Standing room only as tempers flare at Kooralbyn community coronavirus forum

FORUM: Queensland Health's Dr Michael Cleary with Chief Superintendent Mel Adams and Superintendent Rhys Wildman from Queensland Police with Scenic Rim mayor Greg Christensen. Photo: Larraine Sathicq
FORUM: Queensland Health's Dr Michael Cleary with Chief Superintendent Mel Adams and Superintendent Rhys Wildman from Queensland Police with Scenic Rim mayor Greg Christensen. Photo: Larraine Sathicq

ABOUT 200 Kooralbyn residents packed into the community hall last night as Scenic Rim mayor Greg Christensen called for calm over an issue that has had triggered anxiety in the community.

An announcement posted on social media about 9pm Friday confirmed rumours that resort owner Peter Huang had entered into an arrangement with the state government to provide accommodation at the resort's Packer Lodge.

Also in attendance were Dr Michael Cleary, Dr Anu Satymurthy and nurse Belinda Henderson from Queensland Health as well as Chief Superintendent Mel Adams and Superintendent Rhys Wildman from Queensland Police.

The meeting was in response to a furious reaction from residents of Kooralbyn to an announcement made by the Ramada Resort about an isolation facility for people who may have come in contact with novel coronavirus, now renamed Covid-19.

Dr Cleary said the disease was unknown until six weeks ago and health authorities were learning new things about it every day.

"This is a virus we haven't had in the world... no one is immune because the only way to be immune is if you come in contact with it," he said.

He said containment strategies were working on federal and state levels.

"We have had 15 people with the virus, five on the Gold Coast," he said.

"Of those 15 people eight have already been discharged and did not become ill. The government has made the right decision putting constraints on the flow of people who potentially have this virus."

Dr Cleary said there were 1000 people on home isolation but there were a small number of people who could not go to their homes, for example those who lived interstate and those who did not think it best to go home to their kids and families.

Emotions ran high as Kooralbyn residents lined up to take the microphone and ask questions of Queensland Health and police.

Some angry comments were shouted from the audience.

When asked if other towns had also been identified as potential quarantine stations, Superintendent Wildman said they had, but they could not release details.

"We do not advertise those details, these people have done nothing wrong... these are people in a difficlut position. Some are people who have jobs in China, they can't go home and they need somewhere to go."

This was met with the comment that since Kooralbyn had been widely advertised as a potential isolation site, the proposal should be rejected since the privacy issue was moot.

Chief Superintendent Adams said police were already visiting people who were self-isolating at home and although it could be difficult to stay in their homes for 14 days, they were complying with the requirements.

"What we've found is people are quite anxious and scared, and it probably doesn't help when a bunch of coppers knock on their door.

"When we come to their door, these people are wearing their face masks inside the premises. We have had not one instance of non-compliance.

"It could be any one of us."

Scenic Rim MP Jon Krause also spoke on behalf of Kooralbyn residents and demanded the proposal be dropped, triggering a round of applause from those gathered.

Dr Anu Satymurthy and nurse Belinda Henderson both assured the crowd that the virus was only transmittable for people standing within a metre of an infected person coughing- and that they would need to be standing within that range for at least 15 minutes.

A resident said the fact that health authorities were dealing with a largely unknown virus was worrying.

"It's so unknown that they won't have a vaccine for 18 months," she said.

"Have you ever seen someone with influenza get a knock on their door from police?

"Please come back when you can tell us we're safe."

Another resident spoke up to say Kooralbyn relied on tourism and the social media uproar had branded the town as "that place where coronavirus people are."

Cr Christensen said the social media announcement was ill advised and "a kick in the guts" for Kooralbyn, with repercussions likely to persist for some time.

"This was a tragically unwise conversation on social media, whether it is wiped or not the scare is there and now we have to look at how to deal with the scar," he said.

Cr Christensen said while state government isolation arrangements were not a council issue, the message had been received and would be passed on to the relevant authorities. He said he would have further discussion with councillors on Monday.

"The community has suffered enough pain and great concern," he said.

"I find it unlikely that this location will progress."

There were no representatives from the Ramada Resort present.