A Sad Week for our Blackwater Community

As many readers will already be aware, this week a young man – Nathan Turner, 30 – tested positive to COVID19 after he was found to have tragically passed away in his Blackwater home.

Once again, I extend my deepest condolences and sympathy to his fiancée, family and friends. I ask you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

No Place for Keyboard Warriors

Out of respect for the deceased, and because his family and friends are feeling very harassed by the media, I will not be commenting about the loss of Nathan. Too many people have been keyboard commenting with too much hurtful ignorance on public display.

Despite media reports, no official cause of death has been issued yet.

Nathan was a much loved member of his community and will be missed by many in Blackwater and at Jellinbah Mine.

Test, Test, Test!

To the people of Blackwater, please know you have my full support. I am staying in close contact with Queensland Health and I can assure you that they are responding fully to the situation.

Let part of Nathan’s legacy be that every one in Blackwater who had contact or who has symptoms gets tested. It is this response by us – the every-day people – that will prevent any second wave.

A Queensland Health testing clinic has been set up in the Blackwater Rodeo grounds and you can book an appointment by calling (07) 4920 5800.

Walking Amongst Us

When the very first advice about social distancing was issued, many people around Gregory were asking me if we “had to take it seriously”. After all, more than half of our population lives remotely, or very remotely.

My advice, right from the start, has always been to act as if it is walking amongst us – because it is.

People who have no symptoms at all can be spreading it and not know.

Showing Symptoms? Get Tested

The strange thing about Aussies is we have responded magnificently to the need for social distancing and handwashing, but we have a cultural aversion to using up our sick days for sickness!

In the case of Corona Virus, if you have any symptoms at all, do not go to work or school. Have a test and stay at home until you get results giving you the all clear.

Believe me, even if you have used up your sick days, the boss won’t want you at work if you have symptoms. If you turn out to test positive, the whole joint will have to close.

Tests Help in Two Proven Ways
There are two big advantages to early testing; it stops the spread and it helps doctors to give better treatment to you, increasing your chances of a trouble-free recovery.

So, if you have any – not all – any of these symptoms, stay at home, ring your GP and ask for a COVID19 test:

  • A temperature
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Muscular Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea/vomiting (rare)

Believe me, you will be thanked for testing – not made to feel embarrassed because it turned out to be a cold.

Roll Out the Sentinel Testing

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Young, said this week that Queensland has the capacity to test 10,000 persons a week, but we are only testing about a third of that. This must change urgently.

With only 6 active cases, we have the ability to focus on “sentinel” testing to give us a clearer picture of our true situation.

What is Sentinel Testing?

Dr Young has said Blackwater’s sewage will be tested for COVID19. This is an example of Sentinel Testing.

A program of testing at town sewage plants will then be carried out across the State.

Why Sewage?

You may recall a while ago a similar program of sewage testing was carried out for the drug ice and the picture it painted of ice use in Queensland’s regions was shocking.

Testing towns through their sewage plants will allow Queensland Health to see where virus particles are being shed. They can then place pop-up testing centres in those localities.

Blackwater’s Situation Shows How This Helps

Apart from Nathan’s post-mortem test, none of the scores of tests conducted in Blackwater to date has come back positive. This raises questions.

It could mean that first test was a false positive. It could also mean that the infection was so recent, that no-one is shedding enough particles of virus to test positive. So, Queensland Health will keep testing people in Blackwater.

By testing at Blackwater’s sewage treatment plant as well, they can confirm their findings at the personal level. An absence of positives in both levels of testing is a good “all clear”.

When the program is rolled out to all Queensland communities with a sewage treatment plant, Queensland Health will know where to open up fever clinics and concentrate their testing.

Workforce Sentinel Testing

The other type of sentinel testing we have yet to see done widely is workforce based. There are two reasons to conduct tests on certain workers. The first reason is because these workers are essential.

So, testing has been made available to our health workforces because they are at risk of exposure. But there are many other workers who are essential and who should be tested.

Supermarket workers should be tested, because people need to be able to buy food, but also because they deal with so many people in a working day. If a supermarket worker tested positive, it’s a good bet that a pop-up tent in the car park would find customers in a similar state.

Food Processors
Around the world – including in Victoria – we have seen outbreaks close down abattoirs. So, meat workers are another group of key workers to check. I would think Public Transport workers would also be key. And there are many more. The point is that we need to start being serious about our sentinel testing.

Now a quick update about some other announcements you may have missed.

Small Business

It was distressing to see the Queensland Government Small Business Adaptation Grants be announced to parliament on Tuesday, May 19, and close due to lack of funds on Friday, May 22.

Simple maths will show you the $100 million allocated for the $10,000 grant program doesn’t come near being adequate. Many regional newspapers would have been publishing the opening of the grants when they had already closed through oversubscription. What chance for rural small business?

I have already had constituents in tears over the mismanaged JobSupport loan program which closed twice through lack of funding. Regional applicants were being told not once, but twice, that their applications would not be accepted because the money was done.

Queensland Small Business Suffering
Other states have provided serious assistance to their small businesses but apart from those two programs, the only other real help for Queenslanders has been payroll tax deferrals. Figures show only 3 per cent of Queensland’s 438,000 small businesses have benefited from that measure.

Dispute Powers on Commercial Leases

Commercial leases have been another fraught area where promises have been made but help has been hard to find. Yesterday, the Minister announced that Maree Adshead has been appointed as Queensland’s Small Business Commissioner with dispute resolution powers. If you need her assistance you can call 1300 312 344 or visit www.business.qld.gov.au/qsbc .

Return to Community Sport from June 12

In line with Stage 2 of the RoadMap to Easing Restrictions, sports clubs can start small group training from June 12. In Queensland, this will be restricted to groups of 20 or less, in line with gathering restrictions.

There will be other restrictions affecting scheduling, hygiene including cleaning of equipment, use of communal facilities and restrictions around officials and spectators. For instance, with children’s sports only one person is to accompany a child to sport.

Return to Sport Toolkit
Sport Australia has released the Return to Sport Toolkit to help clubs implement these changes. You can download that at www.sportaus.gov.au/return-to-sport .

In addition, the Queensland Government has announced a $53.1 million package to help sports clubs prepare. Grants of up to $2,000 are available to help clubs cover the costs of cleaning equipment and hand sanitizer. Further grants of up to $20,000 are on offer for minor works. Visit https://www.covid19.qld.gov.au/government-actions/roadmap-to-easing-queenslands-restrictions/sport/funding-grants to find out more.

Community Road Safety Grants

These grants open today, Friday, May 29, 2020. They offer up to $20,000 for short-term, small scale, road safety education projects in local communities. Not-for-profit groups including schools, P&Cs, local governments and community groups are eligible to apply. Find the Community Road Safety Grants webpage at www.tmr.qld.gov.au/roadsafetygrants .

Gambling Community Benefit Fund Grants

These still appear to be suspended due to COVID19 and there has been no announcement of successful applicants since Round 103. I will let you know when an announcement is made. Alternatively, you can keep checking the website at https://www.justice.qld.gov.au/initiatives/community-grants

Show Holidays

Although our country shows were an early casualty of COVID19, the Premier announced this week that Brisbane people will still enjoy the public holiday on what should have been People’s Day at the Ekka.

Most councils are following suit, although it will be late for many of Gregory’s country towns. The beautiful town of Springsure is enjoying a show holiday today and Emerald will have their public holiday next Wednesday. For some reason, it often rains on the show holidays, so fingers crossed.

Better in Blackall and the Birdsville Races Cancelled

Despite the show cancellations two of our iconic festivals have held on in hope. Sadly, those hopes have now been officially dashed.

The Birdsville Races will not be held this year. The iconic race meeting is a major drawcard bringing up to 7,000 people to the west. This is only the second time it has been scratched since it began in 1882. Let’s hope for a return in 2021. My thanks to the Committee members for your efforts.

The Better in Blackall festival has also been cancelled. This is another great event that showcases all the very best the Blackall district has to enjoy. We will look forward to the new date in August, 2021. Once again, thanks to the Committee for your hard work. The Better in Blackall Festival is well on the way to being a western highlight for residents and visitors.

Western Dental Clinics

The QCOAL Foundation and RFDS have announced that the free RFDS Dental Mobile Clinics will recommence in June at the following locations in Gregory:
Sapphire – June 23 to July 3, 2020
Boulia – October 5 – 16, 2020
Winton – October 26 – November 6, 2020
Winton - November 16 – 27, 2020
Tambo - December 7 – 18, 2020

Kidney Disease and Cancer Don’t Wait

Following Queenslanders’ astonishing success in flattening the COVID19 “curve”, our health systems are restoring normal service. Given the gap in health outcomes for rural Queenslanders, I was disturbed to see that during the COVID19 lockdowns, there has been a 40 per cent drop in the number of pathology tests being carried out.

These are blood and urine tests, or biopsy tests on body tissue ordered for patients by doctors. The tests are used to diagnose and manage many illnesses. At the same time, we have seen a drop in visits to GPs and allied health professionals.

If you are due for a check-up, don’t delay seeing your GP. Kidneys, cataracts, hearts and cancers don’t wait for COVID19. You shouldn’t either.

COVID19 Has Taken Us Back to Old Ways

Social Media has been celebrating the way that COVID19 restrictions have taken us back to old ways - like home cooked meals, board games and handicrafts.

It should also be prompting us to think of the old ways of hygiene too.

Good habits were lifesaving before the widespread use of antibiotics and anti-virals. Our grandparents and great-grandparents lived in a time when a sore throat could be streptococcus which could kill you. Ear infections could go to the brain and men “as fit as mallee bulls” could be felled by an infected cut which turned “septic”.

Old Timey Hygiene Habits
Once upon a time, when we returned home, the first thing we did was wash our hands and face, then change clothes. School uniforms came off and play clothes went on.

Adults returning home at the end of the workday would often shower straight away. Dirty clothes went straight in the hamper until they were boiled on washday and line-dried under a strong UV light aka sunlight.

Retaining Our Soap “Crown”

Australians have long been one of the greatest users of soap per capita in the world, even before COVID19.

How often do you hear an Aussie say, “I’ll just have a quick shower before heading out/settling in”? We almost use showers as a punctuation between activities.

Now our COVID19 experience “flattening the curve” has also shown more clearly than ever that good hygiene habits work. We need them to, because we only have prevention.

A vaccine is still just an idea. If and when it has been invented and tested, it will have to be manufactured and administered in billions of doses to establish a global control over this virus. That task alone will be huge.

Learning to Live Around It

So, we have to learn to live well while it is with us. It isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

I have every faith in ability of Australians to stay together on this. We are a practical people with a strong community spirit and we will help each other through.

Keep Waltzing, Washing and Help the Tracing

So, when you are in the presence of others keep your distance: 1.5 metres – a big step back and a step to the side as well.

Don’t enter crowded spaces. Come back later.

When you see hand sanitizer is provided, use it.

When you get home, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or two, full choruses of Happy Birthday. And teach the kids to do it too. Contact with soap kills the virus.

Here’s an interesting video on how soap kills corona virus https://www.vox.com/2020/3/18/21185262/how-soap-kills-the-coronavirus

Thank You
Thank you for reading this and staying up to date.

If you wish to share this information, please feel free to simply forward this email. If you have received this letter from a friend and want to subscribe, email me at [email protected] or visit lachlanmillarmp.com.

If You Need Help

As always, if you have a comment or an issue to raise, you can simply contact me by return email.

Both my Emerald and Longreach offices remain open, although because of COVID19 we are doing our work by phone and email, rather than face-to-face.

If you need help or advice, please don’t hesitate to ring and we will do our very best for you. (Emerald Office PH 07 4913 1000; Longreach office PH 07 4521 5700.)

We will get through this together, with kindness.

Kindest Regards – and keep safe,

Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.