Queensland's school year will be delayed two weeks for most students and people will be able to leave quarantine to do essential work with the state's COVID-19 outbreak growing by 18,000 cases.
The new cases emerged after 37,951 tests in the 24 hours to 6.30am on Sunday taking the total number of active cases in Queensland to 80,563.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says it's too risky for children, who are mostly unvaccinated, to return to school on January 24 which is when the outbreak is likely to be peaking.
Year 11 and 12 students will instead start remote learning on January 31, while all other students will start the school year on February 7.
Students in Year 10 or younger will make up for the delay by doing an extra week of school at the end of the year in December.
"Queensland will be facing its biggest test over the next four weeks," Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.
"The peak will be in the last week of January to the first week of February. During that period of time parents will not have sent their children to school.
"It is sensible, it is logical, to delay the start of the school year so children can be safe, children get vaccinated, and families can be safe."
Education Minister Grace Grace said the two weeks will be treated as pupil free days and teachers will receive full pay.
Schools will operate with skeleton staff so the children of essential workers can still attend from January 24.
Ms Grace indicated the delay could be extended depending on the numbers of cases, hospitalisations and vaccinations.
""I don't think there's guarantees at the moment for anything to be honest with you, but we want as much certainty as we can possibly provide," she said.
Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said there were 422 people in hospital with 22 in ICU and five of those on ventilators.
He said while the number of people in hospital was still low, it would "escalate substantially" in the next seven days.
"So we're talking in the thousands ... and I've said that before," Dr Gerrard said.
However, that may be curtailed if people get a vaccine booster shot when they're eligible over coming weeks.
While only about 45 per cent of those eligible have had a booster, Dr Gerrard said he's yet to see any patients in ICU who have had a third jab.
"I don't know that I've seen any that have had three doses, but it's very early so I don't want to overstate that," he said.
Ahead of the coming peak the government will also allow critical workers who are close contacts to leave quarantine in order to work.
Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said the new classification would ensure food, power, water and fuel supplies would be maintained during the peak.
The new classification applies to workers in health, emergency services, resources, mining, utilities, agriculture, fisheries, freight, logistics, public transport, teachers, essential retailers such as supermarkets, and stores in remote communities, major manufacturing, distribution and critical critical supply chains such food and petrol.
Employers won't need to apply, but submit a list to the government, while the workers must be vaccinated, test negative, wear full PPE and travel to their workplaces with private transports.
"I'm sure employers will be working with their staff to ensure that only those who are able to come to work, who meet the criteria who are close contexts come to work," Ms D'Ath said.
Australian Associated Press
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