Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

COVID-19 modeling suggests that around 200 people in Queensland could die in the three months after the borders reopen to New South Wales, Victoria and ACT.

The modeling of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, based on vaccination levels of 80 percent in 16-year-olds and older, predicts that deaths would be “strongly skewed” toward the elderly.

Since the pandemic began more than 20 months ago, Queensland has recorded 2,071 known cases of the virus and seven deaths.

But the modeling concludes that Queensland’s healthcare system “would be strained but not to bursting point” and adopts ongoing controls for testing, contact tracking, isolating positive cases and quarantining their contacts.

COVID-19 modeling associate professor James Roberts suggested that hospital bed numbers for pandemic virus cases would peak at 2,000 by August next year, including about 400 to 500 requiring intensive care.

“The model predicts in three months, for example, that there could be around 200 deaths in total, although these would be strongly skewed towards the older ages,” he said.

“For children and young people-we speak zero or single digits; for 45-65 [age group] – maybe dozens.

QIMR researcher James Roberts is sitting in front of a computer at a desk.
Dr. James Roberts said the QIMR modeling was based on the assumption that vaccination rates across Queensland were uniform.(ABC News: Dean Caton)

The QIMR data informed the Queensland Government’s roadmap for the full reopening of state borders, which was announced yesterday.

Under the phased plan, double-vaccinated domestic travelers from COVID-19 hotspots will be allowed in the state when 70 percent of eligible Queenslanders are fully vaccinated, which is expected to happen on November 19th.

These travelers can only arrive by plane, must test negative for COVID-19 for the previous 72 hours, and must complete a 14-day home quarantine.

Travel restrictions will ease further from December 17, when fully vaccinated interstate travelers will no longer have to quarantine, regardless of whether Queensland has hit the 80 percent vaccination target.

Regional outbreaks

Dr. Roberts said the QIMR modeling was based on the assumption that vaccination rates across Queensland were uniform.

The only ongoing control measures are testing, contact tracking, isolating positive cases and quarantining their contacts.

Important regional areas, such as Central Queensland, is unlikely to hit 80 percent of the adult population double-dosed until well into next year, unless a push from the Palaszczuk government increases enrollment.

Given the large variations in vaccination rates across the state, the modeling suggests that the effects of the health system may be significantly affected by the location of an outbreak.

“An eruption in the Queensland region could hit capacity limits much faster than in Brisbane,” the modeling report said.

Localized lockdowns may be necessary

But Health Director Jeannette Young is convinced that Queensland’s health system can handle the predicted maximum of 1,200 COVID-19 cases a day in August next year, suggesting that highly localized lockdowns may be an option during outbreaks in regional areas.

“You will end up with clusters in different parts of the state, but we know how to respond to them, we have responded to them in the last 22 months,” said Dr. Young.

“If we have an outbreak in an area like Rockhampton, we will use all the tools we have used – I hope we do not need it.

Queensland CHO Dr Jeannette Young speaks at a press conference in Brisbane.
Dr. Young said ICU beds could be safely and “quickly increased” to 600 if needed.(AAP: Jono Searle)

While Queensland typically staffed about 300 intensive care units, Drs. Young that it could safely and “quickly increase” to 600 if necessary.

While the QIMR Berghofer modeling suggests that Queensland may need up to 500 intensive care units for COVID-19 patients alone, Drs. Young that restrictions would be put in place to limit the spread of the virus before the number reached these levels.

Rolling out vaccination for younger children

The modeling also suggests that the extension of vaccination rollout to children aged five to 11, which is expected in the coming months, can “reduce cases significantly, including in older age groups”.

Dr. Roberts said QIMR Berghofer updated the modeling based on the vaccine being approved for under 12s.

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