‘Madness’: Medics’ desperate call ahead of poll
DOCTORS want the local government election called off due to the coronavirus, saying they are being "pushed to the limits" and fear for their welfare.
Australian Medical Association Queensland chief Dilip Dhupelia said given the election was going ahead "despite the pandemic protocols outlined by the Prime Minister and the growing fear in the community" there needed to be the heftiest of fines handed out to any Queenslander who did not adhere to strict pandemic regulations.
"Many of the state's doctors are desperate for the local government election to be called off," he said.
"Our doctors are going to be pushed to the limits and we are concerned for their welfare.
"The government needs to put extra special pandemic manoeuvres in place like fast-tracking lanes for the elderly."
It comes as schools are pulling out from being used for election polling booth locations amid fears they could become ground zero for coronavirus transmission, with thousands set to walk through their gates tomorrow.
St Sebastian's School at Yeronga, St Ita's School at Dutton Park and Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Coorparoo have told the Electoral Commission of Queensland they will not be available for council elections.
A Brisbane Catholic Education spokesman said that its schools had long made their facilities available as polling booths, however, some schools had chosen to withdraw as booths from Saturday's elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with ECQ "unable to provide an appropriate clean before school reopens for staff and some students on Monday".
The ECQ have been unable to guarantee all 570,000 people who have applied for postal votes will get them in time.
It comes amid concerns tens of thousands of envelopes won't reach voters by today in time for them to cast their votes, with major parties prepared for low voter turnout.
An ECQ spokeswoman said all postal votes had been lodged with Australia Post as priority mail.
"If electors do not receive their postal vote by mail delivery on Friday, they are able to vote on election day, Saturday 28 March," she said.
At noon yesterday, 952,702 electors had already voted in pre-polling stations and by telephone voting.
Dr Dhupelia said it was disappointing the deadline for registering for postal voting had not been extended given the unprecedented circumstances.
"It is critical that people who are sick do not attend polling booths. If you are unwell or in isolation, it's important to stay at home for the full duration of the 14-day quarantine period, even if you have tested negative for COVID-19," he said.
Dr Dhupelia said while it was important for people to exercise their democratic right to vote, it also was critical to adhere to social distancing rules.
"That means staying at last 1.5 metres away from other people and we are recommending that those who have face masks to wear them when they are at the polling stations," he said.
"We urge people to get in and out as fast as possible and, to assist the elderly with this, we are calling for separate fast track lanes to ensure they are at the polling booths for the least amount of time as possible.
"Everyone should be sure to sanitise their hands when leaving the polling booth as well as when they return home."
A Department of Education spokesman said state schools would still be used as polling booths.
"Polling activities are limited to a smalls areas within schools and polling stations that will see the majority of contact with the public are removed from schools once voting has finished," he said.
"Staff on the ground will be observing all necessary health advice to safeguard their health and wellbeing.
"ECQ have given assurances that's all high-traffic areas on election day will be cleaned."
Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in QLD
The Nurses Professional Association of Queensland labelled this move "total madness".
A spokesman for the union that has over 5000 members said all schools must withdraw as polling stations to prevent the children of frontline workers turning up to viral hot spots on Monday morning.
"Can you think of anything more ludicrous? If these kids take home the virus to their emergency care parents and they can't work where does that leave Queensland?" he said.
"The polling should not go ahead this weekend; many of our members are distraught by the decision."
On the same day the AMAQ aired its concerns the Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young told a press conference it was safe for people to vote on Saturday if they practice social distancing.
"There is no risk going to vote on Saturday," she said.
Dr Young said Queenslanders were at greater risk of catching coronavirus while doing their groceries or at the bottle shop.
Dr Dhupelia said people who did not turn up to vote because they were confused and afraid should not be fined by the ECQ.
"But anyone who is putting others at risk on polling day must get the toughest of punishments," he said.
Breaching a public health order could bring a maximum fine of $13,345 or even jail time.
North Lakes woman Zahra Khorrami said she voted in the city on Thursday as a safety precaution.
"It's a little scary going in on Saturday with so many people close to together," she said.
The 36-year-old said she still wanted her voice to be heard and her vote to count during the coronavirus outbreak.
"I wanted to come in early to get it out of the way. I wanted to help my region move forward and progress."
Originally published as 'Madness': Medics' desperate call ahead of poll