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State down to six active virus cases, but death raises fears of what may lie beneath

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Across Queensland, there are now only half a dozen active cases of COVID-19. But a low rate of testing has authorities worried what lies beneath.

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A third fever clinic has been opened in the central Queensland town of Blackwater after the death of 30-year-old Nathan Turner with COVID-19. It is not yet known how, where or when he contracted the virus, but the mining town’s fly-in, fly-out workforce is being looked at, along with a visiting Rockhampton nurse who was later diagnosed positive.

While investigators have so far identified 20 of Turner’s possible contacts, the lack of urgency in the community over the need for testing has Queensland Health concerned people might be ignoring their symptoms and infecting others.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles today said Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young had requested sewage testing in Blackwater to pick up any trace of the virus and ascertain whether cases may have been missed.

Young said the University of Queensland planned to conduct sewage testing in communities across the state but it was still crucial that anyone with possible symptoms be tested.

Only then, she said, could authorities prevent an outbreak, rather than respond to an unknown number of cases after the event. This is also crucial to Queensland being able to continue easing restrictions imposed since the pandemic began.

“Today the focus is on Blackwater, tomorrow we’ll get a case somewhere else in the state and the focus will be there,” Young told reporters.

“Don’t wait until we have a case in your town, don’t wait until something happens, get tested now – that is critical (for) all 5.1 million of us in Queensland, if we have any symptoms at all.”

Miles said there were no new cases overnight, with the state’s tally remaining at 1058, and the number of active cases falling to six. There have been only 16 positive cases this month.

“We know of only two to be certain to be locally acquired and four are under investigation,” Miles said.

However, the low rate of testing – even in Blackwater – has Young nervous.

“We must do more testing,” Young said.

“We have the capacity in Queensland to test 10,000 Queenslanders every single day (but) we’ve not even reached half that number.”

In Blackwater, a town of 4,500 people, there is the capacity to do 400 tests. As of Thursday morning, 31 locals had tested negative, with another 95 booked to be tested today and the fever clinics open. Of Turner’s 20 identified contacts, in Blackwater and Ipswich, 18 have tested negative and two others were due to be tested today. His partner remains in isolation.

The nurse – whose delayed COVID-19 test required the nursing home where she worked while contagious to be shut down – faces further questions about her movements. She had told of visiting Blackwater alone to watch the sunset, or sunrise, and not having contact with anyone while there. Miles said “obviously it is a bit curious” although it appeared she had contracted the virus on an earlier Brisbane trip and that Turner was showing symptoms before her Blackwater sojourn.

Turner had other medical issues and further testing will be required to ascertain whether his strain of virus was linked to that contracted by the nurse and what role, if any, it played in his death.

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