Another holiday debacle in sunny Queensland

posted in: Life and things | 0

The first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox is approaching. Christians call it Easter, probably the most religiously important celebration of their calendar. Parents of school-age kids call it the start of the two-week first term holidays. Other people call it a long weekend.

It’s a special time for many different reasons but for everyone it’s the biggest holiday period after Christmas. Families plan two-week holidays, taking the kids to the Gold Coast or the tropics for a getaway. Young people book a long weekend fishing or beaching or hiking. Queensland is a very popular destination and the venues are booked out months in advance.

Last year, covid-19 changed all that. But it has been a year, the vaccines are rolling out, all aged care homes have been done and … the health care workers should have been done. They weren’t. Two people in Brisbane (a doctor and a nurse who had not been vaccinated) contracted covid in a hospital and we now have two clusters. The nurse attended a hen’s party at Byron Bay in New South Wales, so there may also be a small number of people in that state with the virus.

There is no doubt that the roll-out of the covid-19 vaccine has been royally stuffed up at all levels. This is mainly due to lack of communication between the Federal Government and the States, and at state level, a lack of logistical planning. But the Queensland Government’s attempt to blame the Federal Government as to why the doctor and nurse were not vaccinated won’t wash. It was the State’s responsibility to ensure those front line workers were vaccinated FIRST, before people like Pete and me. They weren’t and here we are with two clusters. Apparently one woman from Bundaberg (about 100km north of Hervey Bay) went to the hen’s do and got covid. So did the male stripper who lives at the Gold Coast. Somebody else with the infection went to Gladstone, about 280km from here. We’re not talking huge numbers. The last count I heard was eight cases in total.

So, what do we do when we have a small outbreak of covid-19? We do what we’ve always done. We lock down the whole of Greater Brisbane (population about 2.5 million) for three days, with no promise of reopening on the Thursday before Easter. And we force everybody in the entire state – Cairns, Mt Isa, Cooktown, Birdsville (see map) etc etc to wear masks when going to places where social distancing to 2m isn’t possible. The obvious one is supermarkets.

Needless to say, the Premier and the Chief Medical Officer have polished their halos and insisted a lockdown is the right approach. The paranoid premiers of Western Australia and Tasmania have locked out all Queenslanders. South Australia, Northern Territory, ACT, and Victoria have imposed restrictions on people from Greater Brisbane (that is, you’ll need to apply for a permit, then isolate for 2 weeks.) Here’s an article listing restrictions by state.

I call bullshit.

NSW has not closed the border, although the premier has asked Queenslanders to reconsider their plans. Very wise, in my view. If anybody had gone to NSW then, there was every chance the Queensland government wouldn’t let them back in. NSW Health authorities are monitoring the situation at two Byron Bay venues visited by two infectious women. This much more measured approach brings to mind how that state handled an outbreak of thirty cases in Sydney’s northern suburbs just before Christmas. The economic impact of a Sydney lockdown at that time would have been horrendous. Premier Berejiklian managed that situation well, minimising the impact on the rest of the city (let alone the state).

Here in Queensland? There goes all the travel plans for the many people who took a few extra days’ leave to beat the rush to get out of Brisbane. Accommodation cancellations are flooding in. This is one of the busiest times of the year for hotels, motels, theme parks, tours and the like. Just when business owners were hoping to get back on their feet, rebuild after this year from hell, the rug was pulled out from under their feet. Pubs, clubs, souvenir shops – any shop in the areas where visitors congregate – will lose money. Lots and lots of money. The Australian newspaper estimates that the tourism industry stands to lose $1.7bn. The Brisbane lockdown will cost about $100m per day, and cancellations of bookings over the 10-day Easter period already amount to $40m in Queensland and $9m in Brisbane alone. [source paywall] And there’s no Jobkeeper payment to support workers out of a job. The lockdown was lifted at Thursday lunchtime but for many, the damage has already been done.

As usual, too few people are considering the whole picture. Kill covid, kill covid. It makes people sick and they might die. They might. But destroying businesses can kill people, too. And we will never, never kill covid-19. The so-called Spanish flu which killed millions at the end of the First World War is still out there, even if our immune systems have evolved to cope with it.

For us, we have had to dig out our masks to wear to the shops. The last time we did that was about a year ago. We didn’t mind it then, we don’t mind it now. It’s a small thing to do to protect other people. I might think it’s a stupid, knee-jerk overreaction but it’s not about personal freedom, is it? We saw very few people in two shops we visited who were not complying. In fact, when we went to the second shop, we forgot to take our masks until we went inside and saw other people all masked up. Pete went and fetched ours.

We had our first vaccine shot (AstraZeneca) last Saturday and I was impressed with the way our doctor’s practice handled the situation. They’d hired extra staff to manage the process and others to administer the jab. I made online bookings and filled out the forms for us both. We arrived a little early and waited outside the surgery with a bunch of other people until we were called in for given time slots. We gave our names and were handed the filled in forms clipped to a board so we could check/confirm the details. About ten of us were placed into a room and from there we were called to see the nurse for the needle. Then we moved to a waiting room for fifteen minutes to check for any anaphylactic reaction before we went home. Side effects were minimal – a bit of soreness and I have a lovely bruise. The computer system automatically selected a date/time in twelve weeks’ time for the second jab, so we’re good to go for that one in June.

And what will we be doing at Easter? Not much. We didn’t buy Easter eggs or other chocolate, we’re fat enough. But I made a fish pie on Good Friday because the recipe looked wonderful. Anyway, it’s one of the few days in the year when everything is closed. Apart from that – same old, same old.

Enjoy your Easter whichever way it works for you. And if the Queensland Government’s short-sighted tyranny has ruined your plans, our sincerest condolences. We didn’t vote for them.

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