Roma Hospital. Picture: Mark Calleja
Roma Hospital. Picture: Mark Calleja

How can we keep coronavirus out of rural Queensland?

ONLY the most rural and remote parts of Queensland remain free from any cases of coronavirus, and the southwest is among them.

Local councils here - as well as in the central west, northwest and Torres/Cape region - are taking measures to stop the virus reaching their communities and local hospitals, which they say will not cope with coronavirus, or additional people who bring it in.

Bulloo Shire Council, which encompasses Thargomindah, Noccundra, Hungerford and Cameron Corner, was the first to send a clear message to tourists.

The shire's biggest town, Thargomindah, has a population of just over 200, and the local council said it would not let tourists wait out the virus there.

The shire council issue the point-blank statement that tourists should turn around and go home, while it closed all non-essential services.

"The Bulloo Shire is not the place for you to wait out COVID-19. We are essentially closed for business," the statement read.

"Our local health clinic is designed for our normal, small local population.

"We don't have the sophisticated health care system to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19 in our remote towns.

"Please stay home. If you are on your way, turn around and go home.

"We are putting the health of our community first, and we don't apologise for that."

As for the Maranoa Regional Council, no specific directive has been issued to tourists.

Most local facilities have been closed, including the Visitor Information Centres and council-run attractions including the Great Artesian Spa and the Cobb and Co Store Museum.

Mayor Tyson Golder told The Western Star travel advice is coming from the state and federal level.

"We haven't said tourists should not come, but the federal and state government message is 'essential travel only'," he said.

"While we have closed some of our facilities, there are no changes to council-run camping facilities around the region; the federal and state government are the ones making decisions on travel."


First fever clinics set up at regional airports

Elsewhere in the region, the first preliminary testing facility was set up at Blackall airport this week, aiming to catch travellers before they arrive in the small community.

A spokesperson for the Central West Hospital and Health Service, which covers Blackall and nearby Tambo, said people coming back from overseas pose the biggest risk to the currently uninfected rural areas.

"The majority of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Queensland are from patients who have travelled overseas or have had direct contact with a confirmed case who had travelled overseas," the statement read.

"All hospital and health services across the state have strategies and plans in place to respond to COVID-19 and ensure adequate supplies, equipment, staff and contingencies across all hospitals, including hospitals in the Blackall-Tambo region.

"The community can rest assured that all necessary work is going on to best prepare for local outbreaks of COVID-19."

At this stage, putting a testing facility in the Roma airport has not been considered by Maranoa Regional Council, Cr Golder confirmed.

"No decision has been made about testing people (for coronavirus) at the airport, as it was not brought up at the Local Disaster Management Group meeting," Cr Golder said

"However, we are looking at all contingencies, and the LDMG will meet again on Wednesday.

"So far, there has been other preparations happening, and contingency plans put in place to keep things going if someone were to get sick."


What measures are other shires taking?

Other western shires have made the big decision to turn away visitors, with Paroo Shire Council (Cunnamulla) shedding light on the constraints their small rural hospital faces.

In the same vein as the Bulloo Shire, Paroo Shire mayor Lindsay Godfrey reiterated that residents are priority number one during the health crisis

"Paroo Shire is a small community, and as such it hasn't been built to support extra people wishing to 'bunker down' here during the pandemic," he said.

"In particular the Cunnamulla Hospital only has two respirators for those who require assistance breathing, and that not only includes potential COVID-19 patients but for those who have suffered a stroke, heart attack or even a car accident."

The Maranoa's neighbouring shire of Murweh also issued their own advice, telling residents the local emergency level had been raised to 'alert'.

In the Murweh Shire's centre of Charleville, the town's pharmacy is reportedly running low on important supplies.

Mayor Annie Liston said it is yet another primary health facility which won't cope with extra demand in trying times.

"Our health facilities have not been designed to cope with any major contagion and it is our concern that any further pressure on these resources will render treatment difficult," she said

"There is a restricted dental service operating from Charleville, but chemists are currently experiencing shortages and may not be able to guarantee supplies should they be needed.

"Council has now closed most of its facilities until further notice."


MP makes a bold quarantine proposal

As the respective shires have introduced their new rules to stop coronavirus entering their communities, MP Robbie Katter has weighed in.

The North Queensland MP and leader of Katter's Australian Party called for an outright quarantine of rural and remote Queensland.

He believes not segregating the regions from the southeast corner "would lead to catastrophe".

Mr Katter said the premier's plan to close the state borders is not enough.

"Policed road closures and strict fever testing at airports arrival gates would be enforced as part of an urgent plan to quarantine north, northwest and southwest Queensland from the rest of the state," Mr Katter said in a statement.

"The Premier's call to shut down Queensland's borders isn't enough - we need the north and the other regions largely unaffected by COVID-19 quarantined now.

"Rest assured, this isn't about playing politics and it's not something we call for lightly, this is about giving us all a fighting chance.

"We know this illness will come to all of our communities.

"However we may still be able to stage its spread."

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