Queensland’s premier has apologised to the grieving family of a Blackwater man who was wrongly identified as having coronavirus.
“We are very sorry for the distress that the family is going through at the moment and has experienced – and to the people of Blackwater, thank you very much for cooperating,” Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Tuesday.
But she also defended the state government’s approach to last week’s death of Nathan Turner – who was thought at the time to be Australia’s youngest coronavirus victim.
The revised case reduces the nation’s national death to 102 as Tasmania further eases restrictions ahead of the Queen’s Birthday weekend.
Australia has 7202 confirmed cases of the coronavirus with 6619 people recovered and 20 still being treated in hospitals. Victoria remains above the national trend, with 10 new confirmed cases overnight including two staff in aged care and in a kindergarten.
Meanwhile, there has been an angry backlash in the central Queensland mining town of Blackwater after confirmation late on Monday that Mr Turner, 30, did not die of COVID-19.
The town’s 5000 residents were on high alert and lining up for coronavirus tests after Queensland Health reported Mr Turner’s initial positive coronavirus test after his death last week.
His partner, Simone Devon, also reported he had had flu-like symptoms for several weeks.
But the death baffled authorities, because Mr Turner had not left Blackwater for several months, and there had previously been no confirmed cases of coronavirus there.
On Monday, officials said a subsequent test had returned a negative result and confirmed that Mr Turner’s death was no longer considered COVID-related.
Also on Monday, a Facebook post from Fairbairn Bakery Emerald confirmed that Ms Devon – who works at the bakery – had been told that a post-mortem examination confirmed Mr Turner did not have COVID-19. It was flooded with irate comments.
COVID19 FREE We have just got word from our staff member / Nathan's partner that his autopsy report has come in and…
On Tuesday, locals demanded answers, and an online petition seeking an apology from Ms Palaszczuk and chief health officer Jeannette Young quickly attracted more than 2500 signatures.
Health Minister and Deputy Premier Steven Miles also apologised, and defended the government’s response.
He said Blackwater had to be put on alert after Mr Turner’s initial positive test. But it was regrettable that his family had suffered unnecessarily, in light of “multiple” subsequent negative tests.
“Our ability to control this virus requires us to respond rapidly to every single positive test,” he said on Tuesday.
“We have to treat every positive test as though it is a positive case.
“However, I would like to personally apologise to his partner and his family for any distress that our actions in responding rapidly has caused them. I know it’s been incredibly distressing for them.”
Dr Young said false positive tests for the coronavirus were extremely rare.
She said the results were compromised by the fact that one sample from Mr Turner was contaminated with excessive blood from the autopsy process.
“There are two potential answers here. One is that it was a false positive. The other is that it was a true positive,” Dr Young said.
“We won’t know which it was, but I am confident about the actions that were taken on that night to protect the community of Blackwater.”
Queensland had one new coronavirus case overnight, a 41-year-old woman who arrived on a flight from Africa. She is in quarantine.
The state has five active coronavirus cases.
Tasmania goes for relaxation
Meanwhile, Tasmania will move to stage two of coronavirus restrictions on Friday, about a week ahead of schedule.
Premier Peter Gutwein said on Tuesday the state will move from stage one to two from 3pm on Friday – instead of on June 15 as initially forecast.
“I’m certain that this will be very welcome news ahead of the June long weekend,” he said.
Seated drinks at pubs will be allowed for the first time since restrictions were implemented.
A cap on pub patrons was likely to be lifted to 40, subject to advice from public health and industry consultation, Mr Gutwein said.
Camping and overnight stays will be permitted, while residents have been given the green light visit their holiday homes, or shacks, across the state.
Tasmania has not recorded a COVID-19 case in 17 days and has only four active cases remaining.
“This isn’t over yet, but we can start to move back to a better level of normality,” Mr Gutwein said.
Despite the early easing, he remained firm on his decision to wait until early July before making a call on when to reopen the state’s borders.
10 cases in Victoria
A total of 10 COVID-19 cases were reported in Victoria on Tuesday, including two in staff from an aged-care home and a kindergarten.
Four new cases are linked to the outbreak at Rydges on Swanston, bringing the total number of cases there to 12.
All four cases are close contacts of known cases and they are all in self-isolation.
One new case was detected in a staff member at Embracia aged-care in Reservoir, in Melbourne’s north. All staff and residents will be tested for COVID-19 and the home is in lockdown.
Another case was detected in a kindergarten teacher at Macleod Preschool, in the city’s north-east. It was closed on Tuesday for a thorough clean.
Four other new cases are being investigated and were detected through routine drive-through or pop-up testing.