Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said there would be a very limited number of circumstances where exemptions would be granted, mostly on compassionate grounds.
But Dr Young said despite the strong measures put in place around Victoria specifically, the fact that Queensland is opening its borders to other states increases the likelihood of new virus cases in Queensland.
“There’s been thought given [to keeping the borders shut] but the fact is we have very, very good systems in place … we’ve got enormous capacity to test, which is why I ask people to get tested if they feel sick at all,” she said.
“So yes I expect over the coming two weeks we will see cases in Queensland, but we’ve got the capacity to rapidly respond and manage them.”
Dr Young said she would be worried if a virus case suddenly appeared in a random part of the state, because that would suggest it had managed to find a foothold without health authorities being aware.
The reopening comes against the backdrop of a state that has been effectively unlocked internally for at least a week, after the government rolled back stage three easings of restrictions early.
Public health experts say people should be going about their daily lives with confidence, but stressed that maintaining social distancing would be the key to preventing outbreaks like those seen in Victoria.
Most experts believe people don’t need to wear masks in Queensland, however anyone who wants to wear one should do so, especially if they are in a situation where they cannot comfortably socially distance.
Associate Professor Linda Selvey from UQ’s School of Public Health said the Victorian situation showed that Queenslanders couldn’t afford to be complacent, despite riding out the first stage of the pandemic with relatively few cases.
“Until we have a vaccine that’s been administered to the vast majority of the population we won’t have life as normal,” Professor Selvey said.
“There may well already be some transmission from Victoria to other states, and the states which are the most vulnerable are the ones where they share borders.
“But that just points to the fact that we can’t be complacent.”
Professor Selvey echoed the Chief Health Officer’s advice to maintain good hygiene including washing hands, maintain social distancing when mixing with people not from your household, and to avoid crowded situations where social distancing was impossible.
Griffith University infectious diseases expert Professor Nigel McMillan said Victoria has shown that restrictions can be put in place again if needed, which gives everyone an incentive to prevent a similar outbreak.
“If we do get an outbreak, we need to be prepared for the fact that we will step back a stage [of restrictions] and I don’t think anyone really wants that, so we should be highly motivated to do the right thing,” he said.
“It only takes one or two people not to do the right thing and things can get out of hand.”
AMAQ President Dr Chris Perry said Queensland’s virus response had been remarkable, but people should not lose sight of the fact that the disease could be deadly.
“COVID patients die lonely deaths struggling for breath away from all their support, it’s a horrible way to go,” Dr Perry said.
“We’ll see how social distancing goes, people should also wash their hands, and definitely don’t hug and kiss your 50 closest friends at the local pub or nightclub.”
On Thursday Queensland did not record any new virus cases, with the state having just two active cases out of a total of 1068.
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.