Secret of state’s success in smashing the curve
QUEENSLAND expertise regularly called on during natural disasters, such as floods and cyclones, has proven invaluable in the fight against the biggest biological threat in a century - the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said while she was excited about the promise of a coronavirus vaccine, including the possibility of a successful candidate emerging from the University of Queensland next year, she credited the state's rapid response to the viral threat for saving lives here.
It's the principles underpinning that disaster response that she hopes will continue to keep Queenslanders safe until a vaccine can be rolled out for widespread use - which she predicts could be 12 to 18 months away, despite a major breakthrough from UQ scientists this week.
Dr Young said Queensland was used to having to act quickly to emerging threats, and similar principles were called on to swing the state into action at the first sign of a fast-spreading mystery virus in Wuhan, China, early in the new year.
Today marks 100 days since Queensland declared the virus a "public health incident of state significance" on January 21. The state's first case was diagnosed on the Gold Coast in a Chinese tourist from Wuhan eight days later.
Queensland stood up it's state disaster management committee in late January to co-ordinate the state's response to the new virus and it has met regularly for the past three months.
"The best thing you can do in any disaster or emerging situation is to use principles that you use all the time because then, you know what you're doing," Dr Young said yesterday.
"Our standard disaster response. That's what was turned on in Queensland very, very early."
Having the committee behind her means, Dr Young has been able to draw on resources from all aspects of government including police, emergency services and state development, as well as health, to co-ordinate a quick response to the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 225,000 people worldwide, but fewer than 100 Australians, six of them Queenslanders.
Whereas police are needed during floods and cyclones to evacuate people from homes and block off inundated roads, their help has also been vital in the battle to contain the spread of the new virus by ensuring people abide by stay-at-home orders and issuing fines if people disobey public health directives.
As hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment - masks, gowns, gloves and face shields - have dwindled during the pandemic, the State Development Department has also swung into action by working with local manufacturers to begin producing homegrown supplies.
"Because of our geography, we have floods and cyclones and crises continually, so people are really, really quick to act," Dr Young said.
That meant many aged care facilities, for instance, had already started implementing plans to protect their residents before Dr Young issued a public health order on March 21 targeting nursing homes.
Some facilities had introduced temperature checks of staff and visitors and banned children from attending nursing homes before Dr Young issued restrictions limiting visits by people under 16 years of age except in circumstances such as to provide end-of-life support.
"I know, because I deal with it regularly, that every single aged care facility has got a plan for how to deal quickly to any incident so if they need to evacuate, if they need to put anything in place, they're good at it," she said. "All of our aged care facilities are linked in to all of our disaster management groups."
Unlike in NSW, where 12 people have died in one aged-care facility alone, Queensland has not had an outbreak in a nursing home.
Dr Young said she will watch closely the gradual relaxing of restrictions this weekend, when Queenslanders will be allowed to venture within a 50km radius of their homes, before considering whether other pubic health directives can be eased.
"We're not going to relax everything at once, then we could see a potential second wave (of infections)," she said.
"We're going to do it stepwise and see the results."
Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in QLD
Originally published as Secret of state's success in smashing the curve