Brisbane three-day lockdown a ‘short, sharp shock’ against UK strain8th January 2021
Her decision was supported by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who described the move as “very sensible” and the Brisbane outbreak as “a serious situation”.
The Prime Minister on Friday also announced all returning international travellers must test negative for the virus before boarding a flight back to Australia as the UK variant spreads globally.
Former Queensland Chief Health Officer and QUT Emeritus Professor Gerry Fitzgerald said the decision to go into a three-day lockdown was akin to a “short, sharp shock”.
Professor Fitzgerald said contact tracing was the key strategy used when there were low numbers of cases in the community, and the best way to support contact tracing was to reduce human-to-human contact.
“What I think is behind this thinking is, let’s have a short, sharp, shock to try and reduce any flow-on infections that might be occurring, so that the contact tracers can get out there and do their job,” he said.
Professor Fitzgerald said the identification of community cases was generally five to seven days behind the infection date, leaving contact tracers to search for previous contacts that could now be infectious.
“If they’ve identified by Monday there’s no further flow-ons from the person who was infected, then they may be confident enough to just lift [the lockdown] and go back to where we were, or maybe some intermediate step,” he said.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Chris Perry also issued a statement saying doctors welcomed the three-day lockdown.
“Little is known about the peculiar characteristics of the new COVID strain from the UK and, until we understand how best to protect frontline health workers and the community, we must take an abundance of caution,” Professor Perry said.
“As we have learnt from interstate experiences, a short, quick response is better than the weeks of lockdown they are now enduring in the UK.”
Mater Health director of infectious diseases Paul Griffin said the three-day lockdown was a “good place to start” in managing the potential community spread of the UK strain.
He said the COVID-19 virus had mutated repeatedly since it first emerged last year, but the UK and South African strains increased how the virus bound itself to cell receptors, making it more infectious.
“[The lockdown] is a good place to start – I don’t think we could be 100 per cent sure it won’t be extended. That will obviously be very much dependent on the situation,” he said.
“I guess the way people should look at it now is [that] the three days is the best-case scenario, and is likely to be the scenario we’re able to follow if everybody does the right thing and adheres to the restrictions, wears masks, gets tested so we know where the cases are.
“If everybody does that well, then three days is very likely to be the duration. If we don’t do that very well or the situation escapes control, then it’s likely to be much longer.”
Dr Griffin said the key issue at hand was the management of hotel quarantine to ensure no further outbreaks of the UK strain were established in Australia.
“What we need to get right is the quarantine of international travellers,” he said.
“All of the situations that we’ve faced in the last few months in NSW, Victoria and now Queensland have arisen from the virus escaping from that quarantine of international travellers.
“And I would like to think we can get that right, as a priority, and perhaps focus less on some distracting activities, like the domestic borders, when realistically if we can get the returning international quarantine perfect, then we won’t have the virus in this country.”
The Prime Minister and premiers also agreed on Friday to lower the cap on the number of international arrivals until mid-February, halving the number of people able to arrive in Queensland to 500 until more was learned about the new strain.
Thea van de Mortel, Griffith University’s deputy head for learning and teaching at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, said she believed the three-day lockdown to be a “very sensible” approach.
“She’s actually giving us a three-day period to see how this plays out, so it doesn’t mean that it will stop at three days,” Professor van de Mortel said.
“It’s much, much better to lock down now, than it would be to wait for a week and go, ‘oh, look at that, it’s spreading through the community’ and then try to lock down.”
Professor van de Mortel said people preparing for the lockdown should ensure they have masks that are well-fitted and comfortable.
Surgical masks were most effective, she said, but cloth masks with at least two or three layers of material were also good.
People should also practise good hand hygiene and respect social distancing, particularly on public transport, she said.
Professor van de Mortel also urged people to take the situation seriously, wear masks when outside as directed, and follow the restriction guidelines during the lockdown.
“I just really want to encourage people to not buy into the nonsense that’s out there, and to actually do the right thing for the community,” she said.
Lucy is the urban affairs reporter for the Brisbane Times, with a special interest in Brisbane City Council.