COVID-19: All you need to know about COVID-19 in the Western Downs Region. Pic: Supplied
COVID-19: All you need to know about COVID-19 in the Western Downs Region. Pic: Supplied

Western Downs COVID-19 cases: everything you need to know

TWO positive tests of COVID-19 have been reported in the Western Downs region to date; one in Miles on Sunday, March 29, and another less than a week later in Chinchilla on Thursday, April 2.

A Darling Downs Health spokesperson confirmed that the Miles patient was a return traveller, although the origin of the virus transmission to the Chinchilla patient is still unknown.

The DDH spokesperson said most cases in the Darling Downs region are patients who have travelled overseas or have had direct contact with a confirmed case who had travelled overseas.

Both patients were well enough to remain in self-isolation in their homes with routine check-ins by medical staff.

Across the Darling Downs region there are 43 confirmed cases with 34 in Toowoomba, 4 in Oakey, 2 in Kingaroy, 1 in Miles, 1 in Warwick, and 1 in Chinchilla - 19 cases had recovered.

Local Business Impact

Local Business across the WD region began to feel the financial pinch of COVID-19 when Prime minister Scott Morrison announced strict social distancing rules for the nation on Monday, March 23.

Licensed areas of hotels and pubs were closed, as well as entertainment venues such as cinemas and casinos - with restaurants and cafes were restricted to takeaway or home delivery only.

Cafes immediately saw a dip in sales and local business owners began to come to terms with the inedibility of having to lay off staff as businesses struggled to stay afloat.

The owner of Amelia’s Place Café in Chinchilla David Collison said he has struggled with the new measures which will leave him no choice but to lay off staff.

“The business is depleting it’s getting less and less, we are going to have to start laying staff off especially now that we can’t have any indoor dining,” Mr Collison said.

WD business leaders warned the financial impact of COVID-19 is set to get worse as the Federal Government imposes stronger measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

President of Chinchilla Community Commerce and Industry Shannon McDermott said local businesses, especially hospitality, are feeling the sting of the new regulations.

“We’ve had quite a few businesses that have through government restrictions have had to close their doors or limit their business to takeaway services… that rolls on to effect a lot of local jobs which is obviously a big concern,” Mr McDermott said.

“I think it’s possible that we will be moving into tighter restrictions… most non-essential businesses will be closed – and I assume that would account for 90 plus per cent of our businesses out here if not more that will be forced to close.”

As tourism dries up across the region, a number of businesses that rely on foot traffic are hurting, including essential services like fuel stations.

Business owner and vice-president of the Dalby Chamber of Commerce Rohan Stephenson said, “It has been a very big struggle... (busineses) are trying to adapt to what they can and can’t do, and there’s been significant hardship in the last few weeks.”

Medical Response

As COVID-19 began to spread throughout the Western Downs, hospital and health services started preparing for an outbreak, requiring staff to undergo COVID-19 training in preparation for the virus spread.

Health and Ambulance Services minister Steven Miles said this is another great example of how our health heroes on the frontline are preparing for the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ensuring our rural facilities are prepared for COVID-19 is so important and this training is helping to achieve just that,” Minister Miles said.

Medical practices made a move to telehealth on Monday, March 30, to free up waiting rooms and reducing the likelihood of patients being exposed to COVID-19.

The National Rural Health Alliance CEO Dr Gabrielle O’Kane said Australians will be able to access a much wider range of bulk-billed health services.

“Telehealth is an especially important tool for health practitioners in rural Australia because patients are often so far away from the practitioner,” Dr O’Kane said.

Energy Industry

The WD region is a powerhouse of natural resources making it the energy capital of Australia – with that comes multiple gas and power stations that have had to adapt and implement measures to ensure the safety of workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Issues regarding pay and job security of workers in the energy sector also came under fire as unions called for workers required to self-isolate to be compensated.

ETU South West Queensland Organiser Dan McGaw said more should be done to protect workers in the resource sector.

“I think more can be done, profits are being put above the health and safety of workers… they don’t want to lose millions in revenue,” Mr McGaw said.

“A major issue we face in the Surat Basin is one out of three workers do not have access to paid sick leave.”

As state borders began to shut to slow the spread of COVID-19 fly-in-fly-out workers who travelled interstate who were not deemed critical by the state government were not allowed into Queensland.

Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the measures will be taken to protect remote communities from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Queensland has no known cases in our remote regional communities, and restricting these workers from entering the state will remove a possible transmission route,” Dr Lynham said.

Police Step Up

With Queenslanders facing some of the strictest social distancing rules in history as gatherings must be no more than two people, police are monitoring the region to ensure residents are following the social distancing and quarantine rules.

The first person to be arrested in the Western Downs for breaking self-isolation was a man in Jandowae who was issued with a self-isolation order when crossing into Queensland from Lightning Ridge NSW.

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