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Emergency search as mystery surrounds source of miner's fatal infection

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The death of Nathan Turner, 30, has sparked a major health emergency in Blackwater, with a special COVID-response team sent to the town in an effort to trace the source of his infection.

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Queensland Health said Turner had a “complicated” medical history, had suffered with respiratory symptoms since May and tested positive to the virus following his death on Wednesday afternoon.

How Turner picked up the infection remains a mystery.

It is believed the miner had not been at work since November nor travelled outside Blackwater since February.

The Central Queensland town, with a population of 4700, has not had a case of COVID-19 before.

A large-scale fever clinic is being set up at the Blackwater Showground for residents to get tested.

Health authorities said they have no reason to link Turner’s case with a nurse whose diagnosis sent an aged-care home in Rockhampton into lockdown, however the matter is being investigated further today.

The Health Department has confirmed the nurse, who has since been suspended, had travelled from Rockhampton to Blackwater, on May 14.

However, Queensland Health said they did not believe the two cases were linked given Turner had been showing symptoms before this date.

“Contact tracing information provided to Queensland Health for the Central Queensland case identified on May 14 was that the individual travelled to Blackwater in the second week of May but did not interact with other individuals there,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“Information provided to Queensland Health about the case identified today indicated the man had respiratory symptoms since the first week of May.

“At this time, no evidence has been provided to Queensland Health that links the two cases. But we will continue to assess all information relevant to any case.”

Health Minister Steven Miles said the nurse initially advised contact tracers that she had visited Blackwater to “watch a sunset”.

“That is what she had told us previously but we were trying to talk to her again yesterday just to get more details,” he said.

Miles said it was “a fair way” to go for a round trip but there was still no confirmed link between the pair.

“It is possible that there is some kind of connection there or it could just be a coincidence, so that’s what our investigators are working on,” he said.

“The dates don’t really line up from when he got sick — it is a bit of a mystery.

It is almost 200km from Rockhampton to Blackwater and on May 14, when the nurse travelled, Queenslanders were forbidden to travel long distances without exemptions.

Turner’s partner also has coronavirus symptoms and is in isolation.

However, an initial COVID-19 test returned a negative result.

She worked at the Fairbairn bakery in Blackwater, which has been closed temporarily following Turner’s death.

Police and ambulance officers who attended the scene of Turner’s death are also now in quarantine.

Federal Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd said the miner hadn’t been at work this year.

“He hadn’t been able to work for some time … I think he last worked in November last year,” O’Dowd said.

“People are concerned and want to know what really is behind it all.

“I just urge people to just remain calm, listen to what Queensland Health have to say.

“My sympathies go to his family and close friends, it’s come across as a great shock to the community.”

-ABC/ Allyson Horn and Tim Swanston

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