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Qld Covid update: Chief health officer urges immediate halt to ‘smallpox feasts’ targeting virus spread

Queensland health authorities have condemned reports of “smallpox feasts” by groups of unvaccinated residents on the Gold Coast, which has quickly become the epicenter of the Omicron outbreak in the state.

On Monday, another 23 people — enough to fill a separate ward — were hospitalized on the Gold Coast after contracting Covid-19. Half of the intensive care patients in the region were not vaccinated.

Reports of gatherings where people deliberately tried to spread the virus, believing it would boost their immunity were the first reported by the Gold Coast Bulletin.

Queensland health official John Gerrard said the idea was “utterly ridiculous”.

“The best way to get immunity to this virus is through vaccination, not through these parties.

“Please, please stop.”

Queensland reported 20,566 new cases on Tuesday, although the total included some tests from private pathologists that would otherwise have been included in Monday’s figures. A software issue that slowed the reporting of case numbers has since been resolved.

There were now 109,524 active cases in Queensland – 502 patients in hospital, 27 in ICU and six on ventilators.

One in four hospitalized patients was on the Gold Coast, where vaccination coverage was slightly lower than in the rest of Queensland. Six of the 11 patients in the ICU on the Gold Coast were not vaccinated.

“Gold Coast continues to be a hot spot. They had 23 additional admissions to their wards yesterday … a typical hospital ward is somewhere between 20 and 30 patients,” Gerrard said.

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“I think the main reason (for the Gold Coast outbreak) is the number of people traveling there from the highway.

“You’ve had a lot of raids and a lot of fires…just because their test was negative when they crossed they went positive after they arrived.

“The slightly lower vaccination rate… it’s not terrible on the Gold Coast… that contributes and also we have heard repeatedly from the police that wearing masks is poorer there.”

Parts of the Gold Coast have some similarities with alternative lifestyle communities just over the border in northern New South Wales, where vaccination coverage is low. There are also significant anti-lockdown protests in the city.

As concerns about the Gold Coast outbreak mount, the city’s mayor, Tom Tate, has called on state health authorities to “let it tear”.

in a opinion piece, published Monday by the Gold Coast Bulletin, Tate said constant rule changes had tested the community’s goodwill.

“By opening the border, Omicron would always traverse the entire state,” Tate said. “The state claims it’s all about slowing the spread. Why don’t we let it spread quickly so we can peak earlier and get our economy off life support faster?”

Gerrard, who was not directly asked about Tate’s comments, made it clear that hospitals had plans to accommodate the upcoming spike expected in early February. Health workers were recalled from vacation to help the hospital system cope.

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“Last night at 7pm we had 502 people in Queensland hospital wards,” Gerrard said. “That’s more than 419 the day before.

“That escalates quite quickly and that is expected.

“Those numbers are going to get pretty significant over the next few weeks until early February, and hopefully the math modeling is correct. After that it’ll start to decline.”