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A false positive, an apology, but cause of miner's death officially remains a mystery

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A “false” positive test, followed by an invalid test, means the cause of Blackwater miner Nathan Turner’s death may never be known, health officials have admitted.

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Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Jeannette Young, today said it may never be known whether Nathan Turner had COVID-19 before he died. Turner, 30, has now been cleared of the disease post-mortem, his cause of death still unknown.

But Young defended the public health response, now thought to have been based on an “extremely rare” initial false-positive. Since Turner’s death, his partner has been in isolation, and his friends and family among 605 locals who had to be tested and cleared of COVID-19.

Turner had shown symptoms of respiratory illness before his death. The issue was compounded by the fact a Rockhampton nurse, under investigation for working at an aged care centre while she had COVID-19, provided conflicting information about her apparent solo trip to Blackwater. There had also been another false-positive in the town of 4500, which supports the mining industry with a large fly-in, fly-out workforce.

After Turner’s virus-free declaration on Monday night, there was a backlash on social media, a community petition was launched, the Opposition went on the attack, and Brisbane tabloid The Courier-Mail accused the Government of a Blackwater “backflip”.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today thanked the people of Blackwater for their cooperation and insisted the health response was appropriate at the time.

“Of course, we’re very sorry for the distress the family is going through and has experienced,” Palaszczuk said.

Young said it may never be known whether Turner had COVID-19 at some point in his illness “but we protected the community”. The widespread testing had also helped rule out the silent spread of COVID-19, which has been a lingering concern.

Palaszczuk said Queensland’s COVID-19 performance – which she described as “better than New Zealand” – was due to measures being taken on health advice, the swift response to any positive tests, and having the ongoing support of the community.

Deputy Premier and Health Minister Steven Miles defended the handling of the Blackwater case, saying it was better to be transparent, and act on the information available at the time, than be accused of a cover-up and put people at risk.

Miles said he was “deeply sorry” that it had added to the grief over Turner’s death.

“I am upset that this has caused distress to this man’s partner and his family but I think, given that we had that positive test it was likely unavoidable,” Miles said.

Palaszczuk suggested it be negligent not to have acted on the initial test results in such cases.

But Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington demanded answers and more accountability from the government, saying “the town of Blackwater and the surrounding communities have been in absolute upheaval because of this”.

The political flare-up came as Queensland’s tally of COVID-19 cases increased to 1059 by Tuesday morning. The latest case was a woman who had travelled from Africa and was diagnosed while in quarantine.

Palaszczuk, in Townsville to inspect a completed pipeline project, said the government’s focus had shifted from health to the economy.

“We recognise a lot of businesses are doing it tough as our focus firmly moves onto the economic recovery and what is needed to get people back into work,” she said.

The Government is talking to stakeholder groups and other governments, through National Cabinet, about the recovery.

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