Schools trial will point the way to lifting restaurant, hotel bans next month

Queensland schools will take part in an informal trial to determine whether other gatherings, in restaurants, hotels and tourist sites, might be safe.

May 05, 2020, updated May 05, 2020
Population growth is contributing the larger class sizes, particularly west of Brisbane. (Photo: AAP Image/Darren England)

Population growth is contributing the larger class sizes, particularly west of Brisbane. (Photo: AAP Image/Darren England)

Amid concerns that the economic recovery is being impeded by parents staying away from work to support children studying at home, Queensland brought forward its school policy review.

Schools have been teaching the children of essential workers, and vulnerable kids, in person, but from May 11 will welcome back all students in kindergarten, prep, and years 1, 11 and 12, likely followed by students in other grades on May 25.

National Cabinet is today discussing the resumption of normal economic activity, albeit in a “COVID world” as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has described, and may propose other changes ahead of all students going back to school.

However, the rate of any increase in infections throughout May will determine whether Queensland should lift other bans and ease other restrictions without COVID-19 overwhelming the health system. Already, there have been ad hoc school closures, due to associated COVID-19 cases, and parents and staff face strict limits on other adult interaction to prevent the virus spreading to vulnerable older age groups.

Overnight, the Queensland tally increased by five to 1043 on Tuesday morning, however three of those cases were acquired interstate and already known to those health authorities. One new case was acquired on the Gold Coast, from an as-yet-unknown source, while the other new case was in Brisbane in a household where there was already a COVID-19 case.

Palaszczuk said June remained a “good, ambitious target” for cafes, restaurants and bars to reopen in some form.

“Everything is looking bright here in Queensland,” the Premier said today.

Outdoor hospitality areas may be the first to reopen, with limits on diners and other virus control measures such as hand-washing stations and disposable menus. Some operators may also encourage patrons to download the COVIDSafe app, or provide their name and phone number, to assist with any required contact tracing.

“It is really important that once we have settled our plan for schools, that now we can focus on our plan for Queensland’s economic recovery, including jobs,” Palaszczuk said.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said that with the “occasional case” of COVID-19 being recorded, social distancing remained crucial. She was generally satisfied with the public response to restrictions being eased over the weekend.

“What happened over the weekend, I understand, was very, very good, that most people heard the messaging and were very, very responsible so that will aid us going forward,” Young said.

It may be days or even weeks before any new cases from the long weekend are identified, and health authorities will be closely monitoring school communities during the average two-week incubation period and beyond.

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While there has been a decline in the number of tests performed, Young said she expected that to be due to a decline in respiratory illness generally, and encouraged anyone with symptoms to still seek medical attention.

Interstate border restrictions will be reviewed at the end of May and, with outbreaks in Sydney responsible for previous Queensland cases, Palaszczuk said she did not anticipate changes “any time soon”.

With New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden due to take part in today’s National Cabinet meeting, there has been talk of the resumption of trans-Tasman tourism, but Palaszczuk was quick to manage expectations.

Under the current restrictions, Queenslanders must not travel further than 50km from their homes, and only for specified purposes, although there have been formal exemptions granted.

Palaszczuk suggested short-term accommodation providers might be allowed to reopen initially and “first and foremost, it might be Queenslanders supporting Queenslanders” by holidaying in their home state.

“Social distancing will be here for quite a long time until we have a vaccine,” she said.

The health system has been bolstered with more personal protective equipment for staff, while fever clinics will again be used to triage possible COVID-19 patients. There is thought to be sufficient capacity in intensive care units for any outbreak.

To date, 980 Queenslanders have recovered from COVID-19, with only 57 active cases in Queensland on Tuesday, nine of those in hospital – in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast – including four in intensive care. Only one patient requires a ventilator.

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