The Queensland Government has worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership in remote communities to agree on a three-stage plan to safely ease restrictions in Federal Government-designated biosecurity areas.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Steven Miles today launched theRoadmap to easing access restrictions for Queensland’s remote communities, enabling designated communities to transition from the current federal emergency biosecurity restrictions to state-based arrangements under Chief Health Officer public health directions.
Deputy Premier Miles said the Roadmap would enable remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community residents more freedom to go fishing, grocery shopping and attend appointments while maintaining necessary restrictions to keep communities safe.
“The Queensland Government has listened to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander councils and leadership, particularly with respect to economic recovery and social and emotional wellbeing,” Deputy Premier Miles said.
“The three-stage Roadmap is a considered, responsible approach to progressively easing access, in line with the National Cabinet Framework and Queensland’s COVID-19 Roadmap.
“Stage 1 of the Roadmap is effective immediately and enables people, to enter a designated community to self-quarantine within that community under approved arrangements, removing a requirement to quarantine for 14 days before entering.”
Queensland’s Chief Health Officer will issue public health directions to manage ongoing risk, account for different health risk profiles throughout the State, and reflect the views and needs of Queensland’s First Nations communities.
Deputy Premier Miles said the timeframe and restrictions would likely vary between communities.
“Some areas could move through the stages at different times, depending on the advice of the Local Disaster Management Group, assessment of the public health risk, appropriate enforceability and community consultation,” Deputy Premier Miles said.
“We are working with mayors through the Local Disaster Management Groups on local priorities and requirements for access restrictions, to take into account the different situations in each area and community, including to ensure there is local capacity and capability to address public health risks.”
“The Commonwealth’s Biosecurity restrictions were implemented with the support of the National Cabinet and have resulted in there being no cases of COVID-19 in our remote First Nations communities. This is a testament to the tireless work of the local leadership of mayors in partnership with the Queensland Government.”
Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Craig Crawford said while the Federal Government’s emergency provisions of the Biosecurity Act will remain in place until 17 September 2020, this will not impact on the transition of Queensland’s remote and discrete communities from the National Biosecurity Declaration.
“The Queensland Government will ask the Federal Government to remove Queensland’s remote communities from the Biosecurity Determination from 12 June 2020 to enable Stage Two state-based arrangements to commence,” Minister Crawford said.
“We will continue to work local leaders so that they can make decisions for their communities’ safety and well-being.”
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young will write to the Federal government this week with Queensland’s plans to assume responsibility for easing of rules and regulations aimed at keeping COVID-19 out of these communities.
“We want to allow people who’ve been outside of these communities during the lockdown to start returning but we have to be sensible and that means quarantining in their homes community for two weeks once they’re home.”
Currently the majority of the state’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities are locked down under the Federal Government’s tight Bio-security act, aimed at protecting any vulnerable people from COVID-19.
“We know our First Nations people are at real risk if COVID-19 made its way into their communities, protecting them was a priority and I want to thank them for the co-operation we’ve experienced through this arduous period,” Dr Young said.
Queensland’s Chief Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Officer, Haylene Grogan said it’s been tough for a lot of people but the good news is the restrictions have worked, that is the most important thing to remember, but it’s time for some people to come home and reunite albeit after home quarantining.
The current national Commonwealth Biosecurity Act gives police powers to enforce movement restrictions and issue penalties to anyone deliberately breaching these laws and putting these communities in danger.
The Queensland Government has finalised its’ plans by working alongside communities to enable a staged replacement of remote area biosecurity restrictions in a safe and measured way.
“It’s all about risk management, careful planning and working with locals, we know we have vulnerable people in these Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities and protecting them has to be a priority, it’s just so important,” Ms Grogan said.
“I would also like to pay tribute to our wonderful Queensland Health staff who’ve been working to keep our communities healthy during this period, they do an amazing and very important job” said Dr Young.
Pending the transition from the Federal act to a Chief Health Officer based order is expected to take effect from 5 12 June 2020 .
“Of course we understand the easing of restrictions is only temporary if COVID-19 cases are kept out of these areas, we need retain the formula, washing hands, social distancing, and following the rules with a healthy dose of common sense, if we keep this up, our cases will stay down” Dr Young said.
Stage 1 enables people entering or re-entering a designated community to self-quarantine within that community, where safe to do so. Under Stage 1, quarantine exemptions will remain in place for essential workers, those travelling through communities without stopping and those granted an exemption by the Chair of the Local Disaster Management Group in the designated area.
Under Stage 2, the Chief Health Officer will publish a direction that enables communities to become part of ‘safe travel zones’ residents can easily travel within based on public health advice. A ‘Safe Travel Zone’ can be made up of a single community, or several local government areas, depending on the risk profile of the area. Stage 2 can commence following the Commonwealth removal of communities from the Biosecurity Determination.
Stage 3 of the Roadmap removes entry and quarantine restrictions, with remote and discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities — plus the Burke and Cook shires — subject to the same provisions as other areas of Queensland under the Roadmap to Easing Restrictions.