's permanent hospitals.

Hotels near Queensland's major hospitals throughout the state have been approached about providing bed space.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: Annette Dew
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: Annette Dew

In Brisbane, the RNA Convention Centre could quickly be transformed to take COVID-19 patients and it would be a case of history repeating - the RNA showground was used as a treatment centre for patients during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

"I hope it doesn't come to this - I really do - but the COVID-19 pandemic is upon us now and our hospitals and medical staff over the coming months could be under enormous strain," Ms Palaszczuk said.

"Preparations to set-up extra facilities and off-site hospitals are simply a necessity.

"They would contain and treat people who have contracted the COVID-19 virus and who may have minor difficulties but don't require intensive care.

"It is imperative we prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed all at once.

"Washing your hands with soap, staying in and close to home and social distancing are crucial.

"If people are told to self-isolate, there is no option but to follow those instructions.

"People who defy the need to self-isolate face fines of up to $13,345 and police won't hesitate to act.

"Once again, I appeal to Queenslanders to stay home and take every precaution to ensure that our health facilities are not overwhelmed."

The State Government has committed an additional $1.2 Billion to the health budget to expand capacity in public hospitals and to access beds in the private sector.

One of the options being explored is the RNA Showgrounds which was converted into a temporary medical facility to care for patients affected by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

"This is what happened 102 years ago but we are now a lot more sophisticated than having to put people in tents at the showgrounds.

"We can quickly convert this site into a functioning hospital.

"But if Queenslanders do the right thing and self-isolate and we are able to flatten the curve it will not come to this.

"At the same time I want Queenslanders to be fully aware that my government is preparing for the worst case scenario."

Health Minister Steven Miles said the first priority was to prevent using these plans.

"If we all work together we won't need these plans," Mr Miles said.

"In fact we'll only have to do this if people don't comply with the social distancing rules that our now in place.

"My plea to Queenslanders is to please stay home as much as possible, keep your distance from others and wash your hands.

"We have a chance to stop history repeating itself if we all do the right thing today."


QUEENSLAND'S makeshift hospitals plan has echoes of the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, even down to taking over the Ekka showgrounds.

The RNA site at Bowen Hills was converted to take patients after the flu spread rapidly around the world when servicemen from the First World War returned home, according to the Queensland Heritage Register.

At the time there was no vaccine and medical treatment was of limited effectiveness against the illness.

"During the influenza epidemic which swept Australia in 1919 … army huts were erected at the exhibition grounds as isolation wards for the nearby Brisbane General Hospital, and dining rooms were set up to feed and house the expected influx of seriously ill patients. Due to the threat of crowd contagion, and to save disturbing patients in the isolation wards, the Exhibition was cancelled that year," the register says.

Spanish flu preparations in Queensland in 1918.
Spanish flu preparations in Queensland in 1918.

An account by the National Library of Australia says hundreds of beds were put at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds during the time it was used as an isolation hospital.

"Hospitals overflowed and 400 temporary beds were set up in huts at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. St Laurence's … catered for the overflow from the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, while shire and church halls provided temporary accommodation throughout Queensland," it says.

"The usual fun of the annual show was replaced by the showgrounds quarantine site, which was the epicentre of the city's flu crisis."

Originally published as Secret plan to turn Ekka into makeshift hospital

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