10 May 2023

Councils, employers put COVID plans into action

| Matt Nicholls
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SLOWING down the spread of the virus and keeping essential services running is now the priority for Cape York’s councils and major businesses.

Keeping the virus out is no longer an option, with cases in almost every community.

Every council had already put together a COVID plan and Cook Shire is now putting its plan into action.

“It’s a challenge but I feel we are well prepared,” council CEO Linda Cardew said.

“However when we did our COVID planning we didn’t know Omicron was going to surface.”

Cook Shire has divided staff into teams and is trying to keep as many staff working from home as it possibly can.

Some staff have been deployed to other areas and those in essential services have been asked to keep their distance from each other.

“We have ceased all non-essential staff travel and we are communicating a couple of times per day with the staff,” Ms Cardew said.

“Our first priority remains the health and safety of our employees, contractors and the local community.”

Rio Tinto is the biggest employer in the Cape and is also responsible for the running of the Weipa township.

The miner had been using rapid antigen tests (RATs) for its fly-in workforce and had generally been regarded as an industry leader in terms of COVID response.

A spokeswoman for Rio Tinto Weipa said those efforts had been ramped up since cases began to emerge in the Cape.

“At Weipa Operations, strict Rio Tinto and Queensland government COVID-19 controls and protocols that have ensured we have been able to safely operate throughout the pandemic continue to be enforced,” she said.

“These include rapid antigen testing for all work-related travel to site from outside the region, as well as other on-site measures including good hygiene, social distancing and mask-wearing when social distancing is not practical.

“In addition, we have enforced a number of controls across our operations including alternate teams or working from home arrangements, changes to vehicle and room occupancies, regular cleaning and disinfecting work areas and social distancing measures on buses and ferries.

“We have also been able to provide support to local communities such as supplying masks for Mapoon residents.

“We remind all workers and contractors to not attend work if feeling unwell or displaying COVID-19 symptoms and to get tested immediately for COVID-19 if displaying any symptoms.”

The Indigenous communities are also concerned about the spread of the virus.

Before Aurukun had confirmed cases on the weekend, mayor Keri Tamwoy called a town meeting on Friday to discuss the challenges facing her community.

“Medical experts tell me there is no way we can stop COVID from coming to Aurukun,” she said.

“We must work together as a community to slow the spread and minimise the impact on our people.

“Please tell your families to limit travel to essential reasons only. If you must go to Weipa for medical reasons, please be COVID-safe and limit your movements there.

“Aurukun supermarket is well stocked so there is no need to travel to Weipa.

“Please do not panic when COVID comes here.

“We must not get angry and blame people as unrest will make the virus spread faster.

“We need to support each other and follow the directions of medical staff.”

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