10 May 2023

Community kept in the dark over coronavirus cases

| Cape York Weekly
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QUEENSLAND Health and the state government have been criticised for keeping the Weipa community in the dark over two COVID-19 cases aboard a ship bound for the Amrun mine.

There were no risks posed to the Cape York community and the system worked perfectly, yet an announcement wasn’t made by a health official until two days after the positive tests.

Cape York Weekly broke the story on Thursday night when an anonymous source contacted the paper to inform us that two men aboard a vessel bound for the Amrun site had tested positive to coronavirus.

Within an hour of the story going live, federal MP Warren Entsch was on the phone, wanting to know more.

On Friday, after the cases were confirmed official by chief health officer Dr Jeanette Young, Mr Entsch said he was disappointed that both he and the Weipa community were kept in the dark.

“This is how you create distrust between governments and the community,” he said.

“I certainly wasn’t told about it. I think you have got to be open and honest in these situations.”

Queensland Health refused to answer some questions put to them on Friday regarding the timeline around the positive tests.

It can be revealed that on Wednesday, the captain of the vessel reported that two crew members were feeling unwell.

Two nurses from Weipa were helicoptered to the ship in full protective equipment to test the whole crew.

The two men who were symptomatic returned positive tests, which was known on Wednesday afternoon.

However, there was no public statement about the case on Thursday.

The public were kept in the dark until Cape York Weekly broke the story.

The ship’s patients were flown to Cairns Hospital on Friday after a brief layover at Weipa Airport.

“The other 19 crew members have all tested negative for COVID-19, and they will remain aboard the ship,” a Queensland Health spokesperson said.

“They will be monitored daily by Tropical Public Health Services and will undergo further testing onboard the vessel.”

That will require regular helicopter trips between Weipa and the ship.

The COVID-19 tests can be processed at Weipa Hospital.

The Queensland Health spokesperson said the Weipa nurses who originally flew out to conduct the tests had to volunteer for the role.

On Friday, Rio Tinto Weipa acting general manager Dan Kelleher sent a memo to all staff and contractors.

“The cases were detected as the ship’s crew followed Marine Safety Queensland’s mandatory COVID-19 protocols, with the ship remaining in anchorage to await further instructions,” he said.

“I can appreciate this news may create anxiety and worry for you, your family or other members of our community; however, I can assure you the crew members have had no interaction with the local community (aside from emergency medical staff) and have not berthed the ship or accessed the mainland at any point in time.

“In the interests of keeping our community safe, we are working with MSQ, the regional harbour master and Queensland Health to support their efforts in transporting these individuals to the most appropriate medical treatment as soon as possible.

“Since the outset of COVID, MSQ and the harbour master have worked hard to embed strict screening processes that allow for early detection and management of incoming vessel crews.

“It is pleasing to see that in this case these systems have worked and the individuals have been identified and looked after in a safe, timely and medically appropriate manner.”

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