Masks back for Christmas as Premier warns of soaring cases in southern states

Masks will be mandatory across Queensland from 1am Saturday as the State recorded 20 new COVID-19 cases on Friday.

Dec 17, 2021, updated Dec 17, 2021
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says mask mandates will return to Queensland from 1am on Saturday. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says mask mandates will return to Queensland from 1am on Saturday. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the new mask mandate early Friday, saying it was being done to keep Queenslanders safe during the holiday period and comes as southern states record soaring new cases numbers.

But the Premier ruled out lockdowns.

The 20 new cases on Friday include 16 community cases and four overseas acquired cases. Two cases of the new Omicron variant are among the total.

The new cases are from Brisbane’s north and south, West Moreton, the Sunshine and Gold Coast and Cairns. The majority are the Delta strain.

Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard said the two new Omicron cases were in Brisbane and the Gold Coast and were directly linked to the large Newcastle cluster in New South Wales.

“We know that these cases will increase. We know that’s inevitable and that Omicron will inevitable become dominant and we will not be able to stop it,” Dr Gerrard said.

He said the mask mandate was necessary to slow the spread of Omicron to give people an opportunity to get their vaccine booster shot.

“Mask wearing is not just about protecting yourself. It is also about protecting others. It works both ways. I think what we require is not particularly onerous.”

Dr Gerrard said the first screening of residents at a Holland Park aged care facility, where a visitor had tested positive, had revealed all negative results so far.

Palaszczuk said NSW was experiencing a dramatic escalation of cases – 2213 new cases on Friday – and since border rules were relaxed 105,923 people had applied for border passes to enter Queensland from southern hotspots.

From early Saturday, masks will be mandatory across the State in shops, retail outlets, Woolworths, Coles and grocery stores, on public transport and ride share and at airports and in planes.

Masks will not be mandated in workplaces, in pubs, clubs and hospitality venues or outdoor settings like the beach.

“This is a small price to pay for your freedoms,” Palaszczuk said, saying it was being done to slow the spread of the virus which is now taking hold.

“This is going to be statewide. We are seeing more cases and we definitely do not want to see a massive escalation,” she said.

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“I want everyone to enjoy Christmas and new year … please think about yourselves, your family.

The mask mandate will be reviewed when the State hits 90 per cent of people vaccinated. On Friday, 89.03 per cent of Queenslanders had received one dose and 83.07 per cent were double dosed.

The Premier’s announcement comes as a wave of new cases have hit in New South Wales and Victoria. On Friday NSW recorded 2213 new cases, its highest daily total since the pandemic started and means the number of cases there has quadrupled since the start of the week.

Hospitals in NSW have been placed on red alert.

The escalating NSW case numbers are being driven by super-spreading events at large venues like pubs and nightclubs, exacerbated by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant

And Victoria recorded 1510 cases on Friday and seven deaths.

There are 386 patients in hospital, 82 of whom are actively infected with the virus in intensive care and 43 on ventilators.

Queensland’s new vaccine mandate came into force on Friday, where patrons at clubs, pubs, hotels, restaurants, retail outlets and a host of other venues will need to show proof of their double vaccination status to gain entry.

Small Business Minister Di Farmer said it was hello to a new normal – 638 days since pandemic restrictions were first placed on the State’s businesses.

And Farmer warned against “giving stick” to businesses enforcing the vaccination mandate, saying penalties will be enforced.

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