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CHO’s sweeping powers extended for seventh time

The power to close borders, require face masks and restrict gatherings will remain with Queensland's Chief Health Officer until at least September following a two-month review into the state's COVID-19 response.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young, who was widely credited with guiding Queensland through the global crisis, will keep her sweeping powers to enable a rapid response to future COVID-19 outbreaks following Labor and LNP endorsement from the state's Health and Environment Committee.

Since March Dr Young's powers have enabled her to close businesses and borders, aged care facilities and limit gatherings in the name of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The committee noted the emergence of new COVID‐19 variants, including the UK and South African strains, will present "further challenges for community containment".

"Queensland Health anticipates that some form of restrictions will need to continue into 2021 and until a vaccine or treatment becomes widely available and distributed," its report said.

Dr Young's powers were first introduced in a late-night emergency sitting of Parliament last year, and have since been extended six times.

Support for the extension until September was received by most health and business groups, which acknowledged "without a strong health response, the economic impact would far exceed the current economic difficulties".

Dr Young declared the state's world-leading response was only possible due to the "rapid response" the powers provided to help stop the spread.

One Nation MP Steven Andrew was the lone committee member to oppose the extension, with concerns about transparency and "the potential of emergency powers to become normalised and eventually permanent".

"Unelected public health officials are given extraordinary power and they have used this power to place severe restrictions on Queenslanders' freedom of movement, association and livelihoods," he wrote.

Some stakeholders opposed the bill, arguing the threat of the COVID‐19 pandemic was overstated or there was no longer an emergency.

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Originally published as CHO's sweeping powers extended for seventh time