People who helped search for a missing three-year-old boy in NSW’s Hunter region are being urged to get tested for COVID-19 after a local community case.
Anthony “AJ” Elfalak was reunited with his relieved family on Monday, three days after he vanishing from his Putty home.
The Putty Community Association said there was a local case of COVID-19 at the St Shenouda Monastery.
“We have just been informed that there is a COVID case at the Monastery,” the association posted on Facebook on Tuesday.
“All who participated in the search for AJ are urgently requested to take a COVID test.”
AJ, who has autism and is non-verbal, disappeared from his family’s sprawling property about 11.45am on Friday.
He was reunited with his overjoyed family on Monday after being spotted by a rescue helicopter following an increasingly desperate search involving hundreds of people.
The three-year-old was largely unscathed, despite several nights wandering on the family farm without food. He was taken to hospital with his mother Kelly Elfalak for observation, but released just hours later.
On Monday, AJ’s dad Anthony Elfalak told media Ms Elfalak had visited the monastery during the search.
“We prayed this morning, my wife just came back from the monastery and prayed and look what happens,” he said shortly after his son was found alive.
More than 130 people searched the property, with volunteers helping police on foot and on dirt bikes.
Asked about the case at Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference, NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said she was yet to confirm it.
“It’s probably new overnight,” Dr Chant said.
Earlier, Ms Elfalak said her son was doing “really well”, despite his ordeal. She said she was happy he got to spend the night back home in his bed.
“He is nice and warm. He’s perfect, he’s happy, he’s healthy, he is sleeping. I cannot be happier right now,” she told Nine’s Today show.
It came as rescuers revealed how lucky AJ was to be spotted in the dense bush. Helicopter pilot Kevin Drake said the little boy would have been easy to miss – and was found in a spot that had already been searched dozens of times.
“You can be on the wrong side of the log during a search and you won’t see someone laying there. It just depends on terrain, sun, time of the day, lots of different influences, factors,” he said on Tuesday.
“But, yeah, it was a good outcome from our perspective. We never lose hope till the search is called off, or someone’s found. You know, depending on what outcome it is, doesn’t matter. We’re there.”
After AJ’s location was shared with those searching for him an SES volunteer walked up to the little boy and put his hand on his shoulder.
“[AJ] turned to him with a massive smile on his face that he will not forget,” Hunter Region Commander Simon Merrick said.
“It was an emotional moment.”
Watch the moment a rescue helicopter spotted little AJ
Special Operations Team Paramedic Gerry Pyke said AJ’s condition was “remarkable”.
“He is a little survivor,” Mr Pyke said.
“He had some lacerations on his lower legs … he did have a bit of nappy rash but he hadn’t had a nappy change for a few days so we can’t hold that against him.”
Mr Pyke said once AJ woke up he was starving and ate three slices of pizza and a banana.
Mr Elfalak said AJ had been bitten by ants and had fallen over but he was just grateful his son was alive.
“He’s just clinging to mum,” Mr Elfalak told TV crews.
“As soon as he heard his mum, he opened his eyes and looked at her and fell asleep.”
NSW Police Superintendent Tracy Chapman said investigations were ongoing into how AJ vanished from the family house.
“From a policing perspective we will still be continuing our inquiry to understand what has occurred over the past three days,” she said.
“I know everyone has lots of questions.”