Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been accused of avoiding a new lockdown in her state just so the NRL Grand Final can go ahead this weekend, but the real reason is not that cynical.
Ms Palaszczuk knows that there is no such thing as a short and sharp lockdown when dealing with the Delta variant and fears that imposing one now will mean weeks if not months of severe restrictions.
Her NSW and Victorian counterparts thought they could nip Delta in the bud, but months after imposing what were intended to be short lockdowns to eliminate the virus, the two states are still labouring under the same restrictions albeit with roadmaps to exit.
Those exits are predicated on vaccination rates in those states imminently reaching 80 per cent double-jabbed, whereas Queensland’s rate is far behind that and any lockdown announced now would likely linger well into November at least.
At present 65.72 per cent of Queenslanders had received at least one dose of vaccine, and only 46.74 per cent are double vaccinated.
‘Everyone has been seeing what’s been happening in other parts of the world. It is going to happen right throughout Australia when this Delta virus spreads,’ Ms Palaszczuk said on Friday.
So instead of instituting a broad-based lockdown, the Queensland Premier is trying to do what NSW and Victoria could not – use contact tracing to quickly isolate all cases in the state and drive the infection numbers back to zero.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is wary of entering a new lockdown and ending up like NSW and Victoria, given the lagging vaccination rate in her state
At present 65.72 per cent of Queenslanders had received at least one dose of vaccine, with only 46.74 per cent fully vaccinated. Picture: Masked Brisbane residents in the CBD on Friday
Critics have pointed out that Ms Palaszczuk’s government had imposed local lockdowns earlier this year on fewer numbers than the current four separate clusters that have emerged in the state this week.
That had prompted accusations that she wanted a big crowd for this weekend’s NRL grand final in Brisbane before imposing any lockdown.
South-east Queensland has had four short lockdowns this year in response to clusters of the Delta variant, while NSW has been in lockdown for three months as it battles what was the largest Delta outbreak in Australia but which had now been surpassed by Victoria.
The Queensland premier had been criticised by the NSW and federal governments for strict border policies but said exclusion was needed while the state built up both vaccination rates and hospital capacity to deal with a potential Delta explosion once borders were relaxed.
‘There’s another big part to this story and that is to make sure that the hospitals can deal with the capacity because when Delta comes in, it will spread like wildfire,’ Ms Palaszczuk said at Friday’s Covid-19 update.
‘There needs to be a lot of work that needs to happen and we’ve got to get this right. There is no use rushing. We need to make sure that we get the people vaccinated and the hospitals prepared.
‘Until you do both of those, it would be irresponsible to put the whole country at risk. And I’m not going to put Queenslanders at risk until both of those issues are sorted out.’
Ms Palaszczuk has regularly urged Queenslanders to get vaccinated while the state’s Covid caseload remained low to avoid further lockdowns.
‘We won’t keep Delta out of our community forever,’ she said on Thursday. ‘Thanks to the way we’ve responded to the pandemic, we have a great window of opportunity to vaccinate as many Queenslanders as possible.’
The comments reflect the recognition by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and, belatedly, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, that the Delta variant cannot be contained by lockdown, only widespread vaccination.
Ms Palaszczuk’s understanding of the NSW and Victorian situation had not stopped her trying to ‘one up’ interstate rival Ms Berejiklian.
In a speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in Brisbane on Wednesday night, Ms Palaszczuk took a clear potshot at Ms Berejiklian’s handing of the current outbreak in NSW by reminding the audience Queensland’s last lockdown was short and sharp.
‘Our last lockdown lasted eight days,’ Ms Palaszczuk told the audience.
‘Eight days after the start of its current outbreak, NSW was yet to enter lockdown.’
She then claimed the ongoing lockdown in NSW was costing businesses in the state $100million a day.
‘Our neighbours fight to regain their freedoms,’ she said. ‘We fight to retain ours.’
On Friday Ms Palaszczuk nevertheless wouldn’t rule out the need for another lockdown in south-east Queensland if this week’s new cases caused spread throughout the community.
‘If the advice is to go into lockdown, we will go into lockdown, OK,’ Ms Palaszczuk said.
‘There’s no ifs and buts here, people. This is serious. So it’s going to depend whether we see any unlinked community transmission over the next 24-48 hours.’
Penrith Panthers star Nathan Cleary poses with a young fan at Sunshine Coast Stadium in the lead-up to this weekend’s NRL Grand Final in Brisbane
A new lockdown would force the postponement of the NRL Grand Final scheduled for Sunday evening at Suncorp Stadium
Covid testing at a Brisbane clinic as four south-east Queensland LGAs experience Stage 2 restrictions as a result of four new Covid-19 clusters
A lockdown would force the postponement of the NRL Grand Final scheduled for Sunday evening at Suncorp Stadium, which the Queensland government reportedly paid close to $5million to host for the first time ever.
It’s likely the match would be moved to Queensland Country Bank Stadium in Townsville if a lockdown in the south-east was called this weekend. Capacity for the match had already been reduced to 75 per cent as a result of Stage 2 restrictions introduced on Thursday.
On Friday Federal Defence Minister Peter Dutton had said Ms Palaszczuk was treating Queenslanders ‘like mugs’ over the decision to avoid lockdown and allow Sunday’s NRL Grand Final to continue.
Mr Dutton said there was ‘cynicism’ about the Queensland Premier’s motives as the state battled new Covid-19 clusters.
‘Everyone wishes the Premier well in her decision-making but there have been a lot of decisions at odds with common sense,’ Mr Dutton told the Today show.
‘When they’re turning people away from funerals and not allowing kids to repatriate with their parents across the border, and we have businesses going broke, people starved from seeing families and loved ones, and then we see the Premier holding on because of the NRL grand final on Sunday, I think that rubs people up the wrong way.
‘All of us are NRL fans and want to see it go ahead, but the health of people in Queensland is paramount and I don’t think the Premier should be treating us like mugs.’
Ms Palaszczuk said she didn’t have ‘a crystal ball’ to predict whether people would be able to travel to and from Queensland by Christmas.
‘I would love people to be able to travel but we will do so when it is safe. If it is unsafe, it will not happen,’ she said.
‘Every eligible person needs to be offered the vaccine.’