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Queensland records 31 new cases of COVID-19, thousands gather in Brisbane to protest vaccine mandate

A worker at Toowoomba Hospital, understood to be an employee in the maternity ward, tests positive to the COVID-19 virus as Queensland records 31 new cases overnight. 

A worker at Toowoomba Hospital on Queensland's Darling Downs has tested positive to the COVID-19 virus, with the state recording 31 new cases overnight. 

Key points:
  • It is unclear at this stage how many close contacts of the worker will have to go into quarantine
  • The statewide mask mandate will be revised when 90 per cent of the population 16 and over is double vaccinated
  • The Premier has ruled out lockdowns over Christmas and New Year

The ABC understands the worker was an employee in the hospital’s maternity ward and tested positive on Friday.

It is unclear at this stage how many close contacts of the worker will have to go into quarantine but it is expected some new mothers and their babies in the maternity ward will be transferred to St Vincent’s Hospital in Toowoomba.

Queensland recorded 31 cases of COVID-19 overnight, with 109 active cases across the state.

Two were overseas acquired and detected in hotel quarantine and eight are contacts of known cases.

Five have been linked to interstate travellers and there are 15 cases currently under investigation.

The other case was detected in home quarantine.

Queensland again recorded a record day for vaccine doses, with 66,620 people receiving the jab in the past 24 hours.

Anti-mandate protest in Brisbane attracts thousands
Protesters march through South Brisbane.Protesters march through South Brisbane.
Thousands marched in protest of Queensland's vaccine mandate. (ABC News: Brisant Hurst)

Meanwhile, thousands attended an anti-vaccination-mandate protest in Brisbane's south on Saturday afternoon.

The event was promoted as "unite for the right to party" in response to the new vaccine mandate introduced by the Queensland government, which began on Friday.

Organisers called for a "massive rally followed by a carefree and family-friendly festival" in Musgrave Park, West End.

After speeches and music in the park, protesters marched peacefully through Southbank.

Attendees carried signs such as "My body is not your science experiment" and "I'm a super-spreader of love".

Cases 'increasing steadily'

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said the increase in cases compared to Friday was expected.

"As expected, the number of cases we're seeing in Queensland continues to increase," he said.

"Thirty-one cases in the last 24 hours, which is effectively a 50 per cent increase.

"Although these numbers seem small … percentage-wise they are increasing steadily."

Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard speaks to the media in Brisbane.Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard speaks to the media in Brisbane.
Dr Gerrard said Omicron would become the dominant strain in the state in coming weeks.(ABC News)

Dr Gerrard said some of the cases detected had been healthcare workers.

"There have been some cases in the healthcare setting because we are aware that the virus is widespread," he said. 

"It is inevitable that people in the healthcare setting will develop infection and that is going to happen more and more in the coming weeks and months.

"All of our healthcare workers are vaccinated and all of our healthcare workers wear masks when in the clinical environment, so the risk to patients is minimised but it does emphasise the need for all of us to get vaccinated."

Toowoomba hospital case

When asked about the infected worker at Toowoomba Hospital, Dr Gerrard said it was being dealt with under a "national plan".

"We now have a national plan for dealing with the healthcare workers … when infections do occur in the healthcare setting, and these are being followed in all of these cases," he said.

"All I can tell you is that we have a system now in place for dealing with cases such as this. [It is] a nationally agreed system and appropriate measures have been taken."

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from December 18 with a look back at our blog.

Birthing services at Toowoomba Hospital had not been impacted, Darling Downs Health;s Michelle Forrest said.

"However, we have reduced capacity on our maternity inpatient ward due to some staff members being considered close contacts and the requirement to complete 14 days quarantine.

"To date, one mother and her baby have been transferred to St Vincent’s Hospital for continued inpatient care."

Dr Gerrard said there were a "number of venues" across the state where there had been either staff or visitors with COVID-19 in them.

"These include the North West Private Hospital in Brisbane, Toowoomba Hospital, Princess Alexandra Hospital [in Brisbane], Blue Care Homefield residential aged care facility in Mackay, and at least one general practice in Brisbane," he said.

Front of Toowoomba Hospital on Queensland's Darling Downs on December 18, 2021.Front of Toowoomba Hospital on Queensland's Darling Downs on December 18, 2021.
The ABC understands the worker was an employee in Toowoomba hospital’s maternity ward and tested positive yesterday.(ABC News: Lucy Robinson)

Dr Gerrard said Omicron would become the dominant strain in the state in coming weeks.

Dr Gerrard said Omicron cases in Queensland were often showing no symptoms.

"With the Omicron strain in vaccinated people, we are seeing that often they have no symptoms … you may well not be aware that you are carrying the virus so this is something that everyone needs to be aware of," he said.

"That's another reason why those few remaining people who haven't been vaccinated need to get vaccinated now."

Mackay aged care facility testing
The outside of an aged care facility.The outside of an aged care facility.
The Blue Care Home Field Aged Care facility in Mackay. (ABC News: Tobias Loftus)

Residents at a North Queensland aged care home are being tested for COVID-19 after a contractor visiting the facility tested positive.

The Mackay Hospital and Health Service confirmed on Saturday it was testing residents, staff and visitors at the Blue Care Home Field Aged Care facility in Mackay.

"The health service has deployed a team of testers to the facility following confirmation that a contractor who visited the facility on [December 15] was infectious in Mackay from [December 14 to 16]," a spokesperson said.

"The tests results from 70 residents and 59 staff and visitors will progressively become available from early this evening.

"We are confident that all visitors and staff have checked in to the facility and this has supported our contact tracing efforts."

The spokesperson said the contractor had the Delta variant, which was acquired in New South Wales.

Several contact tracing locations in Mackay were added to the Queensland Health list this morning for period across December 14 to 16, including the Mackay Airport, the Gallery Cafe and Co, Chemist Warehouse and Woolworths Mackay Central.

"At this stage we believe we have identified all of the locations the person visited and we have listed those that are relevant to the public on the website," the Mackay HHS spokesperson said.

"We have opened up an additional testing lane at the Mackay Showgrounds drive-through clinic and remind people it is essential to book their test.

"If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, get tested immediately."

Statewide mask mandate 

On Saturday a mask mandate across Queensland came into effect for people aged 12 and older on public transport and in retail outlets.

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A close up image of a woman wearing a bright pink cloth face mask.A close up image of a woman wearing a bright pink cloth face mask.

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the mask mandate yesterday but stopped short of extending it to cover workplaces, bars and clubs.

She also ruled out lockdowns over Christmas and New Year

Ms Palaszczuk said because bars, clubs and hospitality venues became open to only vaccinated patrons from Friday, she did not need to extend the mandate there.

Ms Palaszczuk said the mandate would be reviewed when Queensland reached the 90 per cent full vaccination mark.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll said since the mask mandate came into effect this morning, police had handed out 199 masks.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll speaks to the media.Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll speaks to the media.
Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll is "extraordinarily pleased" with Queensland's response to the mask mandate. (ABC News)
New check-in rules

She said police were also "extraordinarily pleased" with compliance from patrons and businesses under the new check-in rules that came into effect on Friday.

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"We had 22 complaints-calls for service — in terms of individuals and some 36 in terms of businesses, but when police arrived, those patrons had left and also with the businesses it was a general education piece that we did with them to make sure that they complied in the future," she said.

She said it was "disappointing" that there were "a couple of" incidents relating to the mandate.

"There have been a couple of instances where people have abused stuff and that was at a business in Strathpine, but also a person quite belligerent trying to get into one of the hospital's ICU units — he was not the patient," she said.

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The Queenslander sign in the NSW-Queensland border town of Wallangarra in Queensland on October 8, 2020.The Queenslander sign in the NSW-Queensland border town of Wallangarra in Queensland on October 8, 2020.

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She said police would continue their "high activity" around the issue.

She said since borders opened earlier this week, there were more than 136,000 applications to enter Queensland from interstate hotspots as well as 1,000 international applications.

"In the last 24 hours we've intercepted 36,941 vehicles [and] 239 of those have been turned around 1,681 heavy vehicles [with] 12 of those turned around.

"[There have been] 153 flights from a hotspot in the last 24 hours and 6,993 passengers subjected to confirmation checks … 12 were refused entry and 101 people were put into quarantine from a hotspot," she said.

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