Mackay Daily Mercury front page, May 23-24 2020. Premier, let us have a choice for we are virus free.
Mackay Daily Mercury front page, May 23-24 2020. Premier, let us have a choice for we are virus free.

Loo paper, karens, rona: How COVID-19 controlled our lives

FULL VERSION WITH PICTURES AND INTERACTIVES ONLINE HERE

 

Coronavirus was the overseas disease. Until it wasn't.

We knew it was on cruise ships and we had locals from Mackay and Whitsundays on board in late February.

But back then I was still planning on jetsetting to Italy and Spain for my friend's 50th.

"It'll be fine. The virus is just in the north of Italy," we assured ourselves.

"We're young and this virus is hitting the oldies," we told our families.

On March 10, our trip was cancelled when Italy closed its borders to try to shut down the spread of COVID-19 as hospitals were overrun with patients and deaths escalated.

A few days later, we were given a directive to work from home and our office administrator was madly ordering hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes.

Before we knew it, schools were closing until further notice, state borders were slamming shut and people were losing their jobs as non-essential services shut down.

At first toilet paper gate was a great lark as people brawled in supermarket aisles ready to stock up for the long haul.

That was until a mother of two at the Merc was down to one roll and could not find more anywhere in Mackay.

It was great amusement for the team when my latest Who Gives A Crap delivery arrived in the office earlier in the middle of the panic gripping the country.

Flatten the curve. Practice social distancing. Sing happy birthday while washing your hands.

The council election went ahead on March 28 and Queensland went into full lockdown two days later.

With cases rising to 689, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk dramatically tightened social-distancing restrictions and announced a two-person rule for all Queensland households.

It meant we were only allowed to gather and exercise with one other person, outside of family members living in the same house.

We were not allowed to travel outside the home except for four essential reasons: getting food, medical reasons, work and exercise, under threat of $1334.50 on-the-spot fines from police.

It was scary, isolating and an unprecedented control of our civil rights.

But when you look at the United States hitting more than 3000 deaths in a single day this month and healthcare systems across the country at breaking point, I think there's little doubt we had short term pain for long term gain.

After the Melbourne outbreak that put my family into lockdown for months, it's rather scary to see New South Wales teetering on the edge during the festive season.

While many of our business owners have suffered the effects of the lockdown and subsequent restrictions, Mackay has escaped relatively unscathed compared to much of the country and for that I am thankful.

And I know our health workers in Mackay are prepared for another outbreak in 2021 if it comes - the scramble in March has prepared them well.

Fingers crossed we remain safe in 2021 until we can safely administer a vaccine to enough of the country to create herd immunity.

But if not, that we can put our trust in our community leaders again to keep us safe.

 

Here's a snapshot of how it unfolded in Mackay:

News of the coronavirus spreading through cruise ships was talk of the Daily Mercury office in February as we learned of couples from Mackay and Cannonvale aboard one docked off the coast of Japan.

February 6: Whitsunday reporter Laura Thomas first reported Glenn, who is known as Boris, and Lynne Dunn were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in the Japanese port of Yokohama along with almost 4000 other passengers who have been put into mandatory quarantine for two weeks.

The couple's cabin was about four metres wide and six metres long with a kingsize bed and ensuite but they had a sense of humour about the situation

February 19: When deputy editor Tara Miko spoke to Peter and Linda Giles from the tiny room they were holed up in on the Diamond Princess, they joked "next time we might go bush".

Little did any of us know, that's exactly what we've had to do for the rest of the year and probably well into next year as the virus took hold worldwide and shut down international travel.

And, back then, their quarantine in Darwin was free before that became untenable for Australians returning to their home country.

 

Mercury front February 19, 2020.
Mercury front February 19, 2020.

February 21: A few days later the retired Andergrove couple were back on home soil and still cracking jokes about their predicament in a Darwin camp.

Turns out they were right next door to another Mackay couple who had been neighbours of Mrs Giles in the 1960s.

On the same day, we learned the Cannonvale couple were split up when Boris had an 11th-hour positive coronavirus diagnosis.

Just as they were about to disembark, he was stranded in Japan longer as Lynne flew to Darwin.

 

Mercury front February 21, 2020.
Mercury front February 21, 2020.

 

February 26: Mr Dunn was taken on an overnight bus to Osaka where he ended up testing negative in three more tests and was allowed to return to the Whitsundays while his wife stayed in the Northern Territory.

March 6: Two staff members from Glencore's Hail Creek mine were isolated after experiencing flu-like symptoms but two days later they returned negative COVID results.

 

Mackay Daily Mercury front page March 13, 2020.
Mackay Daily Mercury front page March 13, 2020.

 

March 13: The first Central Queensland case was confirmed on March 13, with Queensland Health stating a man tested positive in Rockhampton.

The 60 year old quarantined in Rockhampton Hospital after initially flying into Mackay and then travelling across Central Queensland, including to Daunia mine.

It is understood the man came into contact with a 56-year-old woman who tested positive to the virus after holidaying in Indonesia before he flew north.

He met with people in Mackay before driving out to the mine site for a training presentation to BMA mine workers.

March 15: Two days later, a second case.

A United Kingdom tourist, who defied orders to stay in quarantine, flew to Hamilton Island from Sydney.

Health authorities in New South Wales alerted Queensland Health which undertook contact tracing.

The woman, 36, was taken to Mackay Base Hospital the next day, on March 16, and put into quarantine.

She was found on the beach at Hamilton Island, after reportedly not understanding the directive to self-isolate following a positive test for the virus in New South Wales.

It is understood the woman was the first person with the virus in our region.

 

Mackay Daily Mercury front page March 16, 2020.
Mackay Daily Mercury front page March 16, 2020.

 

 

March 16: A man was evacuated from a bulk carrier moored off Hay Point under COVID-19 precautions.

RACQ CQ Rescue landed on the 292-metre long bulk carrier to airlift a sick crewman to hospital.

The 39-year-old Filipino sailor had become unwell on the vessel Pan Bona and required immediate hospitalisation

March 20: A travelling companion of the British backpacker who was isolated in hospital is the second confirmed case for the region.

It is understood the travelling companion was taken to hospital at the same time as a precaution because of the high risk there would be a second positive test result.

March 21: Contact tracing is under way for a number of passengers on board a flight from Brisbane to Mackay as Queensland Health issues a public health alert.

Passengers in rows 11 through to 15 on-board Qantas flight QF2512, which landed on Monday March 9, were advised to self-isolate for 14 days and contact a doctor immediately if they became unwell.

March 22: Hamilton Island was among the first tourist operations to cancel or postpone travel bookings after Scott Morrison announced new restrictions on non-essential travel.

March 24: There are two new positive cases of coronavirus confirmed in Mackay.

They are believed to be locals who had been travelling internationally.

The Mackay diagnoses doubles the number of cases in Mackay to four.

March 25: Virgin Australia announced it would temporarily suspend services to 19 destinations across the country, including Hamilton Island Airport and Whitsunday Coast Airport.

Starting at midnight March 27, the flight ban included all flights for 11 weeks until June 14.

March 26: A fifth person tests positive to coronavirus in the Mackay health district.

The patient, who had returned home from an overseas trip, was treated at Proserpine Hospital.

Passengers who came into close contact with a coronavirus patient on a flight to Hamilton Island were urged to contact a doctor immediately.

Queensland Health listed the flight from Brisbane Airport into the region to the growing list of contact tracing alerts.

Some passengers on-board Virgin flight VA1497, which landed at Hamilton Island on Sunday, March 15, were advised to self-isolate for 14 days and contact a doctor immediately if they become unwell.

With escalating restrictions in place because of coronavirus, all non-essential businesses including beauty therapy, tanning, massage and tattoo parlours were ordered to close.

 

 

 

March 27: Mackay dentists restricted all services to urgent or emergency treatment only in line with the statewide crackdown against the spread of coronavirus.

 

Mackay Daily Mercury front page March 27, 2020.
Mackay Daily Mercury front page March 27, 2020.

 

March 31: A sixth person tested positive for COVID-19 in the Mackay district.

The person had returned to the region from an overseas trip and had been quarantined in their home since their arrival.

The patient was being cared for in hospital and in a stable condition.

Fishing at Kinchant Dam, Teemburra Dam and Eungella Dam was prohibited under new government restrictions.

The closure included all SunWater and Seqwater recreation areas, lakes and weirs.

This includes the ban on all day trips, camping, land and water-based activities.

April 1: Another person tested positive for COVID-19 bringing the Mackay region's total to seven.

The two new cases were from the Whitsunday region, but unrelated, bringing the total for that patch to three of the seven.

April 2: ABowen-based mother and son on the trip of a lifetime across South America are some of the hundreds of Aussies trapped in foreign countries without a way home.

George Bluck, 27, and his mother Irma, 64, were stuck in Cusco, Peru's seventh largest city, since the government declared a national emergency and abruptly closed its borders to prevent coronavirus spreading on March 15.

 

 

Regulations meant Bowen man George Bluck and his mum were not able to leave Cusco and had to wear masks whenever they were out of their Airbnb. Temperature testing was imposed at all stores. They could not return home from Peru because of coronavirus travel restrictions.
Regulations meant Bowen man George Bluck and his mum were not able to leave Cusco and had to wear masks whenever they were out of their Airbnb. Temperature testing was imposed at all stores. They could not return home from Peru because of coronavirus travel restrictions.

April 3: Renters were given much-needed relief through a $2000 COVID-19 grant but the six-month eviction ban was yet to become a reality, with the government slow to pass any new legislation through parliament.

The impending changes were a lifeline for tenants, but many families and retirees in the region relied on their tenants' rent to get by.

And there were fears commercial property owners would be hardest hit as businesses closed during the lockdown.

April 7: A new patient has tested positive for COVID-19 in the Mackay region.

The person had returned to the area from an overseas trip and was self isolating when the symptoms occurred.

The latest patient brought the region's tally to 13, as the number of cases in Queensland jumped to 934.

Of the Mackay Hospital and Health Service total, two had recovered, two remained in hospital and nine had been admitted to a virtual ward.

MHHS expanded its emergency department and Intensive Care Unit capacity in Mackay in response to the challenges of caring for COVID-19 patients and ensured it had extra beds available.

April 8: Religious leaders were determined to stay in touch with their congregants during the coronavirus pandemic to help them through this tough period spiritually.

They opted to deliver their messages via livestream and radio, also providing their Easter messages to the Daily Mercury.

MHHS decided to move women planning to give birth at Mackay Birth Centre, to make way for COVID-19 patients, causing outrage and panic.

The service said the base hospital had to be prepared if women with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 needed to give birth in Mackay, and the health service wanted to keep everyone safe.

With people confined to their homes with only one other guest allowed, people had to find other ways to celebrate milestones.

Bucasia's Gabriel Caulton could not party with friends for his eighth birthday but 10 cars took part in the drive-by celebration.

 

Gabriel Caulton celebrated his 8th birthday at Bucasia with a drive-by. Picture: Tony Martin
Gabriel Caulton celebrated his 8th birthday at Bucasia with a drive-by. Picture: Tony Martin

 

April 9: Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young received much criticism after granting an exemption that allowed 80 people to attend a funeral for an Indigenous elder in Mackay.

Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson also said he was gobsmacked, saying there was a huge expenditure of public resources to ensure there was a cordon around this event and ensure people who travelled to this funeral were triaged.

April 12: A new confirmed case of coronavirus was recorded for Mackay.

The new case lifted the total number for the Mackay Hospital and Health Service to 14.

The number of active cases was nine, with five recovered cases.

The latest case, from Mackay, was a close contact of a returned international traveller.

April 13: Another confirmed coronavirus case was recorded in the Mackay district within just 48 hours of the previous case.

MHHS had 15 COVID-19 cases, recording 10 active cases and five recovered cases.

In a statement, MHHS said the latest patient was a "resident in the Mackay local government area and was a returned overseas traveller".

With supermarket shelves still emptying at lightening speed, Mackay Coles fast-tracked more than 60 people into employment to meet customer demand.

A Coles spokeswoman said the Mackay recruits were sourced from industries and businesses such as travel, sport, fitness and hospitality that were forced to close or stand down staff.

They are part of more than 7000 people recruited by Coles across Australia in the past month to serve customers, replenish shelves, deliver online orders and work in the bakeries.

 

Coles team members (left to right) Sean Heugh, Daniel Minter, Philip Kean, Sarah Hopgood, Christine Coll and Jamie Allen.
Coles team members (left to right) Sean Heugh, Daniel Minter, Philip Kean, Sarah Hopgood, Christine Coll and Jamie Allen.

 

April 18: Six Mackay region coronavirus patients were released from isolation after fully recovering from the virus.

Queensland Health announced the patients were no longer presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, taking the total number of recovered cases to 11.

May 1: Restrictions eased slightly with Queenslanders able to go on picnics or visit national parks within 50km of our homes.

It felt like a miracle. And off to Cape Hillborough I went. The Mercury put together a guide of the 50 things to do within 50km.

 

May 13: It was four weeks since the Mackay district recorded its last new coronavirus case.

This meant the region passed the two incubation periods - two fortnights - milestone.

Mackay Hospital and Health Service's most recent confirmed case was on April 13.

Out of 15 total confirmed cases, all 15 had recovered.

May 16: We get some sense of normal as cafes, restaurants and pubs can reopen with a maximum of 10 patrons, we are allowed 150km from our homes for day trips and we can have five visitors in our home. Freedom after six weeks in lockdown.

The Mercury put together a list of 15 things to do within 150km.

 

 

I took the opportunity to hike the Mount Rooper circuit track and dine in Airlie Beach - it felt like a huge novelty to get away from the sugar city for a day.

But it wasn't easy going for restaurants opening back up as operators had to decide whether it was financially viable to reopen for just 10 customers.

 

 

 

May 23: Unrestricted travel in the Mackay, Whitsundays, Cairns, Townsville and Outback regions could be a reality by June 12.

Tourism leaders across the state called for a travel bubble in line with the beginning of Stage 2 COVID-19 restrictions, in an attempt to save our struggling tourism industry.

Mackay, Whitsundays, Cairns and Townsville had zero active cases of coronavirus.

The Mackay region was declared virus free on May 2 after just 15 cases and Townsville was cleared on May 6 after 24 cases.

 

Mackay Daily Mercury front page, May 23-24 2020. Premier, let us have a choice for we are virus free was a play on our national anthem signalling the continued lockdown in a democracy.
Mackay Daily Mercury front page, May 23-24 2020. Premier, let us have a choice for we are virus free was a play on our national anthem signalling the continued lockdown in a democracy.

May 24: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says any eased restrictions would need to be considered closely and asked the NQ tourism organisation to submit a plan.

A week later she announced a Queensland wide bubble.

May 31: Premier announces Queenslanders can travel anywhere in the state but its borders will remain shut to interstate travellers.

Restaurant patron numbers double. Overnight stays are allowed.

It felt like things were returning to normal.

June 12: A Chinese coal ship crew was cleared of coronavirus after a standoff with biosecurity inspectors.

A Queensland Health spokesman said all 21 test results from the ship's crew returned negative to COVID-19.

Concerns were raised when the ship's captain reportedly denied biosecurity officers access to search some on-board areas while it was docked at Hay Point.

 

Mackay Daily Mercury front page June 25, 2020. Covid recovery.
Mackay Daily Mercury front page June 25, 2020. Covid recovery.

July 1: A truck thief was picked up in the Mackay region after breaching a COVID-19 public health order not to enter Queensland.

Allan Gannon appeared in Mackay Magistrates Court via video link from Capricornia Correctional Centre, where his bail bid was rejected.

He was charged with failing to comply with a COVID-19 public health direction not to enter Queensland without reasonable excuse, obstructing police, the theft of a prime mover and possessing two stolen trailers.

 

 

July 27: The name Karen became synonymous with entitlement and the source of many memes after a woman was captured on video having a go at a Bunnings employee for the company's mask policy in-store.

Karen became a noun and a verb for the rest of the year after the "Bunnings Karen" video went viral.

A month later the self-described witch posted a video in which people feared she was leaving her house with COVID symptoms.

 

 

 

August 14: Two crew members aboard a ship moored off Abbot Point were taken to Townsville University Hospital for treatment after testing positive to coronavirus.

It's understood all Globe Electra crew tested negative to COVID-19 before the ship left China, however two people subsequently tested positive.

August 17: The crew members aboard a ship anchored off Hay Point have been tested for COVID-19 after three crew members had earlier tested positive.

 

The Kilian Oldendorff is currently docked off the Queensland coast near Hay Point. The bulk carrier, built in 2020, is sailing under the flag of Liberia. It has docked in China, Hong Kong and the Philippines during June and July. Picture: vesselfinder.com
The Kilian Oldendorff is currently docked off the Queensland coast near Hay Point. The bulk carrier, built in 2020, is sailing under the flag of Liberia. It has docked in China, Hong Kong and the Philippines during June and July. Picture: vesselfinder.com

 

The Kilian Oldendorff, built in 2020 and flying under the flag of Liberia, arrived off the Mackay coast.

August 18: Another ship, the Dhun, with suspected COVID-19 crew members aboard heads towards Hay Point.

It's the third ship in five days with suspected cases of the virus to anchor off the Mackay region.

 

Cargo ship Dhun, flying under a Panama flag, anchored off Hay Point with COVID positive crew members aboard. Picture: vesselfinder.com
Cargo ship Dhun, flying under a Panama flag, anchored off Hay Point with COVID positive crew members aboard. Picture: vesselfinder.com

 

August 19: All 21 crew members aboard the Kilian Oldendorff cargo ship off Hay Point were cleared from coronavirus.

The 21 crew members aboard the Dhun were believed to have been swabbed the same day to test for the virus.

August 21: Two men aboard the Dhun cargo ship, anchored off Hay Point, tested positive to COVID-19.

August 22: The two COVID-infected patients were transferred from the cargo ship Dhun to Mackay Marina.

The Daily Mercury captured photos as they boarded a plane to Sunshine Coast for treatment.

 

 

Queensland Ambulance and Queensland Police service escort two COVID-positive crew members from the cargo ship Dhun, anchored off Hay Point, to Mackay Airport for a flight south. They will be treated at medical facilities in southeast Queensland. Picture: Zizi Averill
Queensland Ambulance and Queensland Police service escort two COVID-positive crew members from the cargo ship Dhun, anchored off Hay Point, to Mackay Airport for a flight south. They will be treated at medical facilities in southeast Queensland. Picture: Zizi Averill

October 8: Police bust and fine 16 carnival operators more than $64,000 for illegally entering Queensland after they were caught in Mackay.

Police say the operators travelled through the Goondiwindi checkpoint on Monday from Victoria, displaying a freight declaration pass.

They were then arrested by police at Mackay Showgrounds on Wednesday and placed into quarantine for COVID-19 testing after the Sierra Linnet Taskforce found the group failed to meet the strict conditions of the pass.

October 26: Victoria comes out of an almost four-month lockdown. While restrictions were eased in regional areas earlier, Melbourne-ites spent much of the year confined to their neighbourhood.

December 1: The removal of our domestic border closures was high on the Christmas wishlists of many Aussie families - and finally, after months of FaceTime calls and cancelled flights, the controversial measure came to an end.

A raft of New South Wales' remaining COVID-19 measures were rolled back - but it was Queensland's hard border with Victoria and greater Sydney finally coming down, and South Australia opening its doors to Victoria, that arguably sparked the most excitement, just in time for the festive season.

And our Mackay and Whitsunday tourism operators were looking forward to tourists coming back to our region for the Christmas holidays.

But, of course, Sydney's Northern Beaches cluster in mid-December led to border closures again before Christmas Day and a lockdown in the hotspot area.

Queensland once again shut its borders to people from NSW just days before Christmas.

The final day of the year involved Victoria shutting its borders to New South Wales after an outbreak in Melbourne and Western Australia shutting its border to Victoria because of the outbreak.

What a year! So much for 2020 vision. No one is making that joke for 2021.

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