Road to nowhere: Lockdown forces scrapping of iconic Gold Coast Marathon

Queensland’s snap lockdown has already begun to hit major sporting and cultural events around south-east Queensland, with one of the biggest, the Gold Coast Marathon, cancelled just days before more than 20,000 runners were due to hit the streets.

Jun 29, 2021, updated Jun 29, 2021

The marathon, Australia’s biggest before the pandemic hit, is one of the Gold Coast’s major events of the year and generates around $28 million annually for the local economy but has been called off for the second year in a row because of COVID.

Organisers Events Management Queensland made the decision on Tuesday afternoon soon after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the three-day lockdown.

“It is with the utmost regret that due to the three-day lockdown enforced by the Queensland Government to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, Events Management Queensland has been left with no choice but to cancel the Village Roadshow Theme Parks Gold Coast Marathon,” it said in a statement.

“The ongoing health risks, impacts on workforce/volunteers, disruptions to travel and uncertainty ahead dictated drastic action to ensure there were no further threats to the health and wellbeing of participants, stakeholders and the wider Gold Coast community.

“This decision has not been made lightly given the experience of the 2020 cancellation and comes with heartfelt disappointment from the team at Events Management Queensland.”

The event, run across the first weekend in July and featuring eight races, always attracts a large number of entries from interstate and overseas and was being billed as an important warm-up event for Australian athletes due to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.

The lockdown order was made after an unvaccinated hospital worker from Brisbane, who travelled with her family to Townsville, tested positive to COVID-19.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she was “absolutely furious” about the circumstances which have forced the latest lockdown, which will begin at 6pm Tuesday and finish on Friday at 6pm.

In the first week of school holidays, Palaszczuk has ordered a lockdown for south-east Queensland, Townsville, Magnetic Island and Palm Island. Queensland recorded four new cases of COVID-19 overnight, including a second miner from the group of 170 of concern. Some 112 miners have tested negative, with cases now in Bli Bli and Ipswich.

However, of greater concern is the positive test result for a 19-year-old casual receptionist who sits outside the COVID-19 ward at Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital and unknowingly carried the virus around Queensland for 10 days.

The woman also works in the community, lives at Sandgate, has visited a gym and local Woolworths and flew with family members to Townsville and surrounds, including a trip to a local market.

She may already have infected three others – two family members and a close friend are sick and being tested – and had close contact with at least three other hospital workers. It is not yet clear whether she has the more infectious Delta variant.

It is not yet known how she came to be infected but Palaszczuk revealed the woman was not vaccinated “despite the health directives”. The hospital has its own vaccination centre.

“I am absolutely furious about this,” Palaszczuk said.

The lockdown will limit travel outside the home to essential work, essential study, the purchase of essential goods, caring for others, and exercise in certain circumstances. Only two visitors will be allowed at households.

It comes only days after Queensland eased restrictions – with the most freedom in Australia – and hosted a State of Origin rugby league game in front of more than 50,000 spectators at Suncorp Stadium. All the while, the hospital receptionist was infectious without knowing.

Queensland had feared the next outbreak of COVID-19 would come from fly-in, fly-out workers, international travellers, or interstate vacationers. Today, however, the threat came from within its own health system, only months after staff infected at another hospital caused the last lockdown.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she was awaiting genome sequencing to help determine how the woman was infected, and whether she has the Delta variant.

South-east Queensland already had an outbreak of the Alpha variant, linked to a Portuguese restaurant, and Young revealed there was likely a missing link.

However, with multiple areas of concern, Young said it was vital that Queenslanders follow the health directions in order for the outbreak or outbreaks to be brought under control.

While the lockdown begins at 6pm, the situation is so dire that Young advised people in affected areas to “finish your day, wherever you are, and go home”.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath revealed the infected woman had experienced symptoms last Monday, but did not get tested until a week later, with the positive results this morning. She is still being interviewed by contact tracers to determine potential exposure sites.

The woman was at the Sandgate Woolworths from 9.30am to 10.30am on Saturday, June 19, then went to the Bay Health Gym. She worked 3-10pm shifts at the hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday, she flew on VA369 from Brisbane to Townsville, spending an hour in the Brisbane terminal beforehand and then an hour at the café brewery in Townsville airport on arrival. She then went to Magnetic Island where she remained until Sunday, when she travelled back to Townsville, attending the city markets before she caught VA374 to Brisbane.

Young said all 2500 people on Magnetic Island should attend the local fever clinic to be tested, along with anyone who had been at exposure sites at the listed time.

“I’m just being very, very cautious, because we’re in the middle of the holiday period,” Young said.

Palaszczuk again urged the Commonwealth to reduce the number of international travellers allowed into Queensland, and said hotel quarantine remained vulnerable to breaches. She said that was “the reason why we’re having lockdowns in major cities”.

With most Queenslanders still not vaccinated, and the increase in supplies not anticipated until the last quarter of this year, Palaszczuk said the state was at a crucial point in the pandemic.

“Until that time, it’s a real risk,” the Premier said.

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Young said it was proving difficult to segregate international travellers, domestic travellers, aviation workers and maritime workers in quarantine hotels, particularly when “most” of those infected had the Delta variant. She joined Palaszczuk in urging eligible Queenslanders to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

The list of exposure sites is being updated and restrictions may yet be tightened. While the lockdown will help contact tracers, and hopefully prevent the spread of the virus, Young conceded “there will be more risks” to announce in the coming hours and days.

There had been grave concerns a large group of miners may have returned home carrying the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19. Some 56 miners have yet to be tested or receive the results.

It’s unclear how widely the group dispersed after returning to Queensland last week from the Newmont-owned Granites gold mine, about 540km northwest of Alice Springs.

In all, 900 fly-in, fly-out workers left the mine for locations across Australia after a worker from Victoria became infected while passing through a quarantine hotel in Brisbane, en route to the mine.

There’s also high level concern about passengers who travelled with an infected crew member on flights from Sydney to Brisbane and the Gold Coast over the weekend.

“We will not hesitate to take action,” the premier warned after mandating the use of masks in 11 local government areas across southeast Queensland for a fortnight.

On Monday evening six Virgin flights into and out of Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and the Gold Coast on June 25-26 were added as COVID-19 exposure sites by Queensland Health.

Meanwhile, Queensland’s war with the federal government over purpose-built quarantine facilities is rolling on.

The Palaszczuk government says hotel quarantine for international travellers is Australia’s greatest single source of COVID-19, and has accused the federal government of letting in too many foreigners.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles has claimed half the people coming in to Australia are not citizens or permanent residents, but others who’ve been granted travel exemptions.

Queensland is seeking to cut overseas arrivals, saying the volume is putting pressure on a hotel quarantine system that’s already failing, and was never designed for infection control.

“But we wouldn’t be in this situation, we wouldn’t be reducing our number of international arrivals, if we had purpose-built facilities which would, could have been up and running now,” he said on Monday.

Queensland is still demanding the federal government approve its plans for a purpose-built quarantine centre outside Toowoomba, even thought Canberra has repeatedly rejected it and wants one built on Commonwealth land in Brisbane.

Miles says if both 1000-bed facilities are built, reliance on hotel quarantine will be dramatically less. Currently there are 2300 people in hotel quarantine in the state.

Palaszczuk said the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory worked because it was located away from densely populated areas.

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