Qld to open final border amid outbreak

Marty Silk |

Queensland authorities are confident opening the international border will have minimal impact on its surging COVID-19 outbreak.

The state recorded 11 virus deaths and 19,932 new cases after 41,293 tests in the 24 hours to 6.30am on Wednesday.

The death toll has reached 63 and there are now 89,638 active cases in Queensland with hospitals overrun and businesses struggling to stay open.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says with nearly 90 per cent of eligible residents double-vaccinated, quarantine can be scrapped for vaccinated international travellers on Saturday.

She says overseas arrivals are more likely to catch COVID-19 in Queensland and the border change won’t intensify the outbreak.

“I don’t think that will have a big impact on case numbers … at all,” Ms Palaszczuk told reporters on Wednesday.

“I can’t see that.”

The 11 new fatalities on Wednesday have taken the state’s pandemic death toll to 63, with 56 occurring after the domestic border opened on December 13.

“Any death is of course a tragedy, and every day I’m reminded that this is someone’s grandmother, or grandfather, or brother, or sister or aunt, or uncle,” the premier said.

“And I think we all need to keep that in mind, that although this is a health pandemic, there are loss of lives and any loss is a tragedy and I express my condolences on behalf of the state to the families of the loved ones who have lost their lives under such tragic circumstances.”

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said of the 11 dead, one was in their 30s, one was in their 50s, two were in their 60s, one was in their 70s, three were in their 80s and the final three were in their 90s.

The youngest was an unvaccinated man, while five of the dead were twice-vaccinated.

Two had had booster shots, but were suffering significant medical conditions.

Dr Gerrard said 835 people were being treated for COVID-19 in Queensland hospitals and another 52 in ICU, with 34 on ventilation.

“It’s clear that the numbers of cases in Queensland hospitals continues to rise, as we have always expected, as we head towards the end of the month,” he said.

The growing outbreak has also started to hit the state’s hospital, health and ambulance workforce.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said 2766 health workers were isolating with COVID-19 and 3292 were quarantining as close contacts.

More than 190 close contacts have also left quarantine to work in public health facilities, she said, with private hospital beds and staff also being recruited to deal with the surge.

“We are seeing much greater numbers than any of us could have predicted because of Omicron in a shorter time span,” Ms D’Ath said.

“So we’re working with that.”

Half of all Queensland businesses are facing major or critical staff shortages due to the outbreak, according to a survey.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland poll says businesses are facing supply chain disruptions and are struggling to stay open, costing the state economy an estimated $180 million a day.

CCIQ general manager Amanda Rohan said staffing shortages could be eased if RATs were free and widely available, and the list of essential industries expanded so more close contacts could leave quarantine to work.

She also called for a joint federal-state support package for businesses hit the hardest.