Happy Mother’s Day! They’re Back to School

In a surprise announcement on a public holiday, the Premier has said Preppies, Year One and Years 11 and 12 will be returning to school next Monday, May 11, 2020.

You don’t have to send your children if you have health concerns. They won’t be marked as “absent”. However, they will not be offered any remote learning.

Years Two to Ten will continue learning remotely from home, returning to school on May 25, 2020.

Boarding Students

Boarding students don’t seem to have been considered before the announcement was made. The schools were totally ambushed. They have scrambled all week, first to find out what boxes must be ticked and standards met for students to reside at the school. Then they have to implement them and pass inspection by Queensland Health.

Boarding facilities differ from school to school, but all schools will have to meet the standards laid down by the federal health committee advising the National Cabinet. You can read these here https://www.health.gov.au/news/australian-health-protection-principal-committee-ahppc-statement-on-risk-management-for-re-opening-boarding-schools-and-school-based-residential-colleges

Some schools, particularly those with dormitories rather than bedrooms, have been told that they can only have 25 per cent of the normal boarding population in residence. This is to ensure they have sufficient social distancing in the living arrangements.

What About the 75 Per Cent?

That prompts the question, “What about the remaining 75% who can’t return to boarding?”

Minister Grace Grace tells me that is an issue to be resolved by the individual school, however, David Littleproud’s office has been advised by the Federal Health Minister says the National Cabinet expressly puts that power onto Minister Grace Grace.

As Clear as Mud

I have gone back to her late today and will update you on any developments. I am asking Minister Grace to put out a public statement to clarify the Queensland Government position and requirements for boarding schools to re-open. None of this is clear.

The hard truth is the return to school for boarders will not be a one-size-fits-all.

State Boarding Schools Still Shut
The two state-run boarding  schools are still completely shut. There are Gregory children that attend these schools and I have asked the Minister about arrangements for these children as well. I will update you as soon as possible.

I suspect May 25 will be the key date. It was the original date set down for a decision on schools.

Happy Mother’s Day

Yesterday’s good news announcement was that household visiting restrictions are being eased in time for Mother’s Day.

It is not as simple as saying all members of a household can visit another household.

The new rule is a group of up to five people from a single household may visit another household. You must go directly to the residence you are visiting. You cannot go out in the community on the way to the household you are visiting.

My Mum lives in Another Town – Can I visit?

This is a common issue in Gregory so I’m pleased to say the 50 kilometre travel limit does not apply to this new household visiting rule. As long as you drive straight to the household you are visiting, you can travel further than 50 kilometres to make that visit.

You can read more “Frequently Asked Questions” here https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/how-to-mothers-day-queensland-coronavirus-covid-19-restrictions-guide-safety

One More Week

As I write, the Premier has just announced that from next Friday, there will be a major easing of restrictions on movement and gatherings for dining, business, weddings and funerals. Even better, the recreational travel allowance will be increased to 500 kilometres for people living in Outback Queensland. I will let you have more details as they emerge early next week. In the meantime, the same rules still apply and police will be enforcing them.

Still 50 klicks for Recreational Travel

Leaving your house to travel for recreation – a picnic, a jetski ride, shopping for non-essential items, or practising as a Learner Driver – is still limited to 50 kilometres from your home.

Three is Still A Crowd

Public gatherings outdoors are still limited to two people, or a single household plus one other.

Social Distancing is Still Vital

Remember we have no cure and no vaccine. This is still a very serious situation. It is just that Australians have responded so hardily, we have even surprised ourselves.

It is the handwashing and 1.5 m distancing, and the willingness to stay at home, that has got us in a position that most of the world envies.

What Next – Running in Real Time

This pandemic is like a weird marathon being run by teams from different nations. We are the runners in Team Australia. We are all running together and we have surprised ourselves at how quickly we’ve reached the first stage marker.

We have “Flattened the Curve” and are close to stopping any contagion from overseas.

Now we have to keep running with two handicaps – COVID19 and the need to conserve our economy. Luckily, we have a team of experts surveying the course ahead and feeding back the information to us in real time.

Our Choice is A Second Wave or Quarantine Islands?

To protect our nation psychologically and financially we have to start easing the restrictions. We have to get back to school. We have to get back to work.

We are in a very good position to do this compared to most other countries. Restrictions are being lifted in Europe and the US while they are still recording big numbers of new cases every day. We only have 50 active cases in Queensland. Yesterday, again, we had zero new cases.

The issue is to ease restrictions without creating a second wave, because in other countries that second wave has been like a tsunami.

A Stepped Approach

So, we need to lift cautiously. National Cabinet is discussing this today, but the Prime Minister has indicated he would like to have the “new normal” fully operational across the country by July.

How Can I Prepare?

The actual rules around lifting these restrictions will be up to The Premier and Cabinet. However, minds are already focusing on what will be needed and if you run a business you should start looking at the industry-specific advice on the federal government’s Safe Work Australia webpage https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/collection/covid-19-resource-kit .

A Thousand Pages of Business Plans and Resources

The website has been “turbo-charged” to provide specific advice to 23 individual business sectors. The link above takes you to the entry point for some 1300 pages covering industries including agriculture, aged care, building, child care, training, FIFO and DIDO workers, Retailers, Hospitality, office workers and many, many others.

“How To” Advice

There is advice on reconfiguring different types of workplaces.

There is advice on managing a COVID19 outbreak in your workplace.

You can also subscribe for free to receive updates specific to your industry.

If you don’t want to be ambushed this is a smart way to ensure you are ready when you can re-open.

Queensland Government Help

Given that the Queensland Government will have to be the ones to introduce the changes into law, it would make sense to look for information from them too. There is no industry specific advice. The Queensland Government business website does have a page on “managing the pandemic” which you can access here https://www.health.qld.gov.au/news-events/news/how-to-mothers-day-queensland-coronavirus-covid-19-restrictions-guide-safety

If We Get a Tsunami?

If we get a second wave, all the restrictions will return. But it is not just “knee-jerk” management. Germany is a good example.

They used the R0 number to orient themselves. This number reflects how many other people a COVID19 patient is infecting. An R0 result of 1 means a COVID19 patient is infecting one other person. An R0 of two means they are infecting two other people and so on.

The R0 as a Compass

You want to get that R0 below one before you even consider lifting restrictions.

Germany got their R0 down to 0.7. Then they started easing restrictions on movement and business.

People got blasé about the social distancing and the R0 started to go up rapidly.

Angela Merkel explained publicly how thin the ice was. She said at R0 1.1 Germany’s hospital and health system would be swamped by October. At 1.2 it would fail by July. At R0 1.3 their hospitals fail by June.

This is how little wiggle room there is with this virus. The German people have since managed to keep the R0 well below one.

What Will Help Us Keep our R0 Below One?

We expand testing – which we are doing every day. Tests are no longer restricted. If you have any symptoms, I urge you to ring your GP and ask for a test. Do not just front up. Ring your GP first. They will direct you where to go for a test.

We will also be expanding to sentinel testing of key workforces. These include essential workers like healthcare workers. It will also include key industries. This means testing large samples of workers regardless of whether there are symptoms.

I Can Jump Puddles

In tandem with increased testing, we continue our contact tracing. Done to the highest level, tracing can mean that instead of a tsunami, we have isolated “puddles” of infection that can be quarantined and eradicated. That means for everyone else, life can go on. They can “jump” around the puddle.

What Else Can I do, Personally?

Download and use the COVIDsafe app if you have a smartphone. This is a brilliant tool.

It is not a tracking app; it is a tracing app.

By using Bluetooth, not wifi, your smartphone will digitally “ping” with other smartphones that have the app, if the phones are near each other for more than 15 minutes.

Your phone does not track or record where you’ve been. It notes the phone number of any other phone that pings it. It keeps that phone number on your phone for 21 days. When it gets to Day 22, it automatically deletes Day 1 – and so on.

Why 21 Days?

Because we think the virus incubation period is 14 days. Keeping those phone numbers for 21 days gives a week’s safety margin.

Who gets the Data?

Although you can’t access the data, the data does not leave your phone without your permission. If you are diagnosed with COVID19, Queensland Health will ask your permission to access the data. If you grant it, they will port the data to their Contact Tracing unit, who will ring those phone numbers.

Now the Puddle Has Ripples

They can then start tracing very quickly and if there are COVID19 positives in that group, they will be asked for permission to access their phone’s “pings”. Like ripples spreading across the puddle, they will be able to test, treat and isolate the infection before community momentum builds.

Privacy Concerns

The federal government has published the legislation it proposes to pass next week which will put the strongest privacy protections around this app that I have ever seen – including jail terms up to five years.

Then of course, there is the delete button. If you delete the app, the data on your phone is gone. When the crisis is gone, the laws will require the government to delete everything.

So get Appy for Australia

As the restrictions are eased and we all get around more, attending larger gatherings, doing business and living more broadly again, we might not always be aware that the person we were near at the shops or a work meeting is having chemo or is a diabetic or has some other special vulnerability.

Your App could save their lives.

It will also allow us to ensure the “puddles” never join up to become a tsunami.

To download, just go to your app store and search for COVIDSafe.

Grosvenor Mining Accident

I can’t close today without expressing my sympathy to the families, workmates and friends of the five miners so horribly injured in the underground mining explosion in Moranbah on Wednesday afternoon.

While Moranbah is just outside Gregory’s borders, the mining community is very tightknit. I know our mining families will be very upset by what has happened and there are many of us praying for a good outcome for all the injured and their loved ones.

The Minister has said he is considering a Board of Inquiry. That absolutely must happen. Given the bad safety record of the last 18 months I think we also need a proper Parliamentary Committee review of the mining legislation and its implementation in the field.

Thank you for reading.

Kindest regards – and Stay Safe,

Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.