Queensland tourism operators would have breathed sighs of relief yesterday after it emerged interstate travellers could rely on PCR tests paid for by Medicare to enter the state. This came after some confusion and anxiety generated by the state government about whether travellers would have to pay for them. Federal health minister Greg Hunt is right to demand an apology from the Queensland Premier for the “unnecessary stress she has caused to Queenslanders and those planning to travel there” (see this Courier-Mail report). Queensland is well-placed to have a strong 2022 as interstate tourism is revived, but the Queensland Government could still stuff things up through incompetence and panicked policy responses.
Queensland’s big test will come after 17 December when we reopen to NSW and Victoria and COVID comes in. Will our health system cope with the COVID case load, particularly with possibly thousands of unvaccinated staff unable to work, as suggested by this Sky News report? Of course, Queensland’s good weather and low population density will help slow the spread of COVID as it has in the past, so let’s hope those factors and our relatively high vaccination rates in many parts of the state keep us out of trouble (see the heat map of first dose vax rates below thanks to Adept Economics Research Officer Ben Scott). The SW-Queensland border town of Goondiwindi stands out with a first dose rate of 95%+.
I was concerned about provincial cities such as Townsville, Cairns, Rockhampton, Mackay, and Bundaberg, but first dose vaccination rates there are all over 80%. For first doses, Townsville is at 83.1%, Cairns is at 85.9%, Rockhampton is at 82.1%, Mackay is at 86.4%, and Bundaberg is 88.5% (for the data go to COVID-19 vaccination – Geographic vaccination rates – LGA). Bundaberg is actually beating Brisbane which is at 87.2%. I’m hopeful the vax rates we’re seeing in these cities will mean local hospitality businesses won’t suffer hugely from having to turn away unvaccinated customers after 17 December, a state government policy which I think is absolutely wicked and over-the-top, for the record.
We see lower vax rates in some remote areas, probably because locals perceive the risk of getting COVID is low. Most worryingly we see some very low rates in Indigenous communities such as Cherbourg (57.4% first dose rate) and Yarrabah (60.2%). We could have a major public health disaster if COVID gets into some of our Indigenous communities given the high prevalence of chronic health conditions.
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