The public health emergency caused by the coronavirus has ended in Queensland.
Remember the days when we tuned in daily to the press conference, wondering what measures would come and go, whether there would be travel restrictions, whether we needed a vaccine to buy a beer at the pub?
This section is now closed by law.
The Health Emergency Declaration expired yesterday and the laws that have made Queensland’s Chief Health Officer (CHO) the most powerful person in the state for the past two years have been changed.
New legislation comes into force today that cuts Chief Health Officer John Gerrard’s powers – meaning he will no longer be able to close borders, order lockdowns or demand mass vaccinations.
He will still be able to prescribe masks, vaccination for high-risk workplaces and isolation for positive cases and close contacts.
Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the CHO no longer needed “emergency” health powers.
But she said it was necessary for Dr Gerrard to retain some powers because of the “unpredictable” nature of the virus.
“In order to resume normal socio-economic activity, if necessary, appropriate public health measures could be taken to address the current public health risks, the latest health advice and the protection of the health system,” she told parliament.
What powers does the CHO now have?
Under the new laws, the CHO will still be able to issue mask mandates for vulnerable and high-risk groups.
He will also be able to issue isolation and quarantine orders for people with the virus and close contacts with symptoms.
CHO may also require vaccination of workers in vulnerable and high-risk settings.
However, these statements may only be made to: prevent or respond to a serious threat to the public health system or society as a result of COVID-19; or to accept the advice of the National Cabinet or national advisory bodies regarding the virus.
Dr Gerrard said the powers were needed in case states had to build their own rules in an emergency.
“It’s not immediately clear to me that this might be necessary, but it’s important that they are available, especially if this becomes a national situation,” he said.
“It’s not clear what’s going to happen, but it’s possible we’ll get a new option.”
The term expires on October 31, 2023.
Some restrictions on places of detention remain
Under the legislation, Queensland Correctional Services (QCS) will be allowed to screen people entering correctional facilities for symptoms of COVID-19.
QCS will also reserve the right to deny access to people with the virus or symptoms.
They will be able to order masks and isolate inmates who are COVID-positive or symptomatic.
What can’t CHO do now?
CHO can no longer order border closures or quarantines for foreign or domestic arrivals.
CHO cannot issue vaccination requirements for the public.
You can’t call it a lockdown.
Nor can the CHO impose restrictions on specific businesses or gatherings.
It cannot restrict access to vulnerable facilities (such as nursing homes and hospitals) unless it is consistent with isolation or quarantine, masks or vaccination.
Will we have lockdowns again?
Only in the event of a public health emergency.
This is what was announced around the world at the start of the pandemic – and in Queensland on 29 January 2020.
That’s why we’ve seen things like border closures and lockdowns; it allowed for restrictions on the general public that would not be acceptable under normal circumstances.
So far, CHO has issued 493 health directives.
“But thanks to the collective efforts of Queenslanders, we have not let the virus run wild,” Ms D’Ath said.
“It is now clear that we are in a different stage of the pandemic.”