Queensland’s Chief Health Officer has acted “hard and fast” to clamp down on the super-infectious UK COVID-19 variant from taking hold.
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer has acted “hard and fast” to clamp down on the super-infectious UK COVID-19 variant from taking hold.

Why mutant UK virus strain is so serious

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young has acted swiftly in a desperate bid to stop the new highly contagious UK COVID-19 variant from overwhelming the Queensland health system, as it has done in Britain.

Dr Young has ordered a three-day lockdown in Greater Brisbane from 6pm tonight, and made masks mandatory for people living in the council areas of Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton and Redlands, when they leave home.

Brisbane COVID lockdown: What you need to know

The move follows confirmation late on Thursday that a casual cleaner, in her 20s, had the UK variant of the pandemic virus after working at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in inner-city Brisbane on January 2.

Hotel Grand Chancellor in inner-city Brisbane, where a casual cleaner developed the highly infectious UK strain of the pandemic virus. Picture: John Gass
Hotel Grand Chancellor in inner-city Brisbane, where a casual cleaner developed the highly infectious UK strain of the pandemic virus. Picture: John Gass

A man, who had recently travelled from Ghana, tested positive to the super-infectious UK variant, dubbed B117, while in hotel quarantine at the Grand Chancellor in late December.

His partner has also been diagnosed with B117.

"Today in the UK, one in 50 of their population is sick with COVID-19," Dr Young said.

"The health system can't manage the numbers. If you can't manage the numbers … if you can't provide oxygen and the basic care that those people then need, then the consequences will be worse.

 

 

Big lines at the Eight Mile Plains COVID-19 testing facility. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Big lines at the Eight Mile Plains COVID-19 testing facility. Picture: Steve Pohlner

"We have to get this under control now. If fewer people have it, we can provide fantastic care.

"We've seen that the people who have needed intensive care in Queensland have survived, whereas in other countries, they haven't necessarily because there's just too many people to give care to."

Dr Young said while the UK variant was 70 per cent more contagious than previous strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the early scientific evidence was that it did not cause more severe disease.

"It doesn't increase mortality and most importantly of all for us, it doesn't affect the efficacy of the vaccines that have been developed to date," she said.

 

Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week announced plans to fast-track the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Australia from mid-February, Dr Young said Queensland could not afford to allow the UK variant to take hold.

"Once it's spread it would be too late to act," she warned.

"It will be too late if on Monday I stand up here in front of you and say: 'We've got 10 cases and they've been out in the community infecting people. We can't put it back in the box."

Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said it was important for both the health of Queenslanders and the state economy to stamp out the UK variant before it had a chance to spread.

"Any delay could see significant, if not catastrophic, results," she said. "This is not hypothetical.

"The UK has had 2.8 million cases since the start of COVID - 1.1 million of those cases have been in the last month.

"That means 38 per cent of all of the positive cases in the UK have occurred only in the last month and that is because of this new variant.

 

 

 

 

 

"If we waited until Monday afternoon in three days' time, we don't want to be standing here saying: 'If only'.

"If we have multiple cases by that stage, it is highly likely that we would struggle to get it under control. We cannot take that risk. We cannot risk people's lives and the economy because it would do far greater damage to have long-term restrictions in Queensland."

Premier Anna Palaszczuk said that on the advice of Dr Young, Queensland would "go hard and go early to do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus".

"If we do not do this now, it could be a 30-day lockdown," Ms Palaszczuk said.

Originally published as Why mutant UK virus strain is so serious


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