Australia

Coronavirus: Darwin parents divided over handling of Wuhan evacuees

Some parents say they are concerned about a lack of consultation, others believe authorities are doing all they can to minimise the coronavirus risk. Source: SBS News/Facebook/Good Shepherd Lutheran College NT

National Critical Care and Response Centre Medical director Professor Dianne Stephens has personally addressed parents who are concerned their children may be exposed to people evacuated from China's coronavirus epicentre.

The quarantining of hundreds of people evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan has divided a community of Darwin parents, concerned about the risk of coronavirus.

More than 260 people will be held at the Manigurr-Ma work camp at Howard Springs for the next fortnight after Christmas Island's quarantine site reached capacity.

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But the move to use the Howard Springs location, less than one kilometre from the Good Shepherd Lutheran College, has caused some concern among parents.

Liz, whose child is enrolled at the school, said the decision to use the Manigurr-Ma work camp came with little consultation.

"(I'm) very uncomfortable, I really sympathise for the people who are stuck in this and we welcome them to Australia, everybody deserves a safe haven," she told SBS News.

"We just question the way it was forced on us and why they chose (a site) that was right on top of the school. They don't know enough about the virus.

Liz, who is the parent of a child attending Good Shepherd Lutheran College in Howard Springs, questions the lack of community consultation and engagement.
Liz, who is the parent of a child attending Good Shepherd Lutheran College in Howard Springs, questions the lack of community consultation and engagement.
SBS News

"It was just announced that it was happening and there was no consultation with the community and the misrepresentation about exactly where this place is in relation to the rest of the territory.

"They keep making it sound like its in the middle of nowhere but its right in our suburbs and next to an Indigenous community as well, they must be worried with all of this on top of them."

Phil Galvin, who has worked as a primary healthcare nurse practitioner for more than two decades, said greater certainty around how the virus spreads is needed.

"My son goes to Good Shepherd but not this campus. I'm hoping that I can get some research that demonstrates the mode of transmission categorically," he said.

Phil Galvin says more information is needed around how the virus is transmitted.
Phil Galvin says more information is needed around how the virus is transmitted.
SBS News

"As of Friday, the World Health Organisation was still saying there is research required."

Trevor Willis has three sons who attend Good Shepherd Lutheran College and is taking a cautiously positive approach to the local drama.

"I think there's a few unanswered questions. I think they've got it under control, but time will tell," he said.

Trevor Willis believes the Top End has the capacity to help evacuees from Wuhan.
Trevor Willis believes the Top End has the capacity to help evacuees from Wuhan.
SBS News

"Any sort of injection into the economy is probably a good thing. We've got the facility here and why can't the Territory help out when they need to."

On whether his sons are apprehensive about their proximity to those who have been to China's coronavirus epicentre, Mr Willis said they share his optimism.

"They're quite keen to go. They don't feel there's any threat."

Another mother, Nicolette McCourt, is backing the school and health officials over their response.

"I think all precautions have been put in place. I have no concerns whatsoever having my children continue their education, my kids will be attending school every day," she said.

Nicolette McCourt says she has full confidence in the safety precautions now in place.
Nicolette McCourt says she has full confidence in the safety precautions now in place.
SBS News

On other parents opting to keep their children at home, Ms McCourt says she respects their decision.

"That's their personal choice...I think unfortunately social media (spreads) misinformation and false information," she said.

"There's a 50-metre buffer zone between the village and our fence, there's just no concerns for me."

'We don't want people being anxious'

In an effort to squash concerns over the nearby housing, parents and caregivers were afforded the chance to pitch questions to a medical expert during a Q&A session at the school.

When asked about measures to quarantine any evacuee showing signs of the virus, National Critical Care and Response Centre Medical director Professor Dianne Stephens said every effort was being taken to protect the school and the community.

Professor Dianne Stephens answers questions from concerned parents.
Professor Dianne Stephens answers questions from concerned parents.
Facebook/Good Shepherd Lutheran College NT

"They will be put into the isolation area and they will be tested. We found this on Christmas Island already, every person who gets a cough or cold, is tested," she told parents.

"We don't want people being anxious as they were in the last 36 to 48 hours about a small child being tested on Christmas Island who we knew had a very low probability of having coronavirus - and then the test came back negative.

"As soon as we get a positive result, we are out there with it."

Addressing the media following the meeting, Professor Stephens moved to reinforce facts surrounding coronavirus contraction.

"It is droplet spread, if I cough on you and I have the coronavirus, then you are at risk. If I have a mask on and you do, it prevents that from happening," she said.

"There has been no human to human transmission within Australia at all, and there has been no evidence of the virus so far, touch wood, in the Christmas Island cohort that are nearly halfway through their quarantine period."

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