COVID-19 DIARY – BRISBANE GOES INTO THREE DAY LOCKDOWN

In pictures: Eerie pictures of Brisbane's empty streets | The Advertiser

January 8

Friday morning I drove into work.

It’s my first fix of news for the day often, sometimes my only until late in the evening.

There was mention of COVID of course but nothing related to my hometown.

I was interested in what was happening Sydney as a friend of mine was hoping to get married there on Valentines Day.

I parked my car, walked the twenty minutes or so up to our offices.

The whole way I walked without a mask.

No one wore masks in Queensland these days.

I walked through the door and plonked my bag on my desk and started work.

I overhead a conversation about a colleague leaving at 3:30pm maybe.

My supervisor came around and asked if I heard that?

It was 8:35am.

He told me we were going into lockdown at 6pm tonight. No one leaving their houses except for medical reasons essential work or food.

I told him there had been nothing on the radio.

I got on the internet, sure enough there was a post on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announcing the lockdown.

It was 23 minutes old.

The plan was to go ahead with the work day but if staff needed to plan around this development they could.

I called Karen to touch base about groceries. I couldn’t raise her.

I gave it a few minutes and went up to my supervisor and advised I’d like to use my lunch hour now to get some groceries sorted.

I wasn’t just thinking about the daily shop.

I was given permission, I took one of the masks my sister in law had made for me out of my bag and headed for Toowong village.

I texted Karen at 8:46am to call me.

I had no idea if she was out of the loop.

I went to the fruit shop. Already there were more people in the shop than usual. Not everybody knew. Somebody helpfully told a customer looking around perplexed that the lockdown had been announced and she thanked them.

I was not the only one wearing a mask, it seemed almost everyone had one, as if they had been waiting for the signal and now it had been sent.

I dashed over to the chemist and bought some medical masks thinking about people at work who may not have a mask with them and were catching public transport home. I needn’t have worried, it seemed much like myself, everybody had masks ready to put on.

I’d walked up in the early morning with no masks in sight and 30 minutes later stood in Coles surrounded by dozens of people wearing masks of one sort or another.

Many nearby residents stood in Coles having come to do their weekly shop surprised by the long lines and big crowds.

Despite this people seemed polite and helpful to each other, didn’t take too much of any one product and gave each other some space.

Why I was there?

I wanted to be prepared for worse case scenarios.

I wanted staples on hand if I had to isolate at home for several days.

I was planning for more than what had just been announced.

I got some tinned food, rice, soup, some fruit and not much else. I felt dialed down and calm, just thinking a little ahead and not being greedy or fearful.

Of course that may not be how other people see it and I can understand that too.

My actions were similar to many others across the city as supermarkets were swamped.

I admired the incredible effort of the supermarket staff as they managed this massive influx of people and the need to re-stock.

Didn’t they have people at home they were worried about?

Didn’t they need to buy after their shift was over?

Greater Brisbane enters three-day lockdown amid UK COVID-19 variant concern

It really was quite admirable.

Retail staff have really shouldered some huge burdens during this pandemic with little if any reward.

I had never been in a store so crowded even during Christmas when it is bedlam.

I followed a line that had started at the check-outs and was naturally snaking around in a circle out the front of the store before going down an aisle past the centre. It went all the way down that aisle not long after I joined it.

I was in that aisle for several minutes not knowing what awaited me when I got out of it. Then the line moved fast and split into two. Those going through the self check-outs and the rest of us going old school. I saw a line outside the store several metres long.

The store had reached capacity and was letting people in groups once enough had of us had left. If I had waited until lunch I may have been in such a line and while people weren’t hoarding it just seemed unlikely a lot would be left on the shelves of certain things people at such a time like milk or break or pasta or yes rice or toilet paper. Having never seen the store like this I took some pictures.

I was on my way back to work at 10am when I got in touch with Karen. She was locked out on our balcony with her phone running low. So I got leave to go drive home, open up the balcony door, and drive back to work.

I effectively started working at sometime after 11am but from then on I surprisingly had a productive day.

I was very grateful for the flexibility and support shown by leadership.

The lockdown was to last until 6pm Monday.

We would all be working from home on Monday but in my particular team we were set up do this. The volume of traffic may bring complications but we were prepared to work through the situation as best we could.

I wouldn’t say we were afraid of the potential break-out. We had been in lockdown before. We of course were worried about each other, and concerned with making arrangements but when the hammer falls you just tend to deal with things as they come and hope for the best.

So what prompted this lockdown?

Well on Thursday while the news was dominated by the attacks on the Capitol we were informed that Queensland’s 113 day streak of no new community transmissions was over. A hotel cleaner at the Grand Chancellor hotel where repatriated Australians were staying in hotel quarantine had contracted COVID.

Of particular concern was that she had been on public transport from the city to Altandi and probably come into contact with a number of people while unknowingly contagious.

So the next morning the Queensland Premier had decided to “Go hard and go early,”

The Greater Brisbane region of Brisbane, Logan Ipswich, Moreton Bay Region and Redlands Bay were part of the lockdown. The neighbouring Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast were not part of the lockdown prompting some Brisbane residents to head there before the 6pm lockdown came into place. I probably would have put them in lockdown given the distances involved and that many people commute from those areas into Brisbane.

“Think of it as a long weekend at home,” advised Premier Palaszczuk.

Funerals were limited to 20 people and weddings to ten.

Given the incubation period of two weeks for COVID, a three day lockdown seemed quite short.

The reasoning was it gave enough time for effective contract tracing to occur much like the reasoning behind the six day lockdown in South Australia back in November.

I felt without any expert knowledge that three days was too short.

“We need to act really fast, we need to find every single case now. Until we have found all those people, we can’t relax. We have to bring this in fast rather than be able to wait and see what the extent of the spread is. Because once its spread it will be too late to act,” advised Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young given that the cleaner had caught the UK strain which was 70 per cent more contagious.

It’ll be too late if on Monday I stand up here in front of you and say we’ve had 10 cases and they’ve been out infectious in the community infecting people,” she said.

Later that night in the wake of people hitting the shops the Premier was on the news advising people that people could still have take-away and that people could shop and that the shops would not run out.

Certain shelves were bare by Friday night but would get restocked quickly enough.

The situation prompted larger conversations about moving hotel quarantine out of major metropolitan cities which must have just delighted regional areas.

There were changes afoot with repatriation of Australians, they would cut returning numbers by 50% and increase testing requirements.

“All of the things we’ve done in the past, all of the controls we’ve talked about in terms of test, trace, isolate — all of those personal measures and even some other measures we have had to do in certain times will become less effective if this virus was to be established,” Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said.

This virus continues to write its own rules and that means that we must continue to be adaptable in how we continue to fight it,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told us.

Meanwhile in the United States of America in the wake of the attacks on the Capitol there was a lot of talk about what to do with the outgoing President. There is not a lot I will add here except to say that pretty everything I feared that would come to pass – did. This was the noise that followed in the wake of a significant and upsetting event. But noise that ultimately revealed just how little was going to change.

For months I had been watching what was happening in other countries and even in other states and feeling very fortunate. I felt even perversely guilty because we had not suffered like other parts of the world. We were not suffering  like that yet but we were now facing an increased risk, being called upon to live with restrictions and to act with some caution.

I hoped we would do the right thing.

For those overseas who had suffered so much it must have seen almost comical.

“I heard you’re in lockdown. What happened?”

“A hotel quarantine cleaner got it.”

But authorities were racing to stop something much larger happening. The cleaner from the 2nd of January until she had symptoms and got tested immediately had been in close contact with 70 other people.

Even more troubling was the fact that she had the UK strain.

Epidemiologist and University of Queensland Associate Professor Linda Selvey told the ABC, “If it wasn’t this new variant, there wouldn’t be this kind of response. There is quite a lot at stake and the idea is to stamp this out pretty quickly.

The concern is that there may well be a whole lot of cases. This lockdown provides some breathing space and an opportunity to learn whether there are other cases and what’s actually going on,” Selvey added.

If you did nothing, obviously it expands much more rapidly but it also means that if it got out, that the restrictions that you would need to put in place to get the R under one to control it would actually have to be more severe. It won’t necessarily be longer, but we may need harder restrictions, coming down faster for a wider area in order to get it under control,” explained Bond University Professor Paul Gasziou.

-Lloyd Marken

COVID-19 DIARY – FOURTH TIMES A CHARM

December 16

Tuesday night I finished work, went home, had dinner and started to feel a little sore in my throat.

I didn’t think I had it.

But I thought about other people who had displayed gone to work and how unlikely it was at the time they found out they were positive.

Where I work we had been keeping to only 50% staff working in the office but we were going into a busy period with my team in particular.

If one of us got COVID, contaminated the rest that would severely impact our ability to carry out work having to quarantine for 14 days. 

But far more importantly than that.

It would mean people I work with had been put at risk, their loved ones had been put at risk.

I had the capability and the support to get tested and to not have my income affected in any way.

It was a simple decision.

So on Wednesday morning I called my supervisor who agreed it was better to be safe than sorry. I would work from home and I would go and get tested. 

Since Karen has to isolate at home with me too until we got the results I decided I would get tested early in the day in the hope the results would get back sooner. Last time they had come back early the next morning which was very fast.

I packed a bag with all my work stuff to take to the office and back every day. I had done these for several weeks every day. But on Tuesday I was tired and the bag was heavy and I just decided I would leave it there, after all I’d be back in the next day. 

It had the masks my sister in law had made for me.

So instead I took the one she had made for Karen. Karen’s mask had received some modifications from her – there was a pipe cleaner in one side instead of elastic string.

The COVID-19 Fever Clinic at the Prince Charles was open from 9am.

I drove over and went to the buildings where the Fever Clinic had previously been but clearly things were now different. 

I asked a staff member who advised me it was now in the Emergency Department. 

So I as a potential COVID carrier walked and the entered the Emergency Department of the hospital.

I followed the signs and went down a long corridor away from the ward. 

Finally In entered the new clinic, there was a Christmas tree on the desk. A series of row of chairs off to the side and I sat down on one. 

I was alone. No one was there. 

The test no longer involved a nasal swab. Just my mouth.

It was painless.

By the time I left two people had entered and were seated or at the front desk.

I left the ward. 

I was in and out of the ward between 0943Hrs and 0957Hrs.

I went home. 

At 10:00pm I received a text message advising my test result was negative.

For the rest of the week I worked from home.

It was Karen who told me that someone had tested positive at the same clinic that week.

A woman travelling from Sydney on a Virgin flight attended The Glen Hotel near where I grew up on the southside of Brisbane. She had a rental car and drove up to the Sunshine Coast. On Thursday December 17 after a friend told her about the growing cluster in Sydney she got tested at the Prince Charles Hospital COVID-19 Fever Clinic at 1019Hrs – 1026Hrs. She was already back in New South Wales when her test came back positive.

The call went out for people to get tested and quarantine for 14 days if they had been “Passengers from rows 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 on Virgin flight VA925 on Wednesday, December 16 and Close contacts from the restaurant at the Glen Hotel – 24 Gaskell Street, Eight Mile Plains – on December 16.

On Friday Dr Young said of the Sydney woman in her 50s, “The individual did go to that restaurant after 11.30am and at that stage she didn’t realise she was potentially at risk. There is a risk there at the Glen Hotel – it’s small, but we just want to make sure we’re contact-tracing every single person who possibly could have been exposed to the virus.

-Lloyd Marken

COVID-19 DIARY – WACOL CLUSTER AND CLUSTERF***S

Young inmates locked in cells as authorities brace for a potential  coronavirus outbreak at the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre - ABC News

August 21

On the 23rd of August, Planet America from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation covered the Democratic National Convention and showcasing President-Elect Joe Biden’s stutter as well as some interesting statistics about how COVID-19 has affected education in America.

August 22

Saturday and there were nine new cases in Queensland, six from the Wacol Youth Detention Centre cluster and three up in Townsville related to cargo ships. So far 56 tests from the Wacol cluster had come back negative.

Premier Palaszcsuk put in place restrictions  throughout Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, the Scenic Rim, Lockyer Valley, Somerset, Moreton and Redland Bay. Gatherings at home and outdoors would be limited to 10 people (that means a family of five could only have five guests around for example) and the rest of the state the limit was 30 people.  

August 23

On the 23rd of August 60 Minutes Australia was interviewed by Dr Anthony Fauci who remained interesting to listen to and diplomatic to a fault.

On Sunday the 23rd of August, the World Health Organisation reported there had been 23,079,883 confirmed cases globally with a daily increase of 255,857. There had been 801,313 COVID-19 deaths around the world with a daily increase of 5,968.

In Australia there had been 24,602 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 195. There had been 485 deaths with a daily increase of 13. The next day the number of deaths in Australia rose above 500 to 502.

In Canada there had been 124,372 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 499. There had been 9,064 Canadian deaths with a daily increase of ten.

In the United Kingdom there had been 324,605 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 1,288. There had been 41,423 deaths with a daily increase of 18.

In India there had been 3,044,940 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 69,239. There had been 56,706 deaths with a daily increase of 912. The day before on the 22nd of August has seen the largest daily increase of new cases in the country with 69,878.

In the United States of America there had been 5,567,217 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 45,960. There had been 174,246 deaths due to COVID-19 in America with a daily increase of 1,148.

August 25

On Monday I had returned to work and on Tuesday there were no new cases in Queensland following the break-out cluster at Wacol. The day before there had been one new case linked to the Youth Detention Centre Cluster and 8,000 tests had been carried out in Qld. There had been 1,106 cases of COVID-19 in Queensland and there were currently 18 active cases. We were being asked to wear masks where we went and I was about to receive from my kind sister-in-law some home made masks for such use.

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Copyright Lloyd Marken.

Having attended Indooroopilly Shopping Centre on the 20th of August to see Tenet. A Qld Health Alert who those who had been at Indooroopilly Shopping Centre on the 17th and 19th of August should go and get tested. A timely reminder if any that the situation could change at any time.

I also donated money to Medicins San Fronteres otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders who were involved in fighting COVID-19 around the world as well as responding to all kinds of varieties of disasters, emergencies and ongoing disease outbreaks.

August 26

In Victoria there were 133 new COVID-19 cases reported and 23 deaths – 22 linked to aged care.

It was the lowest daily increase of cases since 05JUL2020.

When the daily numbers got to double digits there could be a hope that planning for the lowering of restrictions would come. Premier Daniel Andrews indicated it was a positive step but also noted, “These numbers are coming down. Of course, that shouldn’t take away from the pain and the loss that those 23 families today are dealing with. And sadly, there will be more tomorrow. That’s the nature of this wildly infectious virus.

The Victorian government also announced more funding more help with domestic violence which had increased during the pandemic and even more so during such a lockdown as Victoria was experiencing.

Something to note, there were 391 healthcare workers with active cases, 198 active regional cases and 1,412 active case in aged care settings. Again these were active cases on the 26th of August.

The Republic National Convention was covered by Planet America. Ballbag used the White House for the RNC, an unprecedented move where previously campaigning Presidents had never used the White House to have the people’s house not be part of elections.

In Queensland due to the youth detention centre cluster a new Direction came from the government regarding disability accommodation service. It included non with COVID-19 symptoms in the last 14 days could enter a facility. Specialists who provide support would be able to enter at the discretion of supervising staff.

-Lloyd Marken

How to Watch the Democratic National Convention - The New York Times