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How a footloose nurse has weaved a 'tangled' tale around her virus infection

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Investigators are working to “untangle” the changing story of a nurse at the centre of two coronavirus scares in Queensland.

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The unnamed nurse has been suspended from her job after she continued to show up for work at a Rockhampton nursing home when she had coronavirus symptoms, and while waiting on test results.

Questions are also being asked about a sight-seeing road trip she took to the small town of Blackwater, during the coronavirus lockdown, after a local man died with the virus this week.

On Friday it emerged the nurse travelled to Kuala Lumpur in late March.

But she didn’t tell contact tracers about her overseas trip until this week, after the death of Blackwater man Nathan Turner, 30.

On Friday, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said: “Her story has changed over the time frame”.

“She gave us one story and then subsequent to that we’ve found out additional information. We need to try and untangle and sort through that.”

The nurse at a state-run aged care facility in north Rockhampton was diagnosed with COVID-19 two weeks ago. She is believed to have been infected on a trip to Brisbane and subsequently worked, and visited other parts of Rockhampton, while contagious.

Based on initial information she provided, the nurse showed symptoms from May 5 but could have been spreading the virus days earlier. Her actions, in contravention of orders, prompted a full-scale response from Queensland Health and residents of the aged care facility remain in isolation.

While enough time has passed for Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young to be reasonably confident there are no related cases in Rockhampton, she has expressed frustration at the nurse hindering contact tracing efforts.

Young said the nurse faced an investigation to ascertain her movements and determine whether the Queensland Health response was accurately informed and appropriate.

Given the incomplete or conflicting information provided so far, Young said it was important for investigators to “untangle” the nurse’s movements and potential exposures.

Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles said it was fortunate the nurse did not infect anyone else in Rockhampton, where 1500 people had to be tested.

Yet the timing of the controversy still poses a problem for the Palaszczuk government, which will need to determine, on Young’s advice, when and how restrictions should be eased – with confidence the health system can respond rapidly to any new cases.

Miles would not comment on any individuals involved but reiterated the importance of people being truthful, saying “lives are literally at risk”.

Young said 220 people from Blackwater were tested on Thursday, a response she described as “excellent,” and no one other than Turner had tested positive. Turner’s partner remains in isolation, however 20 or so contacts have been cleared.

Further tests will be required to determine the role the virus played in Turner’s death and whether it was linked to the virus contracted by the nurse.

Young said the Rockhampton case was a test of the department’s rapid response capabilities, and over time the health system had become “much, much better prepared” for COVID-19.

Queensland’s tally of cases remained unchanged at 1058, as of Friday, with six active cases. Seven Queenslanders have died from COVID-19, with Turner, who had other health issues, the youngest casualty to date.

National Cabinet is meeting today and the Palaszczuk Government is expected to detail changes to its roadmap at the weekend.

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