Just one mystery case of Covid-19 could send millions of Queenslanders into lockdown in a move that could see the NRL Grand Final postponed for the first time in its over 113 year history.
Footy officials and Sunshine State policymakers are frantically scrambling behind the scenes to come up with a contingency plan for Sunday’s decider as the current outbreak threatens to spiral out of control in the next three days.
The game’s showcase fixture, along with the competition itself, was ironically moved north from Covid-ravaged Sydney back in July in the hopes matches could continue with stadiums full of spectators.
A sell-out crowd of more than 50,000 screaming fans was expected to pack out Suncorp Stadium this weekend for Queensland’s first-ever Grand Final but after six new infections on Thursday and four 24 hours earlier, that figure has already been cut back to 75 per capacity.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys warned if the situation gets worse and footy fans are banned from the event, the NRL may decide to postpone the showdown between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Penrith Panthers.
The NRL boss has revealed the landmark Grand Final could be postponed for the first time in history if fans are banned from attending the match (pictured, Penrith Panthers cheerleaders)
Ms Palaszczuk (pictured) is set to choose from a range of options including moving the game north, postponing, or playing the game in front of a reduced crowd in Brisbane
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has responded to the escalating crisis by cutting crowd capacity in the Suncorp Stadium from 52,000 to 39,000 (pictured, Rabbitohs fans last week)
At this stage all parties are tentatively confident the match will go ahead with all the cases so far able to be traced to their source within 24 hours.
But with the possibility the virus may already be spreading in the community undetected, even one case with an unknown source of transmission could prompt authorities to declare stay-at-home orders putting a stop to the match.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warns the next 24 hours will be ‘absolutely critical’ in determining if the Covid restrictions need to be put in place to contain the state’s spiralling outbreak.
Residents in the southeast are currently holding their breath as the virus spreads to the Brisbane, Gold Coast, Moreton Bay and Townsville regions.
However, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the new infections were so far accounted for.
‘The current cases we’re seeing in Queensland aren’t the result of unchecked community spread – we know the source of these infections,’ Ms D’Ath said.
The state recorded six new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday.
NRL boss Peter V’landys (pictured) remains confident the whistle will blow at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium on Sunday but said contingency plans had been drawn up
The emergency plans consider a deferral of the clash which would mark the first postponing of a Grand Final in rugby league’s more than 100 year history (pictured, Panthers players)
Of the new infections, four have been linked to an aviation worker, a man aged in his 30s, who first tested positive to coronavirus on Tuesday.
A pilot who was in Townsville – a potential back up location for the NRL Grand Final – was one of the new positive cases linked to the cluster.
Dr Young said she believes the cluster of cases was sparked by a meeting of aviation workers on September 20.
The fifth case was detected in hotel quarantine and the sixth case was a woman who travelled from the New South Wales region of Kyogle to her home at Camp Hill.
Police are currently investigating how the woman was able to cross the notoriously hardline border between Queensland and NSW.
Ms Palaszczuk has reminded residents they can help prevent another snap lockdown by wearing masks, getting tested for Covid-19 and getting vaccinated.
The clash between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Penrith Panthers has been shrouded in uncertainty since new Covid cases have emerged in Queensland (pictured, people in Brisbane)
Fans watch on during a South Sydney Rabbitohs open training session at Carrara Sports Complex on the Gold Coast on Tuesday
V’landys remains confident the whistle will blow at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, he said suspending the game would be an option if footy fans could not attend.
The AFLC chairman said Townsville was being considered as a back-up venue was on the cards as well as postponing the historic clash.
‘(Postponing) would be most unlikely but every option is on the table,’ V’landys told the Daily Telegraph on Thursday.
‘It is the least option we want to take but it has to be kept as an option.’
The top boss said the next 48 hours would be vital in making a final decision and said NRL staffers had proven themselves very capable in quick turnarounds.
He said negotiations with the Queensland Government had prompted the suggestion of Townsville as a back-up location adding crowds were imperative.
Hopeful attendees were left on the edge of their seats on Thursday night with the anticipation of a text from the NRL to confirm their attendance (pictured, Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium)
Players greet the crowds of fans after a Penrith Panthers open training session at Sunshine Coast Stadium on the Sunshine Coast, Tuesday, September 28, 2021
TIGHTENED RESTRICTIONS IN QUEENSLAND LGAS
Residents in the LGAs of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Moreton Bay, Logan, Townsville and Palm Island have been subject to tighter restrictions from 4pm on Thursday:
Public and private gatherings
*Public and private gatherings have been limited to 30 people
*Aged care, correctional centres, hospitals and disability service providers will be closed to guests
Cafes and restaurants
*Hospitality venues will return to the 1 person per 4sqm rule and 1 person per 2sqm rule outdoors
*Patrons must be seated in venues when eating and drinking
*Dancing is not permitted
Capacity at stadiums and events
*Capacity will decrease to 75 per cent, including the NRL Grand Final
Funerals and weddings
*Will be restricted to 100 people
*A maximum of 20 people can dance at weddings
*Must be worn indoors, on public transport and ride sharing, and when social distancing isn’t possible
‘We believe it will go ahead on Sunday with the 75 per cent (stadium capacity) and the Queensland Government is confident they have contained it,’ V’landys said.
‘As I said, we have contingency plans but remain confident we won’t have to implement any of them.’
Ms Palaszczuk is set to choose from a range of options including moving the game north, postponing, or playing the game in front of a reduced crowd in Brisbane.
The NRL will be forced to comply with Queensland’s public health directives, with the premier yet to bite the bullet and plunge the state into a snap lockdown.
Ms Palaszczuk has fiercely denied accusations she was delaying the call to accomodate for the highly-anticipated decider.
‘Let me make it very clear that the health of Queenslanders comes first and as soon as Dr Young says we need to move into lockdown, we will,’ she said.
‘At the moment that is not the situation.’
The highly-anticipated clash between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Penrith Panthers (pictured) is at this stage still scheduled for Sunday, October 3 in Brisbane
Fan activities attended by NRL players at the renamed ‘Wally’s Square’ in Brisbane’s CBD are also expected to go ahead on Sunday night (pictured, Rabbitohs fans last week)
Hopeful attendees were left on the edge of their seats on Thursday night with the anticipation of a text from the NRL to confirm their attendance.
The premier’s slashing of crowd capacity to 39,000 for the game meant 13,000 footy fans were left disappointed, and advised to apply for a refund.
Fan activities attended by NRL players at the renamed ‘Wally’s Square’ in Brisbane’s CBD are also expected to go ahead on Sunday night.
Players will be forced to abide by strict Level 4 protocols which means they cannot physically interact with their supporters ahead of the big match.
Queensland won the hosting rights for the Grand Final after Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said fans would be safe to attend in the Sunshine State.
Dr Young said the slashed crowd of 39,000 attendees at the ticketed game at the Suncorp Stadium would be required to wear face masks.