Queensland planning for temporary emergency hospitals for Covid-19 victims

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has confirmed the Department of Health is proactively exploring options for setting up plans for temporary hospitals state-wide in vacant hotels, convention centres and possibly mining camps to treat Covid-19 patients if there is an overflow from hospitals.

In Brisbane, the RNA Convention Centre could quickly be transformed to take Covid-19 patients and it would be a case of history repeating – the RNA showground was used as a treatment centre for patients during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

Some hotels, particularly near Queensland’s major hospitals throughout the state have also been approached about providing bed space.

“I hope it doesn’t come to this – I really do – but the Coronavirus pandemic is upon us now and our hospitals and medical staff over the coming months could be under enormous strain,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

“Preparations to set-up extra facilities and off-site hospitals are simply a necessity.

“They would contain and treat people who have contracted the Covid-19 virus and who may have minor difficulties but don’t require intensive care.

“It is imperative we prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed all at once.

“Washing your hands with soap, staying in and close to home and social distancing are crucial.

“If people are told to self-isolate, there is no option but to follow those instructions.

“People who defy the need to self-isolate face fines of up to $13,345 and police won’t hesitate to act.

“Once again, I appeal to Queenslanders to stay home and take every precaution to ensure that our health facilities are not overwhelmed.”

Since the 2015 election, the Palaszczuk Government has hired 2,012 more doctors, 6,252 more nurses and midwives, 511 more paramedics and 1,806 more health professionals.

This financial year the government is anticipating hiring nearly 800 more nurses, 200 more doctors, 250 more health professionals and 200 more ambulance officers.

The Palaszczuk Government has opened 888 additional hospital beds across the State over the four years to June this year and over the next four years, will deliver a further 756 additional beds.

But If high volumes of cases requiring hospitalisation present, the Premier said Queensland may have to open temporary hospital accommodation and options being investigated include vacant hotels, convention centres and mining camps.

Queensland Health has been planning scenarios for mild, moderate and high volume of COVID-19 cases since a Public Health Emergency was declared on 29 January.

The Palaszczuk Government has committed an additional $1.2 Billion to the health budget to expand capacity in public hospitals and to access beds in the private sector.

One of the options being explored is the RNA Showgrounds which was converted into a temporary medical facility to care for patients affected by the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.

“This is what happened 102 years ago but we are now a lot more sophisticated than having to put people in tents at the showgrounds.

“We can quickly convert this site into a functioning hospital.

“But if Queenslanders do the right thing and self-isolate and we are able to flatten the curve it will not come to this.

“At the same time I want Queenslanders to be fully aware that my government is preparing for the worst case scenario.”

Health Minister Steven Miles said the first priority was to prevent using these plans.

“My plea to Queenslanders is to please stay home as much as possible, keep your distance from others and wash your hands.

“We have a chance to stop history repeating itself if we all do the right thing today.”

The severity of the COVID-19 pandemic echoes the ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic of 1918-19 when returning servicemen from the First World War rapidly spread influenza around the world.

At the time there was no vaccine and medical treatment was of limited effectiveness.

The RNA site at Bowen Hills was converted to take patients and the Queensland Heritage Register shows:

“During the influenza epidemic which swept Australia in 1919 … army huts were erected at the exhibition grounds as isolation wards for the nearby Brisbane General Hospital, and dining rooms were set up to feed and house the expected influx of seriously ill patients. Due to the threat of crowd contagion, and to save disturbing patients in the isolation wards, the Exhibition was cancelled that year.”

The National Library of Australia provides detail of the number of beds that were located at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds during the time it was used as an isolation hospital:

“Hospitals overflowed and 400 temporary beds were set up in huts at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. St Laurence’s Christian Brothers School in South Brisbane catered for the overflow from the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, while shire and church halls provided temporary accommodation throughout Queensland.

“The annual show, which eventually came to be called the “Ekka” by Brisbane locals, was called off for the first time, after running uninterrupted all through WWI. The usual fun of the annual show was replaced by the showgrounds quarantine site, which was the epicentre of the city’s flu crisis.”

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