Queensland mask rules toughened as authorities race to stamp out COVID outbreaks in vulnerable settings

Masks are now mandatory in almost every public setting in Queensland, in an attempt to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 — which has already taken hold in several vulnerable locations.

Key points:

  • Authorities have also urged employers to revert to work-from-home arrangements
  • The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre is managing an outbreak that numbers at least 14 people
  • Torres Strait community leaders want to restrict non-essential travel to try and shield the region from the virus

From today, masks are needed in workplaces, waiting rooms, libraries, hairdressers, nail salons and in hospitality venues and indoor stadiums, except while seated.

They were already required for public transport, taxis and rideshares, cinemas and theatres and shops and supermarkets.

Authorities have also urged employers to revert to work-from-home arrangements as case numbers escalate daily.

The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre is managing an outbreak that numbers at least 14 people — two staff and 12 young people.

Emails show one of the COVID-positive staff members was not vaccinated but, under Queensland's rules, they could continue to work as long as they took a PCR test each day and wore personal protective equipment (PPE).

The centre has been placed into lockdown.

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Chief executive of the Youth Advocacy Centre, Katie Acheson, said they understood from their clients that COVID-positive young people have been put into a "COVID section" and were only allowed out of their rooms to make phone calls.

"It's a little bit concerning for us because what does that mean as far as their access to services, their ability to socialise with other people and get some exercise — I mean, physical exercise is so important for mental health, particularly at a time like this — and we don't even know what the health supports will look like in these cases," she said.

"It was our assumption that situations were going to be managed to make sure that contact with young people would be limited with anybody who wasn't vaccinated.

"We've heard from parents that they weren't made aware, so it wasn't until they were informed that a young person had COVID, so we didn't even know there was COVID within the centre."

Youth Advocacy Centre CEO Katie Acheson said there needed to be better communication about how detention centre outbreaks were being handled. (Supplied)

Ms Acheson said it was important parents and loved ones of those in detention knew about conditions in the centre.

"They've obviously tested that whole population but parents — it's so important that the people outside are made aware of what's going on in this centre so they can adequately support the young people when they call," Ms Acheson said.

"It's very scary for anybody getting COVID, let alone a child who's in a prison, being isolated and alone and probably very scared.

"It's really important that we keep the families informed and at this point, we know of at least a couple of people who, that hasn't happened."

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A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Youth Justice said the facility was immediately placed into lockdown to allow for testing and contact tracing.

"The department worked hard to inform all parents and carers of young people at the centre after the first case was detected there," the spokesperson said.

"Once test results were returned, the positive cases were quarantined in a dedicated accommodation section and are each being managed within their own rooms in accordance with advice from Queensland Health nursing staff based on site."

"The vast majority of staff and young people at all three of the state's youth detention centres are fully vaccinated."

The Brisbane Youth Detention Centre outbreak numbers at least 14 people — two staff and 12 young people.(ABC News: Mark Slade)

Only a "small number" of detention centre employees are subject to the exemption provisions which allow them to continue working with daily PCR testing and PPE until January 17 — at which time they will need to be fully vaccinated in order to keep working at the centre.

The department said all the young people at Brisbane Youth Detention Centre were well with some only showing very minor symptoms.

Three staff members and one young person have also tested positive at the West Moreton Youth Detention Centre.

Mayor's call for Torres Strait travel restrictions

In the Torres Strait, community leaders want to restrict non-essential travel to try and shield the region from the virus.

Torres Shire Council Mayor Vonda Malone said there were at least 12 cases in the area now.

"The families, we've been reassured that it is within the one household and a lot of the individuals within the household have been vaccinated so they are doing well, they're asymptomatic," she said.

Vonda Malone said travel restrictions had worked to prevent COVID spread in the past.(ABC News: Lucy Barbour)

Local authorities had been trying to improve vaccination rates, knowing exposure was coming when Queensland opened its border, but they did not expect cases to arrive before the new year.

Ms Malone said about 92 per cent of people in the shire — which covers the Torres Strait Islands and the northernmost part of Cape York Peninsula — had received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but only 72 per cent were fully vaccinated.

"Whilst we have low cases now, we are concerned over the next couple of weeks, leading up to when school resumes and a lot of families are returning from the Christmas break, that we may have further outbreaks and whether or not we have the capacity to slow this down in our community," she said.

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"We had arrangements to restrict movement into the Torres, that was in 2020. That actually helped with not having that virus come into our region. The focus was on allowing for essential movement, essential services and obviously our returning residents.

"We want to make sure that we slow the movement of people."

Queensland's case numbers are all but certain to hit a new record again on Sunday, with the state's move to a different reporting period meaning the figure will also include 12 hours of positive results from overnight on Friday.

Cases are now being reported using 24 hours to 7:00pm daily, rather than 24 hours to 7:00am — allowing authorities to clarify detail ahead of the daily updates to the public.

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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